Ohio State's present was better than Texas' future
In the end it was Ohio State's leadership experience that made the biggest difference against Texas, writes Ivan Maisel.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Some time in the not-too-distant future, Texas redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy will grab a big game by the throat and make it his own. McCoy will find receivers deep. He will see that his primary and secondary receivers are covered and look for the tight end. He will see linebackers who drop into pass coverage and not throw it right at them.
And when that day comes, he will have traveled the gulf between his performance Saturday night and that of Ohio State fifth-year senior quarterback Troy Smith.
The No. 1 Buckeyes beat the No. 2 Longhorns 24-7 in a game closer than the score indicated, which may come as little solace to Texas fans who watched their 21-game winning streak come to an end. But the philosophy of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel revolves around taking away the big play from the opponent and winning the field-position game.
When all was said and done, Texas made only one run and completed one pass of more than 20 yards. On the average, the Longhorns started their 11 possessions on their own 20-yard line.
"There were two differences in the game," Texas coach Mack Brown said after the Longhorns scored the fewest points of any of his teams in a home game in his eight seasons here. "One was their ability to make plays at the end of drives and our inability to make plays at the end of drives, and the other was their ability to punt deep."
Coaches love to say that five or six plays make the difference in a game. On Saturday night, before 89,422, the largest crowd ever to see a football game in this football-mad state, every one of those game-turning plays turned the way of the Scarlet and Gray.
Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis forced two turnovers. In the first quarter, he stripped flanker Billy Pittman at the Buckeye 1-yard line, and cornerback Donald Washington scooped the fumble up and took it 49 yards. Five plays later, Smith threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Gonzalez.
In other words, one fumble produced a 14-point swing.
Laurinaitis made the only interception of McCoy, on the third play of the third quarter, and the Buckeyes converted that into a 31-yard field goal by Aaron Pettrey.
So much for the questions of whether the Buckeyes would miss A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel at linebacker.
"There's some pressure, but in the middle of it, you just forget about it," Laurinaitis said. "When it comes down to it, it's bend your knees, stay low, whoever's the lowest and the most nasty is going to win."
McCoy played better against a No. 1 team than any quarterback in his second college game had a right to. He completed 19 of 32 passes, got sacked only once, and threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Pittman late in the first half that tied the score at 7. But McCoy's 19 completions earned only 154 yards, which means he gained fewer than 5 yards per attempt.
"Maybe it was the fact that he was young," Laurinaitis said. "Maybe it was that our D-line put pressure on him. Our D-line put pressure on them last year, and even 10 [Young] threw some balls that weren't like him. [McCoy] is going to be a great quarterback. It's not his fault. He's got to keep his head up. It's a team game."
The big plays came from the Ohio State offense, too.
Texas cornerback Aaron Ross, frequently left on an island to provide man coverage on Buckeye gamebreaker Ted Ginn Jr., did a fine job on every play but one. On that one, just before the half, Ross lined up on the line of scrimmage against Ginn. The Buckeye junior gave him a shoulder feint and a jab step left. When Ross bit, Ginn sprinted past him and Smith hit him in stride for a 29-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left in the half.
"The safety was on the [other] side, and we were sitting upstairs hoping that Troy would take a shot, and he did," Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said.
The Buckeyes took a 14-7 lead that they never relinquished.
"Ross is a great cornerback, probably the best in the Big 12," Smith said. "[Ginn] had an inside release on that play He did a great job. I just threw the ball up there, and he went and got it."
The Longhorns could have used starting corner Tarell Brown, suspended for this game after his arrest last weekend.
"Obviously they were matching 31 [Ross] on Teddy," Bollman said. "You're looking at 'Gonzo' and seeing what's happening. He did a good job of getting open, as did Teddy."
Bollman treaded lightly. Gonzalez spoke more plainly.
"I had free rein to do what I wanted for 10 yards," he said. "That makes it a lot easier."
And unlike the Texas receivers, Ginn and Gonzalez had a quarterback who had the experience to get them the ball. Smith finished 17-of-26 for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
"Troy has made improvement from the day he got here, methodically and incrementally throughout his career," Tressel said. "When you got a guy like Troy, with the development he has had, you got a chance."
Texas will have a chance someday with McCoy. That someday wasn't Saturday.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions/comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.