Buckeyes try to explain loss to Wildcats

After losing at Northwestern for the first time since 1958, there is plenty of blame to go around for Ohio State. Even coach Jim Tressel is willing to take a heaping helping.

“Northwestern can be a very, very good football team,” Tressel said yesterday during a post-mortem of Saturday’s 33-27 overtime loss to the Wildcats. “They proved that Saturday night. I’m not sure I did as good a job getting that point across.”

A lot of points apparently didn’t get across for the Buckeyes (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten), who plummeted 11 spots in the poll to No. 18 after getting outplayed in almost every facet of the game.

The already moribund running game mustered a not-so-grand total of 97 yards. Quarterback Justin Zwick had at least two turnovers for the third time in his four collegiate starts. And the defense, which came into the game among the best in the land, was continually beaten for big plays while surrendering 444 yards.

“If you put together all of the parts of what you need to do to win the game, we didn’t do those, so it’s not a mystery to me why we didn’t win,” Tressel said.

Still, his team lost even though it was favored by two touchdowns, hadn’t lost to Northwestern in Evanston in 46 years and hadn’t been beaten by the Wildcats anywhere since 1971.

Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said the Buckeyes did not look past Northwestern to this week’s showdown with No. 15 Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0). At the same time, he acknowledged he and his teammates may not have been focused on the job at hand.

“Maybe there wasn’t as much heart as they (the Wildcats) may have put into it,” he said.

Tressel said the Buckeyes will need to summon all the heart and talent they have to keep from falling to 0-2 in the conference for the first time since 1992.

“It will be a great challenge for us to see if we can understand the difficulty of the task,” he said of the Wisconsin game. “(We have to) understand what needs to be done if we’re going to win the football game and climb back in the race in the Big Ten.”

To do that, the Buckeyes must improve dramatically in several areas, Tressel said.

— The Buckeyes didn’t get their kicks. Punter Kyle Turano averaged just 39 yards a kick and the Wildcats averaged 12 yards on their two punt returns.

“We need to be superior in our special teams,” Tressel said. “Unfortunately, we had our poorest punt production that we’ve had all season.”

In addition, kicker Mike Nugent missed a 40-yard field goal on Ohio State’s only possession in overtime.

Even though Santonio Holmes had a 63-yard punt return for the Buckeyes’ only touchdown of the first 41 minutes, Ohio State had several penalties, missed blocks and missed tackles on kick coverage.

— Good plays don’t necessarily erase the bad ones. Zwick finished 18 of 38 for 211 yards with one interception and one touchdown. With Ohio State trailing 27-17 early in the fourth quarter, under constant pressure he completed 6 of 12 passes for 90 yards the rest of the way. He also made plays with his feet, gaining 18, 11 and 8 yards on three big carries to lead the comeback that forced overtime.

Still, Zwick had an interception and was sacked twice during that span for 20 yards in losses. And he also lost a first-half fumble that resulted in a Wisconsin field goal.

“That is definitely not good enough,” Zwick said. “It’s something that’s going to happen and it’s something you have to learn from. That’s life. You’re not going to be perfect all the time. But I definitely feel bad about putting our team in that situation in the game.”

— The defense was manhandled for the most part, appearing to be confused at times as Northwestern mixed a variety of misdirection and counter plays with straight-ahead runs that netted tailback Noah Herron 113 yards on 33 carries and two touchdowns.

In the overtime, after Nugent was just wide right on the kick that might have given the Buckeyes their only lead of the game, Northwestern took over possession and needed just four plays to notch the winning TD.

“We always talk about playing relentless defense if you’re going to win on the road,” Tressel said. “We probably didn’t have as good a performance there as we’ve had all season, which is obviously disappointing.”

The Buckeyes have little time to get things turned around for one of their toughest tests of the season.

“It was a shock all Saturday and into Sunday, but we’ve moved on,” Pitcock said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s another game this week for us to worry about.”