Tressel names Zwick starter

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 27, 2004

COLUMBUS - Ohio State coach Jim Tressel offhandedly announced Thursday that Justin Zwick beat out Troy Smith and will start at quarterback in the Buckeyes' opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 4.

That was news to both Zwick and Smith.

Not more than 10 minutes earlier both had said separately they had not been told who was starting or when a decision would be reached. Quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels professed that he was also in the dark on the announcement.

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Tressel began by saying, ''Well, today, as it will be Saturday, Justin started and Troy got to play as well.''

It was only when a reporter asked the coach if he meant this Saturday - or the next Saturday, the day of the first game - that Tressel said Zwick would start.

Tressel, however, did not give a ringing endorsement of Zwick's status and said Smith will see action against the Bearcats.

''Well, it is up for grabs,'' he said of the job. ''We could go and someone could do extremely poorly in the next four or five days and it might not be true.''

Zwick apparently won the job after analysis of the lengthy scrimmage the Buckeyes had last Saturday in Ohio Stadium. Daniels said the two QBs graded out ''amazingly close'' in their performance.

Asked why Zwick was declared the starter now, Tressel again avoided a direct response.

''After we ran 177 plays and saw that some guys did some things well, some guys need work on other things, what seems to be the right thing to do right now is to keep working, keep putting the shovel in the ground, keep giving guys opportunities to emerge,'' Tressel said. ''I think we've been saying all along that there wasn't going to be any golden time, that the early season was going to be very important. It continues to be that way.''

Both Zwick and Smith are redshirt sophomores who arrived at the quarterback battle by dramatically different routes.

Zwick, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Massillon, is one of Ohio State's most acclaimed recruits at the position since Art Schlichter in 1979. He waited patiently on the sidelines last season - throwing three passes all year - while senior Craig Krenzel led the Buckeyes to an 11-2 record.

Asked what Tressel had told him, Zwick said, ''Nothing. We just go out every day and work hard. He's got to make a decision sooner or later, I guess. I don't know.''

Before Tressel spoke with reporters, Zwick said he didn't know when to expect any announcement.

''I don't expect anything,'' he said.

Smith is a 6-1, 215-pounder out of Cleveland Glenville who was recruited as an athlete and saw action on special teams last season because of his shifty running style.

Tressel said last spring that Zwick had a slight edge on Smith, who was asked Thursday if he felt he had narrowed the gap.

''There was never a gap,'' he said. ''I think we're pretty much were even.''

Both quarterbacks have been scrutinized throughout August practices, feeling that one slip could cost them playing time. The pressure was building.

Smith said he was reaching a point where he just wanted Tressel to make a decision.

''As a human, you think like that,'' he said. ''I'm just on the edge of my seat as much as you. He keeps us really worried and yearning to see who is going to start.''

Whether he was a party to Tressel's decision or not, Daniels acted as if he had no knowledge that Zwick had been chosen.

He said that how the two played in games would ultimately decide the starter.

''I'm not sure by game four we have to have a clear-cut starter,'' Daniels said. ''If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'm not going to be all uptight about it. … The difference would be when the lights come on and the scoreboard's lit and the crowd's there.''