Buckeyes can’t afford another slow start on the road against Iowa

Published 1:44 am Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS — Ohio State fans love the eighth-ranked Buckeyes’ record, they’d just prefer to avoid late-game comebacks.

Despite finishing solid enough to win nine of their 10 games, the Buckeyes have been slow starters — particularly on the road.

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The Buckeyes (9-1, 5-1) would like to reverse that trend at No. 21 Iowa (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday. Riding on the outcome is a possible Big Ten title and Bowl Championship Series postseason berth.

“We know we have to start fast this week or we’re going to have problems,” said center Mike Brewster.

It’s hard to imagine a team averaging 42 points a game — and winning by an average margin of 28 points — having so much trouble early in games. But it has been a nagging problem all season.

The Buckeyes have been tied or trailed early in all three of their previous road trips. Only against Wisconsin have the Buckeyes (9-1, 5-1) not survived a sluggish start.

— Miami led 7-3 after a quarter before the Buckeyes piled up 33 points in the middle two periods of a 36-24 home win on Sept. 11.

— When the Buckeyes hit the road for the first time on Oct. 2, Illinois scored on its first possession and hung tough with Ohio State before falling 24-13.

— Ohio State lasted just a week in the No. 1 spot, falling behind 21-0 in the opening 17 minutes on the way to a 31-18 setback at Wisconsin on Oct. 16.

— On Saturday, the Buckeyes trailed 14-3 and Penn State was knocking on the door again at the Ohio State 20-yard line before order was restored. The Buckeyes made a big fourth-down stop, and then ran off the game’s final 35 points for a 38-14 win.

Is Ohio State taking teams lightly? Do other teams just play better against the Buckeyes? Or are they just one of those teams that need additional time to find their stride in a game?

“I wish I could put a thumb on it, so we could prevent it,” defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said. “I do think sometimes that teams are going to give us their best shot and you’re not going to be able to really see the team that you saw on film all week. Some teams come out and they have some special package, a tweak or adjustment, to kind of defend against what we do.”

Wide receiver DeVier Posey doesn’t think the problem lies in the Buckeyes not being ready to play.

“I know before the (Penn State) game, guys seemed like they were fired up, ready to go,” he said. “I don’t really know how to avoid it, I don’t have a formula for it. I don’t know — maybe we play better fighting uphill.”

This much is certain: Iowa has victimized good teams who stumbled at the start.

“Just turn on the Iowa-Michigan State game,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “Michigan State’s a good team. But they have three picks, one goes to the house and one way down there. All of a sudden, it’s 30-0. And they’re a good team.”

Just three weeks ago, fifth-ranked Michigan State came into Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium unbeaten and on a roll. But the Hawkeyes took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in 12 plays with Ricky Stanzi hitting Colin Sandeman on a 3-yard scoring strike.

Then Micah Hyde picked off a pass and returned it 66 yards. And Shaun Prater brought back another errant pass 42 yards, setting up Adam Robinson’s 32-yard scoring catch from Stanzi. Then Robinson added a rushing touchdown. The stunned Spartans never recovered in a 37-6 rout.

The Buckeyes have seen the video of that surprisingly lopsided game and have compared it to what they’ve done all season.

“We definitely have to get off on a good start,” said Buckeyes linebacker Ross Homan. “We can’t come out flat.”

Even if Iowa makes the first big play, gets the initial break or finds the end zone first, the Buckeyes can’t just throw up their hands.

“Slow starts happen sometimes. The biggest thing is I guess you really have to fight back and get some momentum on your side,” Brewster said. “You know how big momentum is. It’s crazy.

“Once we got the momentum back on our side (against Penn State), things worked well. But we know this week we really can’t do that.”