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Saturday, September 3, 2011
Fickell, Ohio State start things right

By Brian Bennett

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At 6-foot-5 and 293 pounds, Ohio State center Mike Brewster doesn't exactly float like a butterfly. But before Saturday's game against Akron, the Buckeyes' All-American might as well have been walking on air.

"I don't think I could feel my feet when I was running out of the tunnel," the senior and four-year starter said. "It's a feeling I haven't had since I've been here. It's always special, but today with starting a new era and everything that has gone on, it was unbelievable to get back out there."

Luke Fickell
Luke Fickell began his tenure as Ohio State's head coach with a 42-0 victory against Akron.
Ohio State crushed the appropriately-named Zips 42-0 as a team with its talent advantage should do in a season opener at home. The game merited watching because it signaled what the Buckeyes hope was the end to their offseason troubles and the beginning of Luke Fickell's tenure as head coach. As far as new directions go, this one went about as well as could possibly be expected.

The Sweater Vest is gone. The Man in Black now rules the Shoe. Fickell espoused predecessor Jim Tressel's senatorial, sartorial style for a short-sleeve black windbreaker despite temperatures on the field exceeding 100 degrees.

"I'd rather be hot than cold," Fickell said. "Maybe that is the wrestler mentality that I grew up with."

Fickell said he liked the difficult playing conditions and that he even walked up and down the sidelines reminding players about the heat. He wanted to see how everyone dealt with the adversity.

Not like he needed Mother Nature for that. The Buckeyes have been dealing with controversy and scrutiny for months during an NCAA investigation and a rash of player suspensions. They took the field Saturday missing five projected starters and two key reserves. With running back Jaamal Berry also sidelined by a hamstring injury, they had only two healthy running backs available.

Given all that, some slippage seemed inevitable. But Ohio State looked like Ohio State, dominating behind a rebuilt defense. Akron managed just 90 total yards, compared to 517 for the Buckeyes.

"Even though we don't have some big names like in the past, I think we've got some young guys who are fully capable of getting the job done," linebacker Andrew Sweat said.

The opener might have also cleared up the quarterback competition for the foreseeable future.

Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman was expected to split reps with true freshman Braxton Miller, but other than one three-and-out series in the first half, Bauserman ran the offense until the game got out of hand. And he ran it well, completing 12-of-16 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns. While many fans had clamored for Miller's speed and escapability, Bauserman showed that he's no statue in the pocket. The former minor-league baseball player turned a broken play into a 15-yard touchdown run on the Buckeyes' first drive, and he also made throws on the run and turned potential trouble into positive yardage.

Joe Bauserman
Quarterback Joe Bauserman rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter. Bauserman also threw for three scores to lead No. 18 Ohio State to a 42-0 win over Akron.
"I tried to lead the best I could," Bauserman said. "You dream about it, and to come out here and play well felt good."

Miller also had his moments late, leading a second-half touchdown drive and finishing 8-of-12 for 130 yards. Fickell said the team needs both quarterbacks and will continue to use them in games, though Bauserman clearly owns the starter's job for now.

Fickell didn't change too many things from the Tressel era. The Buckeyes often lined up in the I-formation or with two tight ends. But the way they used the tight ends was different. For years, they were little more than glorified blockers, all but ignored in the passing game. On Saturday, junior Jake Stoneburner caught three touchdown passes, the first tight end in Ohio State history to pull off that feat.

"I didn't play tight end here, or maybe that would have happened before," Fickell joked. "[Stoneburner] has been an integral part of the offense all through camp. I expected it, to be quite honest."

All lessons learned from the Buckeyes in this opener must be graded on an Akron curve. Second-year Zips head coach Rob Ianello brought only one more career victory than Fickell into Saturday's game. Ohio State has had tougher scrimmages.

Still, Fickell enjoyed an encouraging debut free of the kind of miscommunication breakdowns and sideline confusion that sometimes plague new coaches. For a program that hadn't experience much good news in several months, getting back to winning on the field was like dancing in the clouds.

"It felt good not have to listen to what everyone else was saying about us," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said, "and just show them what we could do."