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Consistency will be the key (art.)




Consistency will be the key
Ohio State’s starting quarterback must make right calls, be a leader
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Tim May
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Imagine taking a monthlong test for which you already know the answers, but have to answer the same questions over and over and over.

Sound like fun?

Well, no one said competing for starting quarterback job at Ohio State was supposed to be fun. It’s certainly no beauty contest.

Though substantial athletic ability is required, it’s not all about having the strongest arm or the swiftest feet. As sophomores Justin Zwick and Troy Smith compete the next few weeks, with freshman Todd Boeckman trying to cut in the line, they already know what’s going to decide the final pecking order.

"Consistency will be the key," Zwick said, "not making bad plays, not turning the ball over, just being smart. And just leading the team, stepping up as someone the guys can look at."

Smith said, "The trait of every good quarterback is just that: Not making bad decisions in crunch time, protecting the ball, knowing the game situations, things like that."

The last two years, Zwick and Smith sat and watched Craig Krenzel. All he did was lead the Buckeyes to the national championship in 2002 and a second straight Fiesta Bowl victory last season.

"What you’re losing is a guy who was your offensive leader, and in some ways he was your whole team leader," coach Jim Tressel said of Krenzel. "You’re losing his experience. You’re losing what he went through to fight to get to that spot.

"Our young guys now have done part of the legwork to get to that spot. Now we’ll find out how they react to the opportunity of being in that spot."

Tressel repeatedly has said "if there was a game tomorrow," Zwick would get the start but Smith would play. And since spring drills, he’s reminded everyone not to forget about Boeckman, who sat out last year to bank a season of eligibility.

But it appears to be a battle between Zwick and Smith for No. 1. If Zwick has the early lead, Scott McMullen — Krenzel’s backup the last two years before graduating —thinks he knows why.

"Maybe it’s consistency, more than anything," McMullen said. "Troy is a scrambler. I don’t know how comfortable that makes coach Tressel. But I’d really like to see those guys play in some games and see what they can do."

So would the coaches. They anticipate the job coming down to how the players respond against Cincinnati in the opener Sept. 4, and perhaps against Marshall the next week and maybe even North Carolina State the week after that.

"It’s probably going to be a dogfight all the way, because these guys are good," quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said. "If one stands out clearly before then, I don’t know if it’s going to be because that person pulls away as much as it might be because somebody else is pulling back.

"But I think we’re going to have to look at them in a game situation, which means we’ll probably go into that first game saying, ‘They’re going to play.’ "

While from the outside it might appear to be a two- or three-man race, Tressel recommended that the players treat it as more of an individual, monthlong test.

"The thing we really try to get across, and it’s critical, is they can’t worry about who the quarterback is going to be," Tressel said. "They need to focus on what can they do to be our quarterback. If their thoughts are anything outside of their own performance, even wondering how the other guy is doing, it’s going to take away from their performance."

Yet he knows such focus is difficult.

"You’re wondering how the competition is doing. You’re wondering, ‘What do the coaches think?’ " Tressel said. "If you can avoid that, it will really help your play."

However, it won’t hurt if they gain a cheering section within the team. Zwick was right when he said the coaches will be looking for someone who can lead. Daniels said that will be the natural byproduct of consistency in practice.

"What happens off of that is all of a sudden the team starts to pick up on it, and things start to roll," Daniels said. "The other players are no different from anybody else. If they are out there on the practice field and the quarterback has a good play, a bad play, a turnover, a good play, a bad play — it gets to them. They’re looking for consistency from that position, too.

"We’re looking for the guy who is going to do the things we need to get done. That’s who is going to be our quarterback."

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