COLUMBUS - According to the roster, Ohio State quarterback Scott McMullen was wearing uniform No. 15.
But in the eyes of most people Saturday at Ohio Stadium, McMullen might as well have been wearing a bull's-eye.
McMullen started for the Buckeyes in place of Craig Krenzel against Bowling Green and led OSU to a 24-17 victory over the Falcons. And that was the only number that Ohio State coach Jim Tressel analyzed when asked about McMullen's performance.
“We mea-sure quarterbacks on how they do in the win/loss column, and it was good [for him] to get a win,” Tressel said. “Scott has been one of those guys that, even though he hasn't been in the lineup, he's continued to work to become better. And we like guys getting opportunities.”
McMullen's opportunity came when Krenzel was unable to recover from an injury to his right elbow suffered in the Buckeyes' three-overtime win over North Carolina State the previous week.
McMullen was solid in guiding the Ohio State offense, connecting on 10 of 16 passes for 118 yards, including a seven-yard TD toss to Drew Carter in the first quarter. He also directed a 76-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that took just six plays, one of which was a 46-yard pass to Michael Jenkins.
Of course, it didn't hurt that the Buckeye running game piled up an impressive 205 yards on the ground to ease his burden.
“I felt great, and I'm glad we ended up with a win,” McMullen said about his play. “There are some throws I look back on that I wish I would have made, ones that could have put us up even bigger.”
The most glaring mistake McMullen made came on the third play of the second half when, facing a third-and-two on the Buckeyes' 37, McMullen avoided a rush and saw Bam Childress racing past his defender deep down the sideline.
But McMullen underthrew the ball and Bowling Green's Janssen Patton intercepted, then returned the ball to the OSU 23. The Falcons failed to capitalize when BG tight end Craig Jarrett dropped a pass at the goal line and A.J. Hawk intercepted a deflected pass on second down.
But Tressel thought McMullen performed well in his first start since replacing a suspended Steve Bellisari against Illinois on Nov. 17, 2001.
“I thought [McMullen] made some good throws,” Tressel said. “He now has 60 or 70 plays on film that he can really evaluate himself and we can talk through. I thought he was in good command of what we were doing.”
THE KNOCKOUT PUNCH: Tressel still is concerned with his team's penchant for getting in front of opponents but not putting the game away.
“Once again we allowed someone at our place to have a chance in the fourth quarter and that's something that we've got to straighten out,” Tressel said. “We have to eliminate the turnovers that stop drives and give our opponents opportunities to have chances against our defense.”
Defensive back Will Allen was disappointed his team couldn't hang on to a 24-7 lead with just 8:46 to play. Instead the Buckeyes allowed BG to score a touchdown, kick a field goal, then drive down to the OSU 47 before Allen's interception sealed the win.
“We really need to finish games,” Allen said. “When we have a lead like we did today, we can't allow our opponents to creep back into games.”
If you take away a 76-yard drive that resulted in the Buckeyes' final touchdown, Ohio State's five other possessions in the second half resulted in just 57 yards. And the Buckeyes gained 61 yards on a 13-play drive before losing the ball on downs late in the third period.
“We just have to be better on offense, putting teams away when we have a chance to,” Jenkins said. “If we get a turnover from our defense, we have to go down and score, things like that. If we get good field position - we've got a team pinned down on the 5 and get the ball back at the 50 - we have to put the ball in the end zone.”
CLEAN PLAY: Ohio State had been plagued by turnovers in its first three games, committing 30 penalties and getting socked with an average of 97.7 yards in penalties per contest.
But against Bowling Green the Buckeyes committed just three penalties and were set back just 15 yards. None of the three penalties helped the Falcons in any way.
- JOHN WAGNER