COLUMBUS - Quarterback Justin Zwick lost his mouthpiece yesterday on the first play of his first collegiate start.
His day didn't get a whole lot better after that - Zwick had four fumbles and two interceptions in a rocky debut - but he and backup Troy Smith made enough positive plays to carry No. 9 Ohio State past Cincinnati 27-6.
"I thought the quarterbacks did some good things," coach Jim Tressel said. "They got real life opportunities, which there's no substitute for. They made some good plays. They made some errors, especially from a turnover standpoint, which we won't be able to survive in the future.
"But, if I had to bet, I'd say we probably won't grade what I'd call a winning performance, but I thought it was solid."
Zwick, who attempted just eight passes last year as a third-stringer behind Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen, completed 14 of 26 passes for 213 yards and was sacked once. He threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Ryan Hamby late in the second quarter on a third-and-eight play to put the Buckeyes ahead 10-3.
Earlier in the drive, Zwick completed a 14-yard pass to Hamby, a 28-yarder to Bam Childress in double coverage, and a 15-yarder to Hamby before hooking up with the tight end again for the score.
"I know Justin was nervous, but we just tried to keep it sim-
ple," flanker Santonio Holmes said. "We stuck to the basics without changing too many of the plays. We just wanted to let him do his thing."
Zwick threw interceptions on OSU's first two possessions of the second half, including one at the 5-yard line to snuff out a scoring drive. His second interception led to Kevin Lovell's second field goal, a 25-yarder, that pulled the Bearcats to within 10-6.
"I made some mistakes, threw some interceptions, but I felt good with my performance today," said Zwick, who completed passes to seven different receivers. "We wanted to come out of it with a win and we did. We had a lot of yards from the offense, and the defense gave up six points and no touchdowns. You can't be unhappy about that.
"The more I'm out there, the more comfortable I am going to be, the better I'm going to get."
Smith, who was 2-for-3 for 29 yards, played far less than Zwick, but produced as much. He led the Buckeyes to scores in two of his three drives while throwing a touchdown pass - a 23-yard strike to Holmes in the fourth quarter that sealed OSU's 17th consecutive home victory.
"I didn't play great, but I was OK," Smith said. "I did the best I could."
Zwick and Smith, a pair of redshirt sophomores, combined for 242 yards passing. The Buckeyes added 220 yards on the ground, including 141 by tailback Lydell Ross, who also scored on a one-yard run.
"Justin had a couple of throws that we'd like to have back," Tressel said. "But I thought Justin did some good things. I thought he was composed, in command, and that's something we thought about a lot.
"I thought Troy was composed and in command. He made some plays. He didn't have quite as many opportunities as Justin did, but I thought he did a good, solid job."
The Bearcats, coached by former OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio, managed just 238 total yards against the Buckeyes' defense, and converted only 5 of 18 chances on third down. Dantonio's Bearcats never were able to put together an extended drive.
Gino Guidugli, who nearly orchestrated an upset of Ohio State during its national championship run two years ago, was harassed all day by the Buckeyes, who were missing three starting linemen, two linebackers, and two defensive backs from a year ago.
Guidugli completed 17 of 36 passes for 162 yards, while the Bearcats' running game managed just 76 yards as OSU coordinator Mark Snyder's defensive game plan worked to perfection against his old boss, Dantonio.
"I think we did a pretty good job today," OSU cornerback Dustin Fox said. "I don't think it was a dominant performance. It was OK."
Offensively, the Buckeyes converted all four of their opportunities in the red zone - with two touchdowns and two field goals. And 109 of their 220 rushing yards came in the fourth quarter.
"Cincinnati played well," Ross said. "They put a lot of pressure on us in the early going. Up until halftime, we were very unfamiliar with their defensive schemes. In the second half, we made some changes and we went out and made some big plays."
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