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By ROB TODOR



Published: Sun, September 9, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By ROB TODOR

VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR

COLUMBUS -- The record book will show that Jim Tressel's first game as Ohio State's football coach was a success.

What today's film review inside the Buckeyes' lockerroom will reveal, however, should be decidedly less enthusiastic.

The Buckeyes defeated Akron 28-14 Saturday before a record crowd of more than 102,000 at Ohio Stadium in Tressel's debut.

But, a new general inheriting the same troops that got the previous one fired doesn't necessarily mean instant success.

Ohio State compiled 525 yards on offense, but turned the ball over three times.

One miscue, an interception thrown by backup quarterback Scott McMullen, was returned for a touchdown.

Jonathan Wells rushed for 119 yards and scored two touchdowns, and Sammy Maldonado added 68 yards, but the Buckeyes converted less than half of their third down plays.

Reversion: Steve Bellisari, the oft-maligned starting quarterback, was 15-of-24 for 246 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but after a good-looking first quarter he reverted back to the type of inconsistent play that has dogged his career.

Bellisari fumbled three times and missed open receivers because of poor throwing mechanics.

"Quite honestly, we kept our [offensive] package pretty simple," said Tressel. "We wanted have this first game be a very fundamental one and be one where we're working on the little things rather than the schemes."

But despite all the mistakes, it was the Buckeyes' day. Never was that more apparent than on one play late in the third quarter, which resulted in a touchdown and a 28-7 Buckeyes' lead.

On third down and 14 from the OSU 39, Bellisari rolled left and threw off his back foot for Chris Vance along the Buckeyes' sideline. Akron safety John Fuller made a move on the ball, but it glanced through his hands to Vance, who ran untouched the final 30 yards for the touchdown.

Coach's view: "Coach [Tressel] came up to me on the sideline," said Bellisari, "and he said, 'Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.' "

That could be said for the entire day. After Akron's Ricky Coble returned McMullen's interception 87 yards for a touchdown with 7:48 to go, the Zips trailed 28-14.

It could have just as easily been 14-all, considering Vance's finger-tip catch and a 1-yard scoring drive by the Buckeyes in the second quarter, set up when Akron's Brandon Payne muffed a punt.

Evaluation: "We all made a lot of mistakes, the players and the coaches included," said Tressel. "The defense did an excellent job and the offense showed flashes.

"Steve [Bellisari] did a pretty good job with his decision-making," he continued.

Tressel said he expected the offense to struggle.

"I didn't think we'd be flawless, although, when you have turnovers it bothers you," he said. "There were moments we were sloppy and moments we were pretty sharp."

The Buckeyes were stopped on their first offensive possession after five plays, then drove 66 yards in eight plays after an Akron punt to take a 7-0 lead on Wells' nifty 14-yard run.

Akron was stopped after three plays again, and Vance returned the punt 21 yards to the Zips' 36.

Connection: Five plays later, Bellisari found fullback Jamar Martin in the flat for a 10-yard score. That made it 14-0 with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter, and Akron was in danger of getting blown out. But, the Zips toughened from that point, allowing only the 1-yard TD drive and the gift touchdown pass to Vance.

"It's hard to send a message that you're proud of your team and at the same time not try to give them the message that close is good enough," said Akron coach Lee Owens. "[Close is] not good enough; not until we get to the point where we finally win one of these games."




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