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OSU FOOTBALL Zwick awaiting season opener


Published: Thu, September 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


It might be the quarterback's only chance to start for the Buckeyes this season.
TOLEDO BLADE
COLUMBUS -- Justin Zwick should be familiar with pressure. Coming out of football powerhouse Massillon Washington, he was Ohio State's most highly touted quarterback recruit since the once fabulous and now notorious Art Schlichter.
In his three-plus years with the Buckeyes, Zwick has had to endure the intensity of both the spotlight and the microscope as his every move is charted, scrutinized and analyzed. He is last on the team in alphabetical order, but likely first when it comes to unsatisfied expectations.
So when Zwick leads the Ohio State offense in Saturday's season-opener against Miami of Ohio, he is playing for more than first downs, completions and touchdowns. Zwick obviously needs to win, but he probably has to do it in impressive fashion to earn himself anything resembling job security.
Smith to sit out opener
The 6-4, 225-pound Zwick starts more or less by default, since fellow junior Troy Smith cannot play against the RedHawks while he serves out the last of a two-game NCAA-mandated suspension for taking cash from a booster. Zwick led the Buckeyes to a win in the Alamo Bowl while Smith, who orchestrated a huge win over Michigan in last season's finale, started his detention.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who went with Zwick to start the 2004 season but switched to the more mobile Smith after Zwick was injured and the Buckeyes hit the skids in mid-season, indicated Zwick's performance against Miami will be a measuring stick.
"I would think that if I'm a guy going out and playing on Saturday, that I'm assuming my future playing depends largely on what I do Saturday," Tressel said, "because we've got a lot of good guys, and if I don't do well, I know they're going to give this [other] guy a chance. So, I would say it depends largely on how he does."
Comfortable with situation
Zwick, who injured his ankle in pre-season workouts and missed a number of practices, said he is comfortable with the situation, and understands the reality of having the job on the line with virtually every snap.
"A lot of positions have this kind of competition, so that's nothing special about the quarterback job here," Zwick said. "You do your best in the situation you're faced with, and then you live with whatever decision the coaches make. You hope all of this makes you better, and makes the team better."
Zwick said the circumstances this season are a lot different than last year's opener, when he and Smith were both basically unknown entities as Big Ten quarterbacks.
"I understand the offense a whole lot better now, and I think I understand what we're trying to do in every situation," Zwick said. "You are a lot more comfortable when you have that kind of understanding. It's a lot different than last year."
Has something to work with
Tressel said the extended look he got at both Zwick and Smith in the 2004 season gives him a platform to work from when he analyzes the performances of both players this year, with an eye toward finding a regular starter.
"A year ago at this time we hadn't had many opportunities to look at guys that were going to be on the field, in games -- especially the quarterbacks, they hadn't been there at all," Tressel said.
"Now, we've had a lot of opportunities to see a lot of these guys in games. In fact, I don't know that there's anybody outside of maybe freshmen that hasn't been in the game playing offense for us. So I feel a lot more comfortable feeling like we're knowing where we can go."


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