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TEXAS VS. OHIO STATE

A Charge in the Air at Austin

No. 1 Buckeyes vs. No. 2 Longhorns is as big as it gets in college football, even without the arrests.

September 09, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

Top-ranked Ohio State at second-ranked Texas is everything a big-time college football game seems to be about these days -- offense, defense and weapons charges.

Handoffs, handcuffs and hype will engulf the Lone Star State tonight at Royal-Memorial Stadium with a kind of lightning bolt the National Football League can't provide.

Ohio State at Texas is Columbus vs. Country, Brutus vs. Bevo, last year's national champion vs. this year's favorite and coaches Jim "Every Vote Counts" Tressel versus Mack "Book 'Em" Brown.

You could also feed a small country on the schools' combined athletic department budgets.

It is the second No. 1 vs. No. 2 pairing in the last three collegiate calendar weeks -- dating to last year's Rose Bowl -- and the second top-ranked team Texas has faced in its last three games.

Ohio State at Texas is the earliest regular-season meeting of No. 1 and No. 2 since USC and Oklahoma banged helmets Sept. 26, 1981.

It is, somewhat incredibly, the first time a No. 1 team has visited Austin since Southern Methodist boarded buses in 1950.

Ohio State at Texas is a return-game reprise of last year's September potboiler in Columbus, a 25-22 Texas victory that fueled the Longhorns' national championship drive.

Ohio State could have won had the Buckeyes scored one more touchdown, instead of settling for five field goals.

Recounting the top plays of 2005 ...

Everyone remembers the "Bush Push" at South Bend, USC Coach Pete Carroll's fourth-and-two call in the Rose Bowl and Vince Young's game-winning, dash-for-cash run later the same night.

The play that got the party started for Texas, though, came last year with 2:37 left at Ohio State's Horseshoe, when long-legged Longhorn Limas Sweed found himself on the receiving end of a game-winning, 24-yard scoring pass from Young.

"A player can definitely grow a lot from a play like that," Sweed said this week.

After Ohio State, Texas did not have another close game until it faced USC, the Longhorns scoring at least 40 points in 11 straight wins.

You could argue that Ohio State was the most important win in Brown's career.

Ohio State did rally from darkness to beat Michigan and then handed Notre Dame its eighth straight bowl loss in the Fiesta, but it's still the Texas game that some Buckeyes remember.

"It was just disbelief in the locker room," junior tackle Kirk Barton recalled about last year's loss. "All the work faded. There was a lot of climbing to do after dropping that game.

"I've re-watched the game at least 50 times. I want to remember that feeling. It gets me motivated. The feeling in the locker room after -- it was like you've been hit by a car. You're done."

Now they get to do it again, except this time everything's flipped, with Texas facing a version of its 2005 offense.

Troy Smith, who did not start last year's Texas game, is Ohio State's version of Young, a do-it-all quarterback who can beat you with all four limbs. Too bad Texas couldn't bring back Young this week to run its scout team.

The game did not need any more buildup, but it got plenty.

On Monday, starting Texas cornerback Tarell Brown, the man expected to defend Buckeyes burner Ted Ginn Jr., was arrested in the wee hours, allegedly with a loaded gun in his lap. With him in the car were a current and a former Longhorns teammate.

Mack Brown, in a blunt move, suspended Brown and a backup player even before news broke that Tarell's drug test had come back clean.

So now, to cover Ginn, who runs 40 yards faster than Lee Corso runs from a prediction, Texas turns to Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer.

There is no telling yet how that will go.

"Well, very few people cover him at all," Mack Brown said of Ginn. "So what you try to do is just keep his plays from just absolutely taking over and killing you."

Brown is teaching his defense one important technique in advance of Ginn's laying hands on the ball.

"You hold your breath," Brown said.

Not to be outdone in headlines, Ohio State countered with a news conference in which Tressel said he was so impressed with the Longhorns that he voted them No. 1 on his USA Today coaches' poll ballot.

USA Today, which tabulates the votes, begged to differ and used space and ink in Wednesday's editions to set the record straight -- Tressel in fact voted the Buckeyes No. 1.

Ohio State said it was all an innocent mistake, although it set up an interesting pregame scenario in the Buckeyes' locker room.

OK, men, who's the best team in the nation?!!

I don't know, Coach, you tell us.

Meanwhile, in a constant pinprick reminder of what price Ohio State paid for its 2002 national title, former tailback Maurice Clarett sits imprisoned and indicted on a fresh set of weapons charges related to his bizarre arrest on Aug. 9.

Tickets for tonight's game are hovering around $600 a pop, and good luck distinguishing the real ones from the counterfeits.

"I think it'll be one of the most exciting games in the history of this school and this city," Mack Brown said.

They might need a fire hose to clear 6th Street. Bevo has asked for a mild sedative to calm his nerves.

Kickoff is 5 p.m. in the West and, if you ask anyone with a pigskin pulse, it can't get here soon enough.

*

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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