SAN ANTONIO - Troy Smith helped Ohio State get into the Alamo Bowl. Justin Zwick will have to help the Buckeyes win it.
No. 24 Ohio State (7-4) won four of its last five games after Smith took over as quarterback. But he was suspended by the team last week for a violation of team rules and will miss Wednesday's game against Oklahoma State.
That puts the offense back into the hands of Justin Zwick, who went 3-3 before hurting his shoulder and being replaced by Smith.
"It's pretty exciting to be back on the field competing," said Zwick, who hasn't taken a snap in a game since mid-October. "I've been preparing every week as if I would get this opportunity."
Zwick doesn't have the game-breaking talent of Smith, who ran for 145 yards and passed for another 241 in the Buckeyes' season-ending upset of Big Ten rival Michigan. But Oklahoma State (7-4) is still giving him respect.
"Zwick is definitely more efficient with the short passing game," said safety Jamie Thompson, who lead the Cowboys in tackles and forced fumbles. "Troy was always running around scrambling and didn't throw the ball as much. I'm going to focus more on short passes and trying to contain them as best I can."
Oklahoma State coach Les Miles said his team has tweaked its defensive approach because Zwick is more of a pure pocket passer.
"We will blitz more to the inside instead of the outside," he said.
Containing the Ohio State receiver corps could present a key challenge for Oklahoma State, which allowed an average of 263 yards passing in its final four games, three of them losses.
Buckeyes receiver Santonio Holmes caught 50 passes for 722 yards and seven touchdowns during the season, and was complemented as the year went on by freshmen Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez emerged late.
In the final three games, Ginn, who also had an NCAA-leading four touchdowns on punt returns in 2004, caught 12 passes for 171 yards, while Gonzalez had four catches averaging 31.5 yards.
"I'm sure (Ginn) is way far ahead of where he was when Justin last played with him," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who added of Gonzalez, "I'm not sure who's faster than him in the 40. He can really put some pressure on a defense."
And in a tight game, the Buckeyes have the advantage in kicking with Mike Nugent, a first-team All-American and winner of the Lou Groza Award, given to college football's top kicker. He went 20-for-23 on field goals, including five from 50 yards or more.
Oklahoma State was ranked as high as 16th after winning their first five games, but the Cowboys finished 2-4 in the Big 12, capped by a 31-15 loss to Texas Tech that knocked them out of the national rankings.
Their offense relies on tailback Vernand Morency, one of the nation's leading rushers with 145 yards a game and 13 touchdowns.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk, Ohio State's leading tackler, compared Oklahoma State's offense to that of Michigan.
"What is impressive is that they have been able to run on whoever they played this year," said Hawk, who averaged 12.4 tackles per game. "And whenever you play a running offense, it's always fun to play defense."
Donovan Woods completed 82 of 153 passes for nearly 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he rushed for another 364 yards. His brother D'Juan led the Cowboys with 29 receptions for 650 yards and six TDs.
Donovan Woods said watching film has given him a good idea of what to expect from Ohio State's defenders.
"Their front seven is very strong," he said. "They rank right up there with Oklahoma and Texas and some of the best defense we have played."
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