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Rice, OSU Eager To Measure Their Progress

September 6, 1996

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The routine of blocking and tackling teammates in front of gawking coaches has gotten stale.

Despite a touch of high anxiety, Ohio State coach John Cooper said his staff and team are raring to go in Saturday’s opener against Rice at Ohio Stadium.

``It’s like hitting golf balls all summer without playing a round of golf,″ Cooper said. ``You need to play and see where you are.″

As opening opponents go, Rice figures to be a speed-bump on the 10th-ranked Buckeyes’ road to a major bowl game. The Owls return 11 starters from last year’s 2-8-1 team. In the only previous meeting between the schools, Ohio State coasted to a 34-7 victory in the season-opener three years ago.

The Buckeyes, favored by four touchdowns, counter with 10 returning starters on defense alone. On offense, Lombardi Award-winning tackle Orlando Pace is the anchor. Three other starting linemen are also back, although center Juan Porter will miss the first few weeks of the season with a knee injury.

Unlike a year ago, when Ohio State came into the season with a powerhouse offense, there are lots of doubts on that side of the ball this year.

``We’ve all been around the game long enough to realize that anything can happen,″ offensive coordinator Joe Hollis said. ``There’s none of us going in with a comfort zone. There’s some things that we feel like we can do. But so far as execution and how the inexperienced players will react, we don’t have any way of telling, really.″

Those inexperienced players include two-year understudy Stanley Jackson, now elevated to the starter at quarterback; Pepe Pearson at tailback; Rob Murphy and Brooks Burris on the line; Matt Calhoun and Matt Keller, who will share the load at fullback; Dimitrious Stanley at flanker; and D.J. Jones at tight end. Jones returns after missing all of last year because of open-heart surgery.

A year ago the offense averaged 37 points. It’ll also be hard to match the efforts of Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George (1,927 yards, 25 touchdowns) at tailback, Bob Hoying (29 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions) at quarterback, Biletnikoff Award-winning flanker Terry Glenn (1,411 yards and 17 TDs receiving) and tight end Rickey Dudley (37 catches, 7 TDs.)

``Every year’s the same in college football unless you’ve got 22 starters coming back,″ Cooper said. ``You’ve got some people who have to step up and play.″

In that number are the four true freshmen and three redshirt frosh on the Buckeyes’ two-deep roster. The headliner is Andy Katzenmoyer, believed to be the first true freshman ever to start in his first game at middle linebacker at Ohio State.

Rice figures to pose problems for the Buckeyes because of its spread option, a wishbone-style attack that produced 223 rushing yards a game last year. The Owls are high on a deep and quick backfield, which will feature Michael Perry, Spencer George, Benji Wood and Rodd Newhouse.

``The main thing is that we play our ballgame,″ Rice coach Ken Hatfield said. ``You’ll be looking at two diverse styles. They are big and strong with linemen that are 340 pounds and 6-foot-7. I mean, a bunch of giants. It’s just like playing a bunch of Goliaths.″

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