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Cooper has long list of improvements

The Associated Press

In the 10 minutes it took Cooper to get to the interview room after Sunday night’s 23-12 loss to Miami in the Kickoff Classic, he had already composed a sizable pile of projects to be wrapped up before the Buckeyes host No.

Tuesday, August 31, 1999

In the 10 minutes it took Cooper to get to the interview room after Sunday night’s 23-12 loss to Miami in the Kickoff Classic, he had already composed a sizable pile of projects to be wrapped up before the Buckeyes host No. 17 UCLA on Sept. 11.

”We’ve got to tackle better, block better, protect our quarterback, run the football better, certainly eliminate our turnovers and we’ve got to be more efficient in the kicking game,” Cooper said. ”You name it, we’ve got to work on it.”

The shocker for Ohio State’s players, fans and coaches wasn’t that the Buckeyes lost, but how it all came unraveled.

The Buckeyes never recovered after Kenny Kelly ran for a score and then tossed a TD bomb to Santana Moss with 8 seconds left in the first half to turn a two-point Ohio State lead into a 23-9 burial plot.

The statistics tell the tale. The Buckeyes rushed for just 116 yards and passed for 104 more, averaging just 3.9 yards per play. They fumbled four times, losing two, and had two interceptions to go with seven costly penalties.

”We’ll get these mistakes corrected,” linebacker Na’il Diggs said solemnly. ”It’s like I said before the game: If we win, it’s a great steppingstone for us. If we lose, it’ll be a great learning experience.”

He hesitated and added, ”We’re going to greatly, highly learn from this game today.”

And not just the players. The coaching staff must evaluate and determine a workable rotation at quarterback and tailback.

Austin Moherman was playing well before he was pulled in favor of backup quarterback Steve Bellisari. Cooper has said that he wants to avoid another battle for the job like the one between Joe Germaine and Stanley Jackson in 1996 and 1997, when they traded series and the team had a split personality.

The defense also will be scrutinized. A veteran front line seldom applied pressure to Kelly and the secondary surrendered 245 passing yards – including the looping, wind-blown 50-yarder from Kelly that Moss turned into the 67-yard clincher.

Ohio State had 10 new starters on the Giants Stadium field. But offensive coordinator Mike Jacobs said rookie mistakes weren’t why the Buckeyes lost.

”We had some experiencd people who didn’t play well,” he said. ”We were outcoached and outplayed and Miami won the game today. We’ve got 11 ballgames to go and two weeks to get ourselves back on track here.”

In the end, the loss came at the hands of another ”M” team only a lot earlier than 1996 and 1998 when the Buckeyes had perfect seasons spoiled by Michigan and Michigan State, respectively.

”When there were 30 seconds left on the clock and we were down whatever number of points, all I could think about was, ‘OK, let’s get back to square one,”’ offensive tackle Tyson Walter said. ”This is a difficult time that will test our character.”

”At least it wasn’t a Big Ten game, so we’re still in the title hunt,” offensive guard Ben Gilbert said. ”Remember, Florida State lost a game early last year and still was in the national championship game. One game doesn’t make a season.”

No team has ever lost twice and won the national title. And the Buckeyes still play No. 2 Penn State, No. 7 Michigan, No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 17 UCLA and No. 22 Purdue.

The loss was Cooper’s first in an Ohio State opener and was also the first time the Buckeyes dropped an opener since the 1986 Kickoff Classic against Alabama.

Cooper is 29-4 in September games, 36-12-1 in October, 26-10-3 in November and has won three of 10 bowl games.

In other words, he has as many losses in November and beyond (17) as he has in August, September and October combined.

It’s too early to panic, of course, but the Buckeyes can’t afford to develop slowly.

”UCLA has got some great skill people,” Cooper said. ”UCLA’s got a couple of wide receivers and a couple of running backs who can play on any football team in the country. So we had better be a better football team when we play UCLA than we were today.”