- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s showtime at the ‘Shoe.

When No.2 Texas faces No.4 Ohio State tonight at Ohio Stadium, a pair of the college game’s most electric playmakers will step into the spotlight.

In the first meeting between two storied programs oozing compelling subplots, no story line surpasses the clash of gamebreaking talents Vince Young and Ted Ginn Jr.

“In my opinion, the three most exciting players in college football are Young, Ginn and [USC’s] Reggie Bush,” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit. “Maybe beyond all the other reasons that make this game so special is the fact that two of those guys will be on the same field.”

Nobody wins a Heisman Trophy in September, but after the dazzling Texas quarterback and flashy Ohio State flanker finish their business in Columbus tonight, we’re likely to have a front-runner.

Young, a 6-foot-5, 237-pound junior from Houston, is the better known of the pair thanks to a series of scintillating stretch-run performances last season. Young was heralded as a right-handed Michael Vick when he arrived in Austin as the top quarterback prospect in the freshman class of 2002. As a redshirt freshman in 2003, he began living up to that hype, passing and rushing for more than 1,000 yards in only seven starts en route to earning Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors.

Last year Young struggled with his passing through the first half of the season, the nadir coming in a 12-0 loss to Oklahoma when he completed just eight of 23 for 86 yards.

But after that game, Young persuaded offensive coordinator Greg Davis to scale back the playbook and allow him to improvise more outside the pocket. The results were staggering. Over the Longhorns’ final six games, all victories, Young completed 86 of 137 passes (62.8 percent) for 1,091 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 748 yards and 13 more scores.

The capper came in a mystifying Rose Bowl performance against Michigan. In a 38-37 victory, Young rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns and completed 16 of 28 passes for 180 yards and another touchdown.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr after Young’s heroics, which included touchdown scampers of 60 and 23 yards. “Vince Young is the finest athlete I’ve ever been on the field with.” That’s high praise coming from the man who coached 1997 Heisman winner Charles Woodson.

If Young is a freakish talent for his size, no other player in the country can match Ginn’s raw speed and lateral quickness.

A 6-foot, 174-pound sophomore from Cleveland, Ginn runs the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds in full pads — Bo Jackson/Darrell Green territory. Recruited as a defensive back, Ginn began his Buckeyes career as a cornerback and punt returner, tying an NCAA record with four touchdown returns last season. But after a 3-3 start in which the Ohio State offense struggled, coach Jim Tressel moved Ginn to flanker, and the Buckeyes are 6-1 since. In his seven starts on offense, Ginn has gained 962 yards on 63 touches (15.3 yards per) and scored nine touchdowns.

Like Young, Ginn savaged Michigan, rolling up 210 yards of total offense in a 37-21 rout that included an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Similar to the way USC uses Bush, Ohio State lines up Ginn all over the field: split out, in the slot, in the backfield and even as the quarterback in a shotgun formation known as the “Shot-Ginn.”

“They’re very creative with the packages they use to get [Ginn] the ball,” Carr said. “And once he gets it, he’s just sensational in space.”

From a personality standpoint, the two are as different as the regions from which they come. Young is pure Houston, a gregarious, outspoken type more than willing to swap verbal barbs with Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter earlier this week when the latter suggested his Heisman campaign would end in Columbus.

“When game time comes, let’s see what they’re saying then,” said Young, whose pregame routine includes a viewing of “Gladiator” as he gradually puts on his pads. “I’m so amped up for this game. I heard it is crazy in their stadium, just crazy. That really cranks up the competitor within.

“I’m sure I’ll get some butterflies when we pull up to the stadium, but I’m not nervous about it. Once I get in that locker room, put on my pads and headset and watch my movie, I’ll be zoning.”

The younger Ginn is much less effusive, blue-collar Cleveland quiet, even deferential. But he also appreciates the import of tonight’s epic early-season clash.

“It’s a dream matchup,” Ginn said. “Two great traditions with skilled athletes on both sides, and my first night game at the ‘Shoe. It doesn’t get any better.”

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