Each Monday during the 2008 college football season, the blog will take a look at each facet of the Ohio State game the preceding Saturday and break things down position by position. Here are our thoughts on the Buckeyes’ season-opening victory, a 43-0 shutout of Division I-AA opponent Youngstown State.
Quarterbacks – Ohio State would appear to have the luxury of three quarterbacks each of whom seems capable of running the offense. Starter Todd Boeckman had another of his workmanlike games, completing nearly 75 percent of his passes for modest yardage and a couple of touchdowns. Best of all for me was Boeckman throwing balls with more authority. That would include a 47-yard completion that hit Brian Hartline in mid-stride and the 31-yard touchdown dart to Brian Robiskie. I still would like to see Boeckman dump the ball and throw it away when there is nothing there, but he threw zero interceptions so we won’t quibble.
Backups Terrelle Pryor and Joe Bauserman looked pretty much at ease in their first meaningful games in the Horseshoe. Bauserman was on mop-up detail, but he still showcased a good arm and excellent pocket presence. As for Pryor, he looks every bit as good as advertised. If that was just a small taste of what he can do, imagine what will happen when he really gets comfortable.
Running Backs – It’s hard to find fault with an attack that averaged 5.8 yards on 43 carries, so I won’t try. A backfield that features the power of Beanie Wells and the fluid elusiveness of Pryor would be something the Buckeyes haven’t had since Cornelius Greene, Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson were punishing Big Ten defenses in the mid-1970s.
Hopefully, Wells won’t be shelved too long but even if he is, I get a feeling the Buckeyes will be better than a lot of people think. Boom Herron has had an excellent fall camp, and with Brandon Saine and Maurice Wells getting healthy after being nicked up in the preseason, OSU still has a lot of weapons. Throw a scrambling Pryor into the mix, let him run the option, and the possibilities are positively mouth-watering.
Offensive Line – Like any game, you can find fault with the offensive line if you look hard enough. For example, the Buckeyes had to settle for first-half field goals when they couldn’t convert a trio of first-and-goal situations – two from the YSU 9 and the other from the 5. In other words, the short-yardage package may still need some work.
But there were other times – the majority of the game – when the Ohio State offensive line had its way with the Penguins. On Beanie’s 43-yard touchdown in the first quarter, the entire left side of the line parted the Youngstown State defense like Moses parting the Red Sea. Obviously, it was a mismatch physically. But it was a good jumping-off point for a veteran offensive line that will need to shoulder the load at USC.
Receivers – I heard some criticism about the OSU receivers being unable to get separation from the Youngstown State defensive backs, but I’m not sure what game those people were watching. On Robiskie’s touchdown, for example, he got YSU cornerback Jarvis Richards completely turned around at the line of scrimmage and kept that advantage all the way to the end zone.
Robiskie is rapidly becoming a question mark because of a lingering shoulder injury, but Hartline is getting more and more passes thrown his way and he seldom lets one get by. Add in a rejuvenated Ray Small, an obviously talented DeVier Posey (he would appear to be the next big thing) and young threats like Lamaar Thomas, Dane Sanzenbacher and Taurian Washington, and the Buckeyes have plenty of weapons at the receiver position. Now, if they can just keep the tight ends in the passing game …
Defensive Line – It was difficult to get a true assessment of just how the line played because it so outmanned its opponent. Probably the most welcome sights were the return of Lawrence Wilson and Rob Rose, budding stars who have the ability to make Ohio State better on the defensive line. Wilson has the chance to make for a seamless transition from Vernon Gholston, while Rose reminds a lot of people of Kenny Peterson. I also like the raw enthusiasm of Thaddeus Gibson, who looks like he could pile up a lot of sacks if he’s allowed to run free this season.
The tackle positions need to up their production this year and they each seemed to be in on their share of stops in the opener. Todd Denlinger and Dexter Larimore earned the start, but Nader Abdallah needs to continue improving and even Doug Worthington emerged from the doghouse to see some late action. I liked what I saw from these guys on Saturday, but I want to see even more.
Linebackers – Tackle totals can be deceiving, and I think that’s what happened against the Penguins. Marcus Freeman tied for the team lead with six, but I caught Freeman several times doing what he used to do – taking a poor pursuit angle and making a grabbing tackle from behind. I thought that he had ended that bad habit last year.
As for the other starters, James Laurinaitis and Ross Homan, it wasn’t exactly a showcase. Then again, it wasn’t meant to be. Guys like Austin Spitler – whom I contend could start for most Big Ten teams – like to get in there and mix it up as often as possible, and that’s pretty much what they did.
Secondary – Ohio State did a pretty good disguising coverages in the defensive backfield, confusing YSU’s trio of quarterbacks and allowing the Buckeyes to hide any deficiencies connected with the absences of Kurt Coleman (sprained ankle) and suspended veterans Donald Washington and Jamario O’Neal. At one of the corner spots, senior Shaun Lane did a more than capable job – even though he dropped the best chance he’s probably ever going to have at an interception return for a touchdown. Sophomore Devon Torrence also looked at ease in the secondary since his move from wide receiver this fall.
The Penguins managed to complete 12 of 18 passes during the game, and that’s a fairly decent 66.7 percent. But none of those completions went for more than 15 yards as Youngstown State simply didn’t have the manpower on its offensive line to allow for the deep ball. Ohio University is supposed to have a much better passing game, so maybe we’ll see more of a test next week.
Special Teams – So far, so good. The snaps looked good, the holds looked good, and Ryan Pretorius was a perfect 4 for 4 on field goals. That included a 50-yarder that didn’t look like it cleared the line of scrimmage by all that much. Later, Aaron Pettrey blasted a 54-yarder that looked like it would have been good from 65. (In case you’re interested, Tom Skladany has owned the school record at 59 yards since 1975.) A.J. Trapasso didn’t get a chance to punt in the game, but anytime your team doesn’t need the punter, that’s a good thing.
Meanwhile, the return game seemed to have much more life than last year. Small averaged nearly 20 yards on four returns, and broke one for 45 yards. It would have been even longer had a penalty not wiped another 15 or 20 yards. And Saine returned the opening kickoff 28 yards – not great but certainly better than last year’s team average of an anemic 17.6 yards for the entire season. Again, good foundations to build on for next week and beyond.
Coaching – I’m going to resist the temptation to criticize Tressel for having Wells in the game midway through the third quarter of a blowout. Football is game in which an injury can occur at any time. Besides, if Wells was truly going to have a Heisman-winning season, he had to have more than a dozen carries and just over 100 yards.
Very pleasing to see was the use of a lot of players at different positions. If I have had one major criticism of Tressel’s philosophy over the years, it has been his reluctance to use younger players in games that were well in hand. That didn’t happen against Youngstown State, especially with the number of talented freshmen who saw action.
Also satisfying to see was Pryor’s debut and the number of actual plays he has in the OSU playbook. He would appear to have the total skill set to throw and run the ball with equal ability. And if you throw in that option, it gives the Buckeyes an added dimension they can throw at opposing defenses to keep them off-balance.
The team only needs to keep using those things rather than simply showcasing them early in the season and then turning conservative come crunch time.
Summing Up – About what you would expect when the No. 2 team in the nation hosts a lower-division opponent. Simply put, it was the first of two glorified scrimmages that happen to count in the overall standings. Realistically, nothing gets settled until week three in Los Angeles.
Among the worldwide luminaries celebrating birthdays on this first day of September: Sixties TV actor George Maharis (“Route 66”); 1966 PGA Championship winner Al Geiberger; actress/comedian Lily Tomlin; Tae Bo entrepreneur Billy Blanks; Grammy-winning singer Gloria Estefan; Bee Gees lead singer Barry Gibb; ESPN sportscaster Kenny Mayne; former NBA star Tim Hardaway; former Denver Broncos linebacker Karl Mecklenburg; ex-Iowa and Kansas City Chiefs running back Ed Podolak; Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Zach Thomas; Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor; Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis; former seven-time world boxing champion Érik Morales; Fall Out Boy lead guitarist Joe Trohman; and eponymous TV shrink Dr. Phil McGraw.
Several well-known people who have passed into history also shared Sept. 1 as birthdays. They include: actress Yvonne DeCarlo (Lily on “The Munsters”); country singers Boxcar Willie (born Lecil Travis Martin) and Conway Twitty (né Harold Lloyd Jenkins); former Texas Gov. Ann Richards; and former heavyweight boxing champions James J. Corbett and Rocky Marciano.
** It wasn’t a very good debut for several new college football head coaches. Rich Rodriguez of Michigan led a parade that included Mike Sherman at Texas A&M, Paul Wulff at Washington State and Art Briles of Baylor whose teams suffered opening-week losses. All four teams lost at home, including A&M which had won 20 straight home openers.
** Duke head coach David Cutcliffe bucked the trend, leading the Blue Devils to a 31-7 victory over James Madison in his first game. It marked Duke’s first win in a season-opener since 2002, and the first Blue Devils coach to win his debut since Fred Goldsmith opened the 1994 season with a victory over Maryland. Duke entered the game having lost nine games in a row and 31 of its last 32.
** Georgia is going to have a tough time defending its No. 1 position in the polls if it keeps losing stud linemen to injury. First, offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down with a knee injury in preseason, and now the Bulldogs have lost defensive tackle Jeff Owens. He tore the ACL in his right knee during Georgia’s 45-21 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday, and will be out for the remainder of the season.
** By the way, in case you missed it, former Ohio State quarterback Antonio Henton made his Georgia Southern debut in that game and completed 10 of 18 pass attempts for 102 yards, one TD and one INT.
** OSU’s other transfer quarterback Robby Schoenhoft also made his debut with his new team Saturday, completing 14 of 22 passes for 128 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for Delaware as the Blue Hens dropped a 14-7 decision to Maryland.
** They say you’re only as old as you feel, but I felt really old yesterday when I read Jim Thome tied Mickey Mantle on the all-time home run list. As unbelievable as it sounds to someone my age, Mantle’s 536 career homers is now good enough only for a 14th-place tie on the all-time list. The Mick still boasts more round-trippers than any other switch hitter in history and figures to hold onto that distinction for awhile. The closest active switch hitter to him is Chipper Jones, who has 406.