Should Ohio State come out of the L.A. Coliseum with a win Saturday night, no one is going to remember this tussle with the Bobcats.
I figured we might as well lead the OU game summary with a mention of the impending clash with USC. It seemed the Buckeyes’ collective minds were running a week into the future. OSU made just enough plays to beat back their in-state little brother, a 35-point underdog who really had nothing to lose.
The tone was set on the Bucks’ opening drive, as linebacker Lee Renfro came untouched on a third-down blitz and collapsed the pocket around Todd Boeckman, allowing Noah Keller to polish off a sack for minus-2. OU quarterback Theo Scott, who had gone 26 for 35 passing in his team’s opening loss at Wyoming, converted his first third-down opportunity with a ten-yard scramble. The Buckeye defense forced him out of the pocket again on third down a few moments later, but Scott’s pass for Taylor Price was dropped.
Ohio State’s second possession looked even lamer than its first. With a makeable 3rd-and-3, Boeckman’s short toss to Brian Robiskie went for zilch as Brian Hartline failed to get a block. The Bobcats moved into OSU territory on its subsequent march as Scott, the benefactor of nice blitz pickups from his line and backs, dialed up tight end Andrew Mooney for 14 and a first down at the Buckeye 39. The joy was short-lived as Doug Worthington sat on the QB for a loss of 4 when Scott mishandled the center snap, then Lawrence Wilson rang up the first pick of 2008. Batting a screen pass for Chris Garrett into the air, Wilson regained his balance to pluck the ball and rumble to the OU 24. It was just the kind of big-time play that the Scarlet and Gray “D” will need in L.A.
The offensive struggles continued as “Boom” Herron could only manage a yard on two tosses to the left. Evading heat on 3rd-and-9, Boeckman found Ray Small for the needed 9 and a first down at the Bobcat 14. A 2-yard pop by Herron preceded a three-yard catch by Small, which required a nifty move by the Glenville product just to get that. Boeckman looked for Robiskie on the fade but the pass was a bit far for Robo, who was under, shall we say, “tight” coverage from Thad Turner. Ryan Pretorius knocked through OSU’s sixth field goal of the young season already to open the scoring at 3-0.
Chris Garrett got Ohio’s next march lifted off with a 13-yard draw, but three plays later Theo Scott found himself under pressure from Lawrence Wilson. Scott was able to throw the ball away but Wilson was tackled, drawing laundry. To make matters worse for the Green and White, Jermale Hines got a clean shot on Scott, taking him down hard to the turf and forcing him from the game with an injured left shoulder. The Bucks declined the holding call and took over at their own 26 following the OU punt, but Terrelle Pryor couldn’t spark anything on his first series and the first period ended with the Bobcats on the offense, trailing 3-0. They didn’t stay on offense long. Backup QB Boo Jackson underthrew Taylor Price, and Malcolm Jenkins made a superb leaping pick, setting up his offensive mates at their own 39.
The sputtering continued for the “O”, as a forced pass for Robiskie was broken up, followed by a false start courtesy of Ben Person. But then the motor turned over a bit as Boeckman danced for 16 and Mo Wells came right back with a dozen more around the left side to move the pigskin to the Bobcat 38. Three plays picked up 9, which usually means “Beanie Time”, but with the big guy sidelined, the handoff went to his namesake Mo Wells, who was stuffed.
The stop troops had OU right where they wanted them, forcing a 3rd-and-14, but Jackson was able to avoid Lawrence Wilson and floated a rainbow over Jermale Hines to Taylor Price, he of the 14 receptions in the opener at Wyoming. The play was good for 30 and the ‘Cats were off the hook. They drove the point home even more three plays later as Jackson eluded four scarlet jerseys and converted a 3rd-and-7 with a 10-yard scamper. The exasperated crowd in the ‘Shoe probably wasn’t surprised another trio of snaps later as Riley Dunlop hauled in a 13-yard strike from Jackson on a 3rd-and-6, giving Ohio a first down at the Ohio State 15. Price had Malcolm Jenkins beaten on the next play but the pass was high, so OU coach Frank Solich kept it landlocked and Donte Harden got loose around the left side for a 15-yard score, giving the ‘Cats only their second lead ever over an Ohio State team (The Bucks posted four straight shutouts over OU at the dawn of the last century, while the men of Athens held a brief 10-3 lead in the 1999 matchup).
OSU got decent field position as “Boom” Herron brought a short kickoff back to his 39. With great protection, Todd Boeckman found tight end Jake Ballard for a big 25-yard pickup to the Bobcat 36. After a Brian Hartline drop, two Herron runs netted 15 to the 21. Boeckman fired for Brian Robiskie inside the 5-yard line, but Robo wasn’t even looking for the football and it practically hit him in the hip, falling incomplete. Boeckman probably put a bit too much mustard on a third-down pass for Hartline at the pylon, but the Canton native couldn’t get a handle on it. It was left to Ryan Pretorius and he answered with a 38-yard field goal, narrowing the deficit to 7-6.
The defensive troops came through with a quick 3-and-out, and when OU punter Matt Schulte could only muster a 26-yard boot, the Bucks had prime position at the enemy 48, with one last chance to dent the endzone. Boeckman was able to engineer a first down with a strike to Ray Small, but on third down moments later defensive end Kris Luchsinger got to Todd for a three-yard sack to douse the fire. Pretorius was called on for a 53-yard FG try, but he pulled it left and the visitors were content to take a couple of knees and get out of the half with the one-point edge.
I must admit I regret not being at the game to see TBDBITL’s halftime show- a salute to the music of my all-time favorite movie, “Top Gun”. In fact, the band was the subject of ESPN’s “Aflac Trivia Question”, which inquired which three non-band members, in addition to Gordon Gee and former prexy Novice Fawcett, have dotted the “I” in Script Ohio. In case you didn’t see it, I’ll give you the answers at the end of this article, although I’d have to remind ESPN that they forgot boxer James “Buster” Douglas. Buster performed the honor at 1990’s home opener against Texas Tech while he was still basking in the glow of his upset win over Mike Tyson in Tokyo the previous February.
Ohio received the second-half kickoff, and backup QB Boo Jackson continued to bedevil the Bucks on third down, getting loose for 19 on a 3rd-and-10 from his own 32. Donte Harden fired through for 14 more, but just as OU appeared to be in gear the OSU defense stepped it up, allowing Harden only 1 on a screen before forcing a pair of incompletions. Punter Matt Schulte made like Pat “PJS Buck” Steger on a par-3, dropping his punt at the Buckeye 6. A pair of Mo Wells totes gained 8, but disaster struck on 3rd-and-2 as center Jim Cordle’s snap went over Todd Boeckman’s head. ESPN’s camera crew did a nice job with a closeup of Todd’s eyes right before the snap, showing him clearly looking off to his right as OU was readying a blitz. The football rolled all the way to the endzone where Lee Renfro and Noah Keller sat on Todd for an apparent safety. But the officials still hadn’t blown the whistle as the scramble continued, and finally end Curtis Meyers pried the rock away for a touchdown. Nine minutes remained in the third quarter and suddenly the Bobcats had a 14-6 lead.
Ohio State responded with their best drive, by far, of the afternoon. Needing someone to provide a spark, the Scarlet and Gray got it in the form of Daniel “Boom” Herron, who ignited the march with a 14-yard draw right past an OU blitz. Brian Hartline moved the chains with a 4-yard snag on second down, and then Dane Sanzenbacher got in on the act with a 13-yard grab. A Boeckman scramble and another blast from Herron gained a first down at the Bobcat 23, and on 3rd-and-1 moments later “Boom” did what Mo Wells couldn’t- punch out a clutch first down. Herron continued to pound away, netting three on two carries to set up a 3rd-and-7 at the Ohio 10. Boeckman drilled a picture-perfect slant to B-Hart to put the ball on the doorstep, and Herron capped off the 13-play march with a 1-yard dive behind Brandon Smith and Curtis Terry. Coach Tressel bypassed a 2-point attempt and watched as Ryan Pretorius botched the PAT, leaving OSU down by 2.
OSU’s defensive line continued to bring the heat on Boo Jackson, and the Bobcats quickly went three-and-out as a trio of tosses was off-target. Sure, Jackson made some nice plays with his feet at times, but if Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Wilson and Thaddeus Gibson can bring it to USC’s O-line and get to a much less mobile Mark Sanchez, the Bucks will be cooking with hot grease.
The Buckeye offense hiccupped again, getting nowhere in three plays on their next series. But leave it to special teams to turn the ballgame around. Mark Parson dropped A.J. Trapasso’s punt right by the OSU sideline. Shaun Lane was barreling in, and as he slid on the turf, the ball was invitingly lingering by the line. With only a split second to work with, Lane was able to corral the ball as he just did land inbounds. The official on the spot, who literally had Shaun at his feet, immediately signaled “OSU ball”, and his call was upheld with a brief replay check. Boeckman went for the jugular right away, but a post pass for Hartline was incomplete, which happens when a defensive back- in this case Michael Mitchell- drills the receiver before the ball gets there. Not about to let this opportunity slip away, Todd Boeckman fired a seed for Dane Sanzenbacher for an even dozen and a key first down as the third quarter concluded with OU up 14-12.
It was Brandon Saine’s turn to carry the mail, and the sophomore ripped off a gain of 7 before absolutely bulling his way for 5, parking the ball at the OU 2. Buckeye legend Chris Spielman, doing sideline work for the ESPN broadcast, informed viewers that this was the exact situation where the Bucks like to go with their bread-and-butter, the “Power-O” play, with a guard pulling around and the fullback and tailback following him into the hole. True to form, Ben Person pulled around from right to left as both Spielman and color commentator Ray Bentley exclaimed “There it is!” Saine followed Ben and Curtis Terry over the left side and in to finally give OSU the lead at 19-14 after the PAT.
The Bobcats weren’t about to say “uncle”. They continued to convert seemingly every third down, with Donte Harden picking up 13 on the same toss play that he scored on while Steve Goulet found room in the Buckeye zone for 14 three plays later. The “third” time, so to speak, would be the charm moments later as Marcus Freeman tipped a 3rd-and-9 pass into the arms of James Laurinaitis. The crowd was now breathing a bit easier but after Mo Wells got loose around left end for 18 on the opening play of their next drive, the Buckeye offense ran aground. A.J. Trapasso punted into the endzone and the Bobcats would get another shot with 7:11 left in the game.
OSU’s “D” forced a 3rd-and-9, which for most of the day was exactly where OU wanted to be. Boo Jackson was able to duck away from Thaddeus Gibson and had Taylor Price open behind Chimdi Chekwa, but even with time to set himself he threw on the run and Price couldn’t haul it in at midfield. The missed connection would haunt Ohio instantly as Ray Small fielded Matt Schulte’s punt at the OSU 31. Deftly slipping through two gunners, Small used a block-in-the-back that wasn’t called on Austin Spitler to get loose down the middle. Veering to his left, it became a footrace and Small won it easily, coasting to the house to finish off a 69-yard return and effectively wrapping things up. Small’s best two punt returns, last week against Youngstown State and last November up in Ann Arbor, had both been called back on penalties. This one probably should have been, but it made up for some of the tight coverage OU’s defensive backs got away with. And it would’ve been another glaring error for Spitler, he of the roughing-the-center call in the ’06 TBGUN game and the roughing-the-punter against LSU last January.
Ohio’s final possession reached Ohio State’s 42, but Boo Jackson’s pass for Andrew Mooney was easily picked by Anderson Russell to turn out the lights. Terrelle Pryor ran out the clock, breaking off a 24-yard run that vividly demonstrated his gliding running style. It looks so effortless, and now that I’ve had a chance to see him in more than just a grainy Youtube clip, I certainly feel that the Vince Young comparisons are justified.
The Bobcats return to Athens next Saturday to face two-time defending MAC West champ Central Michigan, who didn’t fare so well last week in their matchup with a Top 5 opponent (56-17 loss at Georgia). For the fourth time in as many years (Texas ’05 and ’06, TBGUN ’06), the Buckeyes will be involved in the most anticipated game of the entire college football season.
And the answer to ESPN’s “Aflac Trivia Question” from last Saturday? In addition to presidents Gordon Gee and Novice Fawcett, the other three non-band members to dot the “I” in Script Ohio are comedian Bob Hope, iconic coach Woody Hayes and golfing great Jack Nicklaus.
RANDOM THOUGHTS - OSU’s win over Ohio was the 800th all-time victory in school annals. It’s a bit of a reach since it would be #801 for the Buckeyes, but in a hopeful bit of good karma Texas gained their 800th win at the expense of USC in the classic 2006 Rose Bowl…Staying on the karma train, the Bucks have been named AP national champs four times. Three of those years (’42, ’54 and ’68) they knocked off Southern Cal…Remember 1985 when OSU’s stud tailback was sidelined with an foot injury, but the Bucks took down #1-ranked Iowa? Even though it was a shoulder and not a foot, remember 2002 when OSU’s stud tailback was in and out of the lineup but the Bucks upset top-ranked Miami? Maybe Beanie’s bad foot is a good omen…I will readily admit that doing research in the wee small hours of the morning isn’t always good for accuracy, but since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, this past weekend appears to be the first time that all 11 conference teams won on the same day. The only other weekend that comes close was week #1 of the 2006 season, but those eleven victories by Big Ten teams were accomplished over the course of Thursday, August 31st and Saturday, September 2nd…As you might have guessed, ESPN Classic is trotting out old Buckeye/Trojan games all this week. Unless you just want to veg and remember a time with fewer graphics and far less TV timeouts, I wouldn’t bother since every game in their lineup is a Buckeye loss with the exception of a 1-hour review of the 1969 Rose Bowl at 3PM Monday.