A Flying Start

By Jason Priestas on September 20, 2008 at 8:37p
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The four touchdowns aren't really surprising. The fact that they all came through the air is.

In the last five years, Ohio State has had the luxury of putting three former Army All-American Bowl MVPs on the field. One of them shattered the school return records and is in the NFL. Another broke Archie's sophomore rushing mark and is currently hobbled with a bum toe. The third earned his first career start today and lived up to his impressive billing.

Earning the nod over incumbent Todd Boeckman, who had started the previous 16 Buckeye games, Terrelle Pryor threw for four touchdowns on the day in leading the Buckeyes to a 28-10 win over Troy. Through the first three games, we'd seen glimpses of what he could do on his feet, but today he answered all critics that were wondering about his long game by throwing for a pair of touchdowns that went 38 and 39 yards. He still did damage on his feet and save for the late sack in the 2nd quarter that took the team out of field goal range, he had a near error-free day.

The Trojans were certainly game and entered the final stanza down only four points, but a stiffening Buckeye defense, the fine punting of AJ Trapasso and two fourth quarter Pryor touchdown tosses put the game out of reach.

Offense

Well, the Pryor era is officially upon us, which leads to the uncomfortable proposition of the team's senior quarterback, a captain, facing the prospect of becoming a backup for the last eight games of the season. He came into the game for a handful of plays on the Buckeyes' fourth series and watched a Hartline reverse get blown up before throwing a ball into Hartline's feet on 2nd down. The home crowd promptly voiced their displeasure and Pryor came back into the game to pick up a 3rd and 17 before having the play reversed because Robo decided to step out of bounds for a second on his route. I can't remember the last time a senior captain lost his job mid-season in Columbus, but Boeckman handled the affair like the consummate pro in postgame interviews:

"I'm happy for Terrelle, he had a great day. He did some great things out there. He's getting better every time he's out there and he made some great plays out there. I'm excited for this team and for him."

Boeckman is a better man than I am, that's for sure. I know we've all piled on him at various times this season, but you have to tip your hat to the guy for handling an uncomfortable situation with grace.

For his part, Pryor was also humble, paying respect to Todd in his comments and passing credit to the offensive line and receivers for the success of his debut performance. He even went so far as to say that he messed up a lot and will get yelled at during film sessions. Ah, don't kids say the cutest things?

The playcalling on the day was pretty nondescript, though a couple of reverses were tossed in (both with average to disastrous results). What Pryor did bring to the table was a certain pocket presence and calming leadership that had been missing under Boeckman. The first touchdown went to tight end Rory Nicol, which is a rarity in these parts and he also did a good job of getting the ball to Smith out of the fullback spot. You know it's just a matter of time until Tressel breaks out the Tebow special: the fake QB sneak into the goal line with the quarterback pulling up to shot-put the ball to a wide open tight end. Michigan, you've been warned.

Boom came in and ran hard on the afternoon, finishing with 94 yards on 20 carries. He just missed that first century game we had predicted for him, but he's clearly getting better each week and providing an option in the backfield while Saine (4 for 9) and Rasta Wells (2 for 9) remain ineffective. Pryor finished 2nd on the team in rushing yards with 66 on 14 carries (take away the sack and he's sitting at 82, good for 5.8/carry).

The play out of the receivers was a mixed bag on the day. Both Brians started slow, including a curious one-armed attempt at a nicely thrown bomb from Robiskie that was probably good for a 90 yard score early in the game. Robo and Hartline would each finish with a long touchdown catch, but Robiskie is clearly still bothered by the shoulder injury he suffered in fall camp. Talking to reporters after the game, he would only say that he dropped the ball on the bomb and avoided any injury talk.

The balls to Nicol and Smith were nice to see, but the team's leading receiver coming into the game, Ray Small, made only a cameo appearance on a 4th quarter reverse that went for minimal gain. You can't help but wonder if Ray got himself into some more trouble -- probably something minor like being late for a team meeting or something -- and Tressel would only say that "he's fighting for playing time" when addressing his status after the game. Frosh DeVier Posey and sophomore Taurian Washington got the majority of Small's vacated snaps as the 4th wide receiver.

Freshman Mike Brewster earned his first career start at center as Jim Cordle was bumped to left guard to fill in for the injured Rehring. Right guard Ben Person's play continues to be cause for concern, but the line looked much improved over their performance last week in Los Angeles. Then again, this was the Trojan Lite defense and not the unit featuring Maualuga, Cushing, Matthews, Ellison and Mays, so take that performance review with a grain of salt. We'll know more about how good this line wants to become in two weeks in Madison.

Defense

Troy came out and ran a lot of horizontal quick passes to move the ball and pick up some yards on Ohio State's defense, especially early on. They moved the ball to the Buckeye four yard line on their third drive of the game before a Laurinaitis sack moved them back to the 13. After picking up five yards on 2nd down, the Trojans were held to a three yard gain on 3rd and goal from the eight, ultimately settling for a field goal to cut Ohio State's lead to 7-3.

Trailing 14-3 with 3:34 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Troy scored on a five play drive capped by a 45-yard touchdown strike from Hampton to Jernigan to cut the lead to four points. The score came about on another short pass, that saw Freeman, Coleman, Washington and Hines miss tackles on the catch and run.

Despite being down 14-10, Troy took a lead in total yards into halftime and actually finished with one more yard on the day (310 to 309), but once Ohio State started to score points, the Trojans were forced to try to go a little more vertical and the Buckeye front four did a good job of getting into the backfield and causing disruptions down the stretch. With only two sacks on the afternoon (Laurinaitis and Gibson), the Buckeyes didn't do much to help their woeful national ranking in this category, but they did get a rare victory over an opponent in sacks on the stat sheet, so we'll take that.

The spread and fast-paced offense clearly gave the Buckeyes trouble at times, but each time Troy started to get something going, Heacock's crew stiffened. The defense, in conjunction with some excellent Trapasso punting, kept the Trojans on their side of the 40 yard line for their final four drives of the game. Their second half possessions consisted of an interception followed by five punts. This may not sound like much, but Troy has been able to score a lot of points the last few years, including 30+ on both Florida and Georgia last season and the school record 700+ yards they put up on Alcorn State last week.

Kurt Coleman was the star of the secondary on the day, coming away with the first two interceptions of his career. The first was a spectacular play where he pulled the ball out of a receiver's hands and the second came inside the OSU red zone when Hampton threw a ball up for grabs from the Buckeye 34 to kill a promising drive at the start of the 2nd half. Jermale Hines was everywhere again, getting the start in the Buckeye nickel package and finishing tied for second on the team with a career-high seven tackles. He did drop a guaranteed pick-six that his teammates will surely pile on him for during film study, but he's rising and fast.

Special Teams

In a rarity for 2008, the Buckeyes did not attempt a single field goal on the afternoon. Punter AJ Trapasso was clearly the special teams star for the second straight week, averaging 46.6 yards on his seven punts, including three he put inside the Troy 20 -- two of which came as the game was winding down and lead indirectly to quick Buckeye scores to put the game out of reach. He had a 60-yarder to put a cap on his performance.

The return game still needs a lot of work, especially with Small out of the punt return scene for the time being. Robo and Hartline each handled two punts and checked in with a long of 9 and 8, respectively.

Notes

Pryor became the first freshman to start at quarterback for Ohio State since Art Schlichter did so in 1978... He also broke Schichter's freshman record of three touchdown passes in a game with his four strikes (also good enough for a new Buckeye freshman touchdown mark for a season)... Hartline's 39-yard touchdown grab was the is the team's second-longest pass play of the season... The listed attendance of 102,989 was the smallest Ohio Stadium crowd in 6 years (Kent State, 2002)... This was OSU's first game against a team from the Sun Belt conference... The 1968 and 1973 teams were honored at halftime... OSU's honorary captain for the game was 1970 Lombardi and Outland Award winner Jim Stillwagon... Tressel is now 23-1 at Ohio Stadium in non-conference games.

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