The Buckeyes entered last night's home opener against Marshall ranked second in the nation, but it's fair to say fans, both Buckeye and non-Buckeye, still had some questions about Terrelle Pryor at quarterback and the team as a whole. They'd been burned twice before by showering the quarterback with an unfair amount of hype heading into his freshman and sophomore seasons, and the team had just recently exorcised the three year bowl stench from the locker room and had a legacy of getting off to slow starts under Jim Tressel.
After throttling the Thundering Herd 45-7, it's a good bet some of those doubts were extinguished.
Fresh off his Rose Bowl MVP-winning performance, Pryor took the next step in his evolution as a passing quarterback displaying pocket awareness, solid footwork, good reads and excellent ball distribution on his to going 17/25 for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
After Dorian Bell blasted Marshall's Andre Booker, forcing a fumble on the game's opening kickoff, Pryor and the offense took over at the Herd's 22. On first down, he hit tight end Jake Stoneburner for 11, and three plays later, he hit Posey on a back shoulder fade to the left side from six yards out to put the Buckeyes on the board early. The play was reminiscent of the one the two connected on in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl to put the game away.
After the defense held Marshall to a three-and-out, the offense took over again, this time at midfield. On first down Pryor went to Posey again, picking up five. Then, on second down, running back Brandon Saine ran to the left side before bouncing outside and jetting 40 yards down the sideline before being forced down inside the Thundering Herd's five yard line. Two plays later, he took a handoff right, and following fullback Zach Boren plugging two defenders, took it in untouched from four yards out. A little over four minutes into the game, Ohio State was up 14-0 and the rout was on. Or so we thought.
The teams would trade possessions before the Buckeyes advanced to the Marshall 36, setting up a 4th-and-3 with 2:31 on the clock. Tressel elected to give freshman Drew Basil a shot from 52 out, but the kick was blocked and returned 39 yards for a touchdown by Marshall's Ahmed Shakoor, sending an excruciating pain up and down Tressel's spine.
The Buckeyes answered on their very next possession when Pryor hit Dane Sanzenbacher on a 65-yard post, highlighted by Dane's fancy footwork to avoid the defender and finish the play, putting OSU up 21-7. That score would hold until four minutes remained in the 2nd quarter and Saine burst through a massive hole cleared out by a pulling Justin Boren, going 45 yards and showcasing his jets on the way to the endzone.
On Marshall's next possession, Brian Rolle stepped in front of a Brian Anderson throw, weaving his way through defenders on the en route to a 30-yard pick six to put OSU up 35-7. Ohio State would score twice more; once on another back shoulder fade to Posey for an 11-yard touchdown to finish a nice drive to start the 3rd quarter and finally on a 34-yard field goal by Devin Barclay midway through the 4th quarter to wrap-up the scoring.
As the score indicates, a lot of things went well for the Buckeyes last night. They dominated an overmatched team like they should have, getting a rare blowout in an opener under Tressel. The defense pitched a shutout, while the offense got off to a good start, building on their performance in Pasadena eight months ago. The two and three deep saw valuable minutes, with the second team offensive line and wideouts entering the game on Ohio State's 4th series. By and large, key injuries were avoided, though backups Dorian Bell, Carlos Hyde and Corey Linsley all got, as Tressel put it, "dinged up." Heck, even Tyler Moeller made a triumphant return, wreaking havoc in Marshall's backfield and proving once again, that even with a year off, he's still the team's best weapon on blitzes.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Buckeyes have momentum heading into the annual marquee out-of-conference game on their schedule. Two years ago, they needed a late punt return from Ray Small to eke out a 26-14 win over Ohio the week before traveling to Los Angeles to take on USC. Last year, it was a late Rolle interception return on a Navy two-point conversion that iced that game 31-27 ahead of USC's return visit to the Horseshoe. With Miami (impressive in their own right Thursday night) coming to town next weekend, the team needed this start and got it.
So all is well, right? Not exactly. The Thundering Herd had a 62-yard kickoff return, sending flashbacks of the lack of coverage exhibited in the Rose Bowl. Earlier in the game, on Ohio State's first extra point attempt, Marshall tipped the kick, foreshadowing the blocked field goal they'd score on later. This is both good and bad. It's bad for the obvious reasons -- Hurricane special teams coach Joe Pannunzio is going to take a special kind of delight in reviewing the tapes of this game (though he should probably worry about getting his own house in order, too) and will surely attack the middle of the unit in hopes of getting a little bit of what Marshall got on the night. The silver lining, however, is the staff, especially a staff run by James Patrick Tressel, will have something to keep the egos in check. I'd be surprised if he slept much at all last night given his love of special teams and his own teams not-so special application of them last night.
Setting aside the kick team blunders, the performance is all I could have really hoped for. I have a lot of confidence in this team heading into the Miami game and feel like the team we saw play last night could play with anyone in the nation.
- Brandon Saine is the clear #1 at running back and for good reason. He was the perfect blend of ruggedness and speed last night, finishing with 103 yards (his third career 100-yard game) and two touchdowns on just 9 carries. Boom Herron also ran well, finishing with 44 yards on 6 carries (6.3/per), but it was redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry that electrified the crowd to the tune of 80 yards on 7 carries. Like a lot of other positions, Ohio State appears to be very deep and very talented at the running back spot (I'm not even mentioning Jordan Hall, who'd likely start for 80% of the Big Ten).
- Pryor has two excellent receivers and an emerging tight end, but he still might not have a go-to third receiver. Posey had four catches, including two touchdowns on what's looking like a play that will be hard for teams to stop. Sanzenbacher finished with 113 yards, and Stoneburner set a new career high for receptions in a season when he hauled in three for 41. Grant Schwartz had three catches, Chris Fields and Corey Brown each recorded their first reception as a Buckeye, and Taurian Washington had one bounce off of his facemask. This spot is still wide open.
- As for the quarterback, I can't say enough good things about his performance (save for what Johnny called his Sexy Rexy moment on the fourth series when he kind of just aired one out after getting pressured). Most of his throws were on the money, he showed good touch on his long balls (just missing Posey on a bomb that would have paired nicely with the one caught by Sanzenbacher), and I liked the way he kept his eyes downfield instead of reverting to his feet. He used them when he needed to, but was clearly looking to pass first. Designed runs were a different story. Marshall did a pretty good job of spying those and limiting their effectiveness.
- The offensive line played well for the most part. Shugarts took his obligatory false start, the first of the season called against the team and Mike Adams surrendered a sack (though one could reasonably argue Pryor held the ball for too long on that play), but the unit gave Pryor plenty of time to throw opened huge holes most of the night for the running game.
- The defensive line was physical and helped to hold Marshall to just 44 yards on 21 carries. It would have been nice to have notched a sack, and Cam Heyward had one slip out of his hands, but those will come easier with Nathan Williams back on the field.
- The secondary had a couple of shaky moments, but overall, played up to par. Travis Howard earned some heavy nickel time and C.J. Barnett had a good first outing.
- Joe Bauserman appears to have the edge as Pryor's backup for now, entering the game for Pryor in the fourth quarter, with Kenny Guiton taking over late.
- Regarding the blocked kick, Tressel said Basil got it off in 1.2 seconds, implying it was a protection issue. On the other side, I really liked what I saw out of Hall on punt returns and Berry on kick returns. It's fun to think that might be another weapon in our arsenal someday soon.
- Highlights? Highlights.