April 24, 2005

OSU Spring Game Recap

Well, the actual weather matched the miserable forecast for Ohio State's Spring Game on Saturday, but at least those of us who showed up were dressed for it. They announced the attendance as 33,000, but that must have been the number of tickets sold, because I don't think there were more 15,000 soggy butts in the seats. (I see now that the bucknuts.com article says 22,649 were there...must have been all those people tucked up under the cover of B-deck staying dry). And the story of the long, wet afternoon was that the offense was as sloppy as the weather.

First the disclaimers. Conditions were dicey, although the field was in great shape and it held up well as play went along. The rain was a light drizzle but it was really windy and only about 35 degrees. On top of that, it's hard to expect things to click smoothly on offense when you've got half the starters playing for the Scarlet and half for the Gray. The coaches only had about 15-16 plays in for the game, and the key starters were only permitted to play about two quarters. Oh yeah, and the Bucks have a whole lot of talent on defense.

Last year's Michigan game and the Alamo Bowl win showed the speed and offensive weaponry that this team can muster. The lopsided score of last week's Jersey Scrimmage was in favor of the offense, and had raised fans' hopes that the end of the 2004 season wasn't a fluke. And I really don't think it was, but yesterday's offensive performance was anything but a confidence booster, especially in the passing game.

Justin Zwick had an awful first half in almost every way as the QB for the Scarlet. Poor mechanics, poor decision-making and just plain bad throws. He was rushed effectively at times, but at other times he had plenty of time to throw and just threw badly. In his defense, he came back out after having sat out the third quarter, and made some good throws in the fourth. I wonder about his confidence, though. This game could not have helped it much.

Troy Smith quarterbacked the Gray, and while he did some of the scrambling things that make him the preferred choice for the Buckeyes, his arm also was erratic and his decision-making less than sure. He threw one interception while under a heavy rush, and generally didn't look good trying to throw on the run.

Backup Todd Boeckman didn't have the numbers to turn anyone's head (4 of 12 for 18 yards) but he looked poised, moved well, and threw a nice TD to Tony Gonzalez. His arm looked more accurate than the two juniors on this day, and TE Rory Nichol dropped three passes that would have made Boeckman's stats look better.

There were three primary areas of concern for me coming into this game that I wanted to pay particular attention to as things went along;

-Could the running game be effective with Tony Pittman as the starter, and what would our first good look at backup redshirt freshman Eric Haw tell us about his ability?

-Who would take over the boundary cornerback position to replace Dustin Fox? Would it be Tyler Everett, or would underclassmen Sirjo Welch or Shaun Lane take the lead at that spot?

-How much would we miss placekicker Mike Nugent and long-snapper Kyle Andrews on special teams?

The answers at the running back position were encouraging. Tony Pittman looked very good, showing a good burst through the holes and the strength to break some tackles. He got ouside a couple of times and made some defenders miss. They ran mostly "stretch" plays and simple off-tackle stuff, but the O-Line blocking was good and Pittman showed why he's the starter.

Haw looked a bit tentative at first, and may have missed a couple of reads early that might have sprung him for longer gains, but he really picked it up in the second half. He has added some pounds since last Spring, up to about 6'1", 210, and he's still very fast, which he showed on a sprint to the corner on his 10 yd. TD run. He broke tackles and showed he knows how to lower the shoulder and drive through the contact, consistently falling forward for extra yardage. Haw ended up with 86 yds on 16 carries and the TD. Add incoming freshman speedster Maurice Wells to this duo, and the RB position should be in good shape, even though with a sophomore and two freshmen we are pretty young and green.

At cornerback, I had heard that Tyler Everett was going to get limited action in this game, and to be honest I don't recall seeing much of him on the field. He is the favorite to be the starter, based on experience and speed, but most of that experience is at safety or nickel back, so he is still an unproven corner. Sirjo Welch and Shaun Lane played quite well, with both getting lots of action. Lane had an interception of Troy Smith that was thrown right to him, but it was the result of a good read, and he returned it nicely. Lane also had the best kickoff return of the day, and I hope we see more of him there. Welch, who was last season's punt coverage demon, also looked good at corner, making several outstanding tackles and not getting burned in coverage.

The surprise of the day was Ted Ginn Jr. getting some time at cornerback, especially in the Red Zone. He played about 5-6 plays at CB, and I don't believe he had more than one pass thrown in his area. After the game Coach Tressel was quoted as saying "That's something he has the capability of doing. One way or another, we're going to get comfortable at that position." Ginn or no Ginn, I'm comfortable based on what I saw yesterday.

If anything gives me pause about predicting a Top 5 finish for the 2005 Buckeyes, it's the kicking game. We didn't get much of a chance to see Josh Huston, the favorite at the moment to replace All- American PK Mike Nugent, because the Scarlet barely crossed midfield until the fourth quarter, and then a bad snap cost him his only extra point attempt. I don't know the name of the guy who was long-snapping for the Scarlet, but he better hope Tressel doesn't either. It is no exaggeration to say he did not have a single decent snap on a punt, and the Scarlet team did little all day but punt. Only one went over the punter's head, (resulting in a Gray TD) but he made the Scarlet punter look like a soccer goalie the rest of the day, diving for save after save. I'm just hoping the first stringer was on the Gray team. And by the way, the punting was consistently mediocre on both sides, so the coach who is fond of saying that "the punt is the most important play in football" may be having some sleepless nights this summer.

Upperclassmen like OT Rob Sims and LB's A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter played well in limited action, and the fans saw only one run (a 13 yd. reverse) and one catch (5 yds.) by Ted Ginn Jr. in addition to his CB work, but several other guys had terrific games that deserve special mention. That group included the entire set of backup linebackers, so fans can rest assured that those positions will be in good hands when Hawk and Carpenter both go in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. My stars of the game:

-LB Marcus Freeman has a new number (#1) and looks like a tackling machine. I have yet to see someone break a tackle once Marcus has his mitts on him. He's strong and just seems instinctive, and he's around the ball all the time.

-LB Chad Hoobler is a smallish (6'3", 215 lbs.)inside linebacker, but he makes plays all over the field. He's fast, a sure tackler and always seems to make plays when he drops into pass coverage. Bucknuts personnel guru Duane Long loves Hoobler, and said yesterday he will be better than Andy Katzenmoyer. Yesterday, he showed flashes of that kind of ability.

-LB/S Curt Lukens had quite a few tackles yesterday, and made some good plays in pass coverage as well. He may be in between positions, but his message yesterday was "just get me on the field".

Stong performances were also noticeable from LB Curtis Terry, DE's Jay Richardson and David Patterson, CB's Shaun Lane and Sirjo Welch, WR's Devon Lyons, Tony Gonzalez, OL's Steve Rehring, Rob Sims, and T.J. Downing, RB's Haw and Pittman, and FB Brandon Schnittker. Also, pre-freshman Jimmy Cordle, who graduated from high school in January and enrolled early at OSU, played center for the Gray for a good portion of the game and held his own like a veteran. Remember that name.

Two guys who didn't necessarily have standout games, but are still players to watch are TE Marcel Frost and WR Albert Dukes. Both are redshirt freshmen, and both have stardom written all over them. Dukes dropped one catchable ball yesterday, and fumbled another one after the catch, but still showed fluid moves, and great athletic ability and speed. He'll probably be the fifth or sixth WR option this year, but look out in '06.

Frost is a big, athletic tight end who was a basketball star at power forward in H.S. (think Ricky Dudley body type). His speed and hands will make defenses who are already nervous about Smith, Ginn, Holmes, Gonzalez, Haw and Pittman, become absolutely petrified. He caught a TD pass from Smith yesterday that was first tipped by Hoobler, and then bounced off his own helmet before he snatched it out of the air. He had ten catches and a TD in last week's Jersey Scrimmage, and lack of experience is the only thing that can slow him down. You'll be hearing a lot more from Marcel Frost this season.

Low point of the day was the classless behavior of some "fans" who booed the lackluster showing by Justin Zwick. This is a guy who has shown nothing but class and loyalty to the program for his entire three years at OSU. He played hurt in the bowl game last year and turned in a gutsy, winning performance anyway, at a time when the program and the school needed a morale boost. As if there would ever be a justification for booing a player in the Spring Game anyway. Sheesh!

The day was topped off with a massive cheeseburger at Thurman Cafe in German Village afterwards. My first ever Thurman Burger, and assuredly not my last.

A couple of items lifted from the Dayton Daily News article on the game. (link requires free registration)

- Ohio State sports information director Steve Snapp has held his job for 33 years. Asked where Saturday's weather ranked in spring-game annals during his tenure, Snapp said, "Thirty-third."

- The Buckeyes limited their regulars to no more than about two quarters. Linebacker Bobby Carpenter tried to sneak back on the field by changing jerseys with a teammate, but he was busted by coach Jim Tressel.

"I spent more time as a policeman than I did watching drives," Tressel said.

Special acknowledgement to Gary Housteau of Bucknuts.com and Jim Davidson of The O-Zone for all the photography. Links to their full Photo Galleries below.

Other OSU Spring Game coverage:

PD article

Gary Housteau's Photo Page

Bill Livingston

O-Zone Spring Game Photo Gallery by Jim Davidson

O-Zone article

Posted by dan at April 24, 2005 10:13 PM