Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ohio State football spring game wrap-up

By Rick Morris

The last time he walked into a stadium to play football, Todd Boeckman was the second-best quarterback on the field and his team suffered for it. Today, he was upstaged by another QB again, but fortunately for the program, national championships don't hang in the balance during the annual spring football game.

On this occasion, it wasn't LSU quarterback Matt Flynn outplaying Boeckman en route to a spanking in New Orleans. Nor was it highly touted newcomer Terrelle Pryor, who won't be suiting up until the fall. Nor was it hapless backup Antonio Henton, who looks more like a homeless man's Troy Smith every time he takes the field. Instead, it was relatively-unheralded sophomore Joe Bauserman electrifying the crowd with big plays and demonstrating the spark that the mediocre Boeckman so often lacks. In fairness to Boeckman, he did not have any of the top three running backs on the Scarlet team with him to keep the defense honest as Chris Wells sat out and both Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine played for the Gray.

On paper, the numbers weren't that far apart (Boeckman was 12-18 for 145 yards with two interceptions and two sacks, while Bauserman was 7-14 for 125 yards with one touchdown and three sacks), but they don't reflect the carbon copy of an earlier 51-yard touchdown pass Bauserman completed to Taurian Washington. The second Bauserman-to-Washington bomb was called back due to holding. These big plays were the only ones of the day in a 20-7 Scarlet victory over the Gray.

A record crowd of 76,346 braved conditions that ranged from sloppy wet drizzle to steady downpour to watch an intersquad game that faced the usual issues (disjointed offensive line play due to the starters being divided between the two units) and some notable absences due to injury (Chris Wells and Brian Robiskie). While firm conclusions about the upcoming season can be difficult to draw due to the aforementioned conditions and the fact that coaches are also giving weight to the performance of players in spring practice, there were several issues of note today:

^ The defense, which returns almost all of their excellent core from last year and will be the foundation of the team along with Chris Wells, generally looked better than the offense all day. DB Andre Amos would probably not be in your first few guesses for leading tackler, but he was with eight in all. Fellow DB Kurt Coleman had one of Boeckman's picks and linebacker Ross Homan had the other.

^ Bauserman not only showed nice touch on his passes, but decent athleticism as well. With Pryor's mobility rendering Henton (6-12 for 73 yards and a sack) obsolete, Bauserman has a better-than-average chance to bump Henton all the way down to #4 QB as Pryor could become a change-of-pace option in-game and Bauserman the full-time backup.

^ Ray Small, the poor-man's-Ginn of this team, was prominent in Robiskie's absence and did nothing to jeopardize his spot as third wideout with five catches for 74 yards (which included a nice shoestring catch and a big-play reception of 30 yards down the sidelines). Brian Hartline continued his tradition of great play in the spring game with six catches for 82 yards. WR Washington's two TDs (including the one that was called back) may have given him a leg up for #4 receiver in run-and-shoot sets. However, the overall play of the wide receivers indicated that coaches may need to take a look at inserting some of the empty-backfield sets Smith ran at QB in '06 (particularly for instances when Pryor is in the game), because the depth on the team may well justify it. Dane Sanzenbacher, Ryan Schuck and Jake Stoneburner could get some playing time in those situations.

^ The utilization of Brandon Saine for screen passes -- pleaded for last season by our Senior Editor Jason Jones -- did not materialize again today. Instead, he was used primarily in Metcalf-up-the-middle style, garnering two yards on four carries. He will have to improve his running between the tackles, but coaches should not wait until every aspect of his game is solid before using him in space where he is so very dangerous right now.

^ K.C. Christian's 24 yards are listed as coming on two carries in the box score -- but he actually had one carry for zero and 24 on the other! On the latter play, he bounced outside after inside running room dried up. Realistically, however, he and Dan Herron (10-31, one touchdown), Bo DeLande (6-21, albeit with some nice shiftiness shown) and Marcus Williams (3-20) are fighting for scraps in terms of playing time with the Wells boys and Saine ahead of them on the depth chart.

^ This year, Ohio State jumped on the bandwagon that other big-time programs have chosen to ride by leveraging their spring game for other purposes. In this case, that meant staging a lacrosse game at The Horseshoe just prior to the football game in order to draw the largest collegiate lacrosse crowd ever (29,601). The 11th-ranked Buckeyes defeated #17 Denver, 20-13. Junior Joel Delgarno had one of the best games in the history of the program with nine goals and ten points overall in the effort. The Pioneers trailed 14-4 at halftime and rallied to 16-9 after three quarters, but could get no closer in the end.

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