For the third spring in a row, junior classmates Troy Smith and Justin Zwick were battling for position in the quarterback derby. At the same time, redshirt freshman Todd Boeckman was actively involved as well.
Smith and Zwick each played three quarters in Saturday's Scarlet and Gray Game, while Boeckman played one quarter for each team. Smith and Boeckman each threw touchdown passes for the Gray squad in its 19-6 win. The game was hardly much of a barometer as it was played in blustery and frigid conditions with a steady rain.
Smith was 4 of 9 passing for 48 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Zwick was 11 of 27 for 104 yards for the Scarlet. Boeckman's combined totals were 4 of 12 for 18 yards and one touchdown.
When asked if this game – one of 15 allowed spring practice sessions – would factor more heavily in the decision making at quarterback, OSU coach Jim Tressel said, "Not really. The way today would count for that position – and really all of them – they had some more situations and things they could learn from. There were things I could say that all three of them could do better and there were some things I would say that they were solid.
"It wasn't one of those things where we'll see who does the best today because we'll have 29 practices in the fall."
There are a lot of dynamics to OSU's quarterback conundrum. Zwick started the first six games last year. The Buckeyes opened 3-3 and when Zwick went down with a shoulder injury, that opened the door for Smith. OSU was 4-1 in the games Smith started, including his command performance in the 37-21 upset of Michigan.
But that is when things got complicated. Smith was suspended for the Alamo Bowl for accepting illegal extra benefits from an OSU booster. Zwick, fully recovered, returned and helped lead the Buckeyes to a win over Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
And, the NCAA has apparently ruled that Smith's suspension will linger through the 2005 season opener with Miami (Ohio). That means that Zwick has the inside track to open the season as the starting quarterback. Smith would not be eligible until the following game, a Sept. 10 night showdown with projected top-10 power and Rose Bowl champion Texas. And, of course, the critical Big Ten opener with Iowa also looms on Sept. 24.
Where Tressel and the Buckeyes will be with their quarterback situation at that point remains anybody's guess.
"We're not even thinking about that," Smith said after the spring game. "We've got to get to the Rose Bowl. That's the national championship game this year. That's our main focus right now."
Reporters continued to ask Smith about the pecking order.
"I haven't really thought much about that," he said. "I don't think much about that. The decision they'll make will hopefully be for the betterment of the team. That's not a decision I will make."
Smith enjoyed Saturday's game – the conditions notwithstanding.
"It's an annual thing for the fans to look forward to it," said Smith, who also had 23 yards on six carries. "We like going out there and trying to do the best that we can for the fans. It's the 15th day of spring practice. It's just a bigger day of practice, a special aspect."
Unlike last year's spring game, Tressel made the quarterbacks live. That allowed Smith to escape the pocket. His rushing totals would have looked much better, but he was sacked for a 14-yard loss after a fumble.
"Today was much more fun because I could use every aspect of my game," Smith said. "But the weather wasn't fun at all.
"But the good thing is we did get experience playing in it. It helps you knowing how the ball will be slick and you can't be that aggressive with your cuts when it's wet like this.
"The weather today was a big key. A couple of the losses we've had have been in those temperatures. The rain was cold and the wind was blowing. Now, if we play one of those kind of games, we know we can handle it."
"I think I did pretty good over except for some of the decisions I made today," Smith said. "I had a poor throw away. That was a poor pass. I have to be more distinct with my decisions."
All four of Smith's pass completions came in a five-play stretch during the Gray's third quarter scoring drive. He found Devon Lyons for a 14-yard gain on a sideline pass. He then went to Tony Gonzalez on a 16-yard gain on a slant and a 6-yard pickup on a sideline pass.
Finally, on second-and-4 from the 12, he lofted a pass toward tight end Marcel Frost in the back left portion of the end zone. Linebacker Chad Hoobler appeared to tip the pass, which went off Frost's face mask and hands before he could haul it in for the touchdown.
"We started rolling there in the second half," Smith said. "The guys came out and did a good job.
"We had some young guys step up. Jimmy Cordle, (a freshman) who just came in, did a real good job today. He was my center. We place a lot of responsibility on the center. The fans don't see that. They make calls on what we should do, and he did a great job today.
"It upsets me a lot of times. I'm just trying to be a humble guy, but (the linemen) sweat out there and they're in pain. But because we get the ball a lot more, people don't take into consideration what they do. I try to pump them as much as I can."
Smith also remarked that the offense should benefit from the installation of zone run plays.
"I think the insertion of the zone running play has helped us," he said. "We have a lot of speedy backs and this allows them to use their speed to get outside on the edge. We've got weapons and some guys who can step up and get in position and make plays."
Smith talked about what he plans to work on in the months ahead.
"I need to get faster, get in the film room and study some film," he said. "I just need to get faster and stronger and be a leader."
EDITOR'S NOTE – We will also have a story on Boeckman in the days ahead.