Defense Pulls Out Thriller In Scrimmage

The Ohio State defense reprised its jersey scrimmage win from the spring, again defeating the offense by a scant single point to retain the coveted scarlet practice jerseys. The defense won 66-65. One of the keys to the win was sophomore linebacker Marcus Freeman, who had seven tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack. Click this free link for more.

It came down to the 176th and final play before the defense was able to separate itself – at last – from the offense in Ohio State's jersey scrimmage.

With the score tied at 65-65, OSU head coach Jim Tressel placed the ball at the 3-yard line for one of his renowned "end of the world" plays. The offense needed to score or the defense would retain the coveted scarlet practice jerseys.

The offense, with Troy Smith at quarterback, lined up with a spread five-receiver set. Smith, though, was wearing a black non-contact jersey, so a scramble to score the winning touchdown would not be in the cards. Instead, he threw a slant to Ted Ginn Jr. Safety Brandon Mitchell broke the pass up, giving the defense a hard fought 66-65 win.

"That was unusual," Tressel said. "It ended up 65-65. I try to keep them close, but not that close. We said, ‘How are we going to settle this thing with us supposed to be at (the Agonis Club) banquet at 6:30 and it's 6 o'clock already.' We decided on one play to settle it with a two-point play.

"(The defense) competed all day. They got an experience today. It wasn't like having 105,000 in the Horseshoe, but it was an experience."

The jersey scrimmage was originally scheduled for Saturday. But Tressel moved it up one day to avoid predicted rain. Instead, the rain fell hard squarely on the helmets of the Buckeyes as they practiced for three hours on the Ohio Stadium turf.

"We rolled the dice a little bit, looking at the percent chance of rain," Tressel said. "But you never know.

"We haven't had many days like this. Do I like it? No. But I think you can gain something from conditions like this. If you're on offense, when you watch the film it will remind you that turnovers can happen in conditions like that."

Smith ended up 9 of 17 passing for 102 yards with an interception.

"Troy, when we limit him a little bit, I think it helps him work on some things a little bit," Tressel said. "But I know sometimes when you have that black shirt on, it's hard to show everything you want to show."

Todd Boeckman was next and was 15 of 27 for 112 yards with two interceptions. Boeckman also had 5 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Justin Zwick was 3 of 8 passing for 28 yards before leaving with an apparent shoulder injury. Rob Schoenhoft was 6 of 16 passing for 91 yards with a touchdown, crafting a well thrown ball between two receivers to walk-on Kyle Ruhl for a 41-yard touchdown.

"The thing that sticks in my mind the most was I didn't want Justin to get banged," Tressel said. "I wanted him to have a chance to compete with the other guys. I think Schoenhoft is doing a good job and Boeckman is doing a good job. There is a real battle going on there. I didn't not want to give Justin a chance to compete under the same circumstances.

"I thought Robby did some nice things and Todd showed some things. We made some mistakes, too, with the picks and three or four fumbled snaps."

Tressel discussed how the quarterbacks were rotated during the scrimmage.

"We've been rolling guys through," he said. "We rolled Justin in with the ones and the twos. We rolled Todd in one time with the ones and the rest of the time with twos and threes. Robby spent most of his time with the twos and threes. I think we have to watch the film and keep watching practice."

Freshman Chris Wells was the leading ground gainer with 95 yards on 20 carries. Antonio Pittman had eight carries for 35 yards and a touchdown. Maurice Wells had 13 carries for 32 yards.

"Chris ran well," Tressel said. "Chris is a good back. Mo Wells is a good back. Antonio is a good back."

Ted Ginn Jr. had three catches for 47 yards, while Brian Robiskie added four catches for 46 yards. Walk-on Derek Harden had five catches for 45 yards. Jake Ballard had a 31-yard catch, while Anthony Gonzalez had two catches for 24 yards.

In the kicking game, Ryan Pretorius missed a 34-yard PAT and a 34-yard field goal, although that was in the pouring down rain. He made a 23-yarder. Aaron Pettrey missed a 52-yard, but also made a 36-yarder.

"It wasn't the best day to kick," Tressel said. "We've got two solid guys and we'll see who emerges."

The defense got big points off six turnovers – three fumble recoveries and three interceptions. Interceptions were tallied by Mitchell, Kurt Coleman and Andre Amos. Aaron Gant, Dexter Larimore and Thaddeus Gibson recovered fumbles for the defense.

Some of the standouts on defense included linebacker Marcus Freeman (unofficially six tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack), Coleman (seven tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception), linebacker Larry Grant (six tackles, one for a loss and a pass break-up), safety Aaron Gant (eight tackles and a fumble recovery), Mitchell (four tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception), linebacker James Laurinaitis (six tackles with one for a loss), linebacker Thaddeus Gibson (seven tackles with a pass break-up), linebacker John Kerr (seven tackles with a sack), Larimore (four tackles and a fumble recovery) and defensive tackle David Patterson (two tackles-for-loss with a sack).

"That will be the fun thing to watch for me," Tressel said. "I would guess in the first two games at least, we'll have a whole bunch of people playing a lot of positions on the defensive side. One, because we don't know for sure, and, two, when you play an early September game in Austin, you'll have to roll people in."

The Gory Details

As always, the scrimmage was contested with a unique scoring system. The offense got six points for touchdowns, three for field goals, one for first downs and an extra point for long plays. The defense got a point for forcing a fourth down, a point for negative plays and five points for turnovers.

The scrimmage was tight throughout the early portion as the first teams on each side went up against each other. Schoenhoft led the offense on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring march early. That included an 11-yard scramble where he lowered the shoulder on Coleman to get a first down. On third-and-8 from the defense's 41-yard line, he threw a perfect pass to Ruhl. The receiver had gotten behind Shaun Lane and safety Grant Schwartz missed an attempt on the ball, allowing Ruhl to roll in for the score and a 13-6 lead for the offense.

The defense closed the gap as Gant recovered a fumbled carry by walk-on Joe Gantz, cutting the lead to 19-16. Shortly thereafter, a torrential downpour arrived, making it hard for the offense to get anything going. It went three-and-out on three of the next four series, allowing the defense to tie the game at 22-22.

It was still raining hard when a Smith pass went off Gonzalez's hands and right to Mitchell for an interception, putting the defense up 28-24. Boeckman then threw a pair of interceptions on back-to-back plays. On the first one, his receiver, Robiskie, slipped. That allowed Coleman to make an easy pick.

Then, on the first play of the next series, Boeckman felt heat from freshman DE Robert Rose and threw off balance. Amos made the interception on that one, staking the defense to a 36-24 lead.

The defense enjoyed its largest lead at 48-29 after Gibson recovered a fumble by freshman quarterback Antonio Henton. But Henton rallied and led the offense on a 11-play, 59-yard march, capped by a 36-yard field goal by Pettrey to trim the defense's lead to 48-37.

Boeckman later guided a seven-play, 56-yard touchdown march. He carried four times for 43 yards on the drive, including the 5-yard touchdown on a great cutback inside out of an option to the short side of the field. That cut the defense's lead to 54-47.

The offense then got to start three straight series at the defense's 12-yard line. Pittman bounced off a tackle attempt by Mitchell and scored on the first play of the first series. Pretorius hit a 23-yard field goal on the second one. The third one ended when Larimore recovered a fumbled snap by Schoenhoft. That left the defense up 59-58.

This is where Chris Wells went to work. He had 34 yards on seven carries on the next possession, setting up Pettrey's 28-yard field goal for a 64-59 lead for the offense.

The offense netted just one first down on four straight series from the 50-yard line. The defense really stood tall during this 12-play sequence, including a hurry by Joel Penton, a break-up by Mitchell, a sack by Freeman, a break-up by Donald Washington, a break-up by Malcolm Jenkins and a tackle-for-loss by Jay Richardson.

Still, a clutch 17-yard pass from Smith to Gonzalez tied the scrimmage at 65-65 and set the stage for the final play. Tressel conferred with defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and they agreed to settle it with one showdown play at the 3. It could be argued that Mitchell fouled Ginn on the pass play, but there was no flag thrown and the defense was victorious.

Also Notable

* The defense won the jerseys after also winning the jersey scrimmage by one point (69-68) in the spring. Tressel holds these scrimmages during each spring practice and fall camp. The defense now enjoys a 7-6 all-time edge.

* Tressel was asked what it meant to hear his team will be No. 1 in the Associated Press poll – on the heels of getting the nod from Sports Illustrated earlier this week and from the USA Today coaches poll earlier in the month.

"We just go to work," he said. "I mentioned to someone the other day that, at Ohio State, whether you're ranked high or you're not ranked high, the expectation to win all of your games is there. The guys who come here to school feel that way. The guys who come here to coach feel that way. So whether you are ranked there are not, you want to get that done. We know we have a lot of work to do."

Tressel was asked if there is a point of pride to being No. 1.

"There really is at the end (of the season)," he said. "There is a point of pride when you're named it then. When you're named it at the beginning, I really don't know what it can do for you. There's a target on our chest when the silver helmets come out there."

* Several front-line players did not play, including WR Brian Hartline, DE Lawrence Wilson, LB Mike D'Andrea and LB Ross Homan. Wilson and Homan are due back on Monday.

When asked when he expects D'Andrea to return, Tressel provided a somewhat ominous, "Not right away."

* The Buckeyes will be back at Ohio Stadium Monday night for a free open practice for the public. Gates open at 6 p.m. There will be a one-hour autograph session from 7-8 p.m. with a practice on the field from 8-9:45 p.m.

"I don't make those decisions," Tressel said when asked why the practice was moved from 10,000-seat Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium to Ohio Stadium. "I wanted to practice at night and if people wanted to come, that's great. We have an hour to sign autographs. We have a pretty tight schedule during preseason. We get a lot of requests for our guys to sign autographs. If a bunch of people show, it will be awesome.

"It will be a fundamental practice. It won't be a scrimmage. They won't see all kinds of secrets. It will be a big work day Monday."

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