Bucknotes 9/25

Was Troy Smith's 37-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie the "signature play" of the 2006 season for the Buckeyes? Is Smith still the Heisman front-runner? Will Ohio State continue rotating 10 players on its offensive line? Does Scout Inc. have something against Jim Tressel? How long will Greg Oden be out? These topics and more are covered in Dave Biddle's column, Bucknotes.

Nothing will ever top 2002's "Holy Buckeye" when it comes to memorable plays. Craig Krenzel-to-Michael Jenkins on fourth-and-one for the game-winning touchdown against Purdue – it just doesn't get any better than that.

But if you were looking for a signature play for OSU's 2006 season, Troy Smith might have provided it on Saturday against Penn State.

Smith struggled for most of the day against the Nittany Lions, but when the Buckeyes needed a big play, he delivered in style. With OSU clinging to a 7-3 lead with 12:56 left in the fourth quarter, Smith rolled right, spun back to the middle, and then uncorked a dart to Brian Robiskie for a 37-yard touchdown.

The Buckeyes added two late defensive touchdowns for a misleading final score of 28-6. And who knows how the game would have turned out without Smith's big play.

Overall against PSU, Smith was just 12-of-22 for 115 yards, with one touchdown and his first two interceptions of the season. It was his worst outing of the season and was one of those games that could conceivably hurt his Heisman Trophy campaign. But, then again, a lot of voters will only remember Smith's big play and that it allowed OSU to secure a victory.

Four weeks into the season, it looks like a two-horse race for the Heisman between Smith and Oklahoma junior running back Adrian Peterson. Through four games, Peterson has 643 rushing yards (5.5 per carry) and seven touchdowns. He has added four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Smith is 68-of-103 passing (66 percent) for 884 yards, with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Brady Quinn's name will also be mentioned in the Heisman race throughout the season, but the Notre Dame senior quarterback struggled against Michigan two weeks ago and I don't see him staying on pace with Peterson and Smith. Thus far, Quinn is 92-of-158 (58.2 percent) for 1,086 yards, with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.

O-LINE DEPTH CONTINUES TO IMPRESS

I'm still amazed by OSU's substitution pattern on the offensive line. The Buckeyes are at least 10 players deep and all of them are getting meaningful playing time. Ohio State uses its starting offensive linemen for the first two series, and then usually brings in the entire second-team line. I have never seen anything like it at OSU.

Since the Buckeyes lost to Florida State in the 1998 Sugar Bowl (1997 season) and saw how the Seminoles rotated defensive linemen throughout the game, OSU has used some type of rotation on the defensive front. (Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock still mentions the FSU game when talking about OSU's rotation on the defensive line.) But this is the first time the Buckeyes have used a rotation on the offensive line. Usually, there are one or two top reserves that the coaches like to mix in, but not an entire second unit.

So, what are the benefits to this strategy? Well, obviously it will keep the starting linemen fresh for the second half of games. When opposing defensive lines begin to wear down, OSU's offensive front should have plenty of gas left in the tank.

Also, it's good insurance if injuries pop up. Right now, OSU is in very good shape health-wise across the roster. But if a couple offensive linemen suddenly go down, there will be capable backups ready to go in and not miss a beat.

There are also good long-term benefits to the program. Center Doug Datish and right guard T.J. Downing are in their final seasons at OSU, and junior right tackle Kirk Barton could leave early for the NFL (although, I think he will stay). By getting sophomores like Jon Skinner, Tyler Whaley, Ben Person and Kyle Mitchum playing time this year, they will be even more ready when it's their time to be starters.

So, will OSU continue this O-line rotation for the rest of the season? Well, I think it will taper off eventually. I think the starters will play the majority of snaps as the Big Ten season progresses, especially this Saturday at Iowa. But for most games, I expect all 10 linemen will continue to play. The coaches feel very good about all of them and believe any of them could be inserted into the starting lineup. And a lot of credit needs to go to offensive line coach Jim Bollman for the way he has developed them.

SCOUTS INC. OUT TO LUNCH

Hey, people are going to have opinions. But after seeing this twice, I just couldn't let it go.

For the OSU-Texas game, Scouts Inc. had a breakdown of the matchup and gave the head coaching edge to Mack Brown over Jim Tressel. OK, we'll give them a pass on that one. Maybe they just started following college football in 2005 and truly believe Brown is a better big-game coach than Tressel. No problem.

But in its preview of Penn State-OSU, Scouts Inc. once again gave the head coaching edge to Tressel's opponent – Joe Paterno.

Hey, JoPa is a legend, but how did the guys at Scouts Inc. conveniently forget about Tressel's 2002 national title against a heavily-favored Miami team? Or his 8-2 combined record against Michigan and in bowl games? Or his four I-AA national championships at Youngstown State, a school that didn't have much football tradition before Tressel arrived?

Simply put, there is a not a better big-game coach in the country than Tressel. Maybe he will have to win his sixth national title before everyone gets the memo.

GOOD JOB YAHOO SPORTS

It wouldn't be fair to rip incompetent journalism without complimenting the fine job of Yahoo Sports – namely reporter Charles Robinson – for its investigation on Reggie Bush. The former USC star and Heisman Trophy winner, and current New Orleans Saints running back, allegedly accepted over $100,000 in illegal benefits while at USC (most of the benefits went to his immediate family and included condos, cars, clothes, etc.).

Yahoo broke the story months ago and continues to file updates on the investigation. In no way have we heard the last of this. USC is going to argue that it knew nothing about the situation and should not face NCAA infractions, but something big is likely to come out of this.

NO CAST FOR ODEN

When Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden underwent wrist surgery over the summer, there were rumblings that he could be out until February. However, it looks like that was a conservative estimate at best. Oden had the cast removed from his right hand over two weeks ago and there are now indications that he will be cleared to play in mid-December (which would be too late for OSU's game at North Carolina, but would be in time for OSU's games with Cincinnati and defending national champion Florida).

Presuming Oden is able to return prior to the Big Ten season in January, the injury could have been a blessing in disguise for him. According to followers of the program, Oden has worked hard at improving his left hand and now feels comfortable using his left on short hooks. Oden was going to be a nearly unstoppable force anyway at 7-1, 250, but if he can now go either way with equal effectiveness, look out. I actually think he will make most of his impact on the defensive end and rebounding, but he's going to be a load offensively as well.

PITCOCK PUTTING UP THE STATS

I've said for the last two years that OSU senior Quinn Pitcock is one of the best defensive tackles in the country. However, I always billed him as a player that would control the line of scrimmage, disrupt plays, but would not put up big statistics (much in the Tim Anderson mold). Well, so much for that.

Through four games, Pitcock leads the Buckeyes in sacks (4) and tackles-for-loss (5.5). He has a usual blend of power and quickness, and at 6-2 (listed at 6-3) is able to play very low. In fact, former OSU center Nick Mangold – a first-round draft pick by the New York Jets – said that Pitcock was the toughest player he ever went up against because of how low he played and how quick he fired off the ball.

That's the big thing I've noticed this year – Pitcock always seems to get a good jump on the play, almost as if he knows the snap count. And once Pitcock gets an angle on an offensive lineman, he has the power to push through them, or use his quickness to get around them. He is on his way to All-American accolades if he keeps it up.

But it's not all just Pitcock up front. David Patterson has also played well and OSU could very well have the best DT tandem in the country as Heacock alluded to back in the spring. Also, the defensive ends are playing well, especially sophomore Vernon Gholston who is second to Pitcock with 3.5 sacks and five tackles-for-loss.

SANDBAGGING BEANIE?

Even with starter Antonio Pittman coming off of a 1,331-yard season, freshman tailback Chris Wells was expected to make a big impact this year. However, four weeks into the season, Wells has just 96 yards on 25 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and one touchdown. Against Penn State, Wells was used effectively as a short-yardage back and finished with five carries for 11 yards.

So, is this what OSU fans can expect for the rest of the season? About five or six carries per game from Wells? I could be way off here, especially with how well Pittman is playing, but I think Wells will see more carries as the season progresses. Pittman will continue to be the workhorse, but by the Michigan game I expect "Beanie" will be getting about 10 carries per game.

Some fans might be wondering if Wells has been somewhat of a disappointment so far, but I don't think that's the case at all. He looks great every time he has the ball in his hands, it's just a matter of being behind one of the best backs in the Big Ten. Pittman has 450 rushing yards, is averaging a robust 6.3 yards per carry, and has scored four touchdowns. You are going to keep giving the ball to a player like that. But there will be more opportunities as the season goes and I think Wells will be a bigger factor in the offense.

As for Mo Wells, unless injuries pop up, I expect him to be phased out to some extent. And we saw a little bit of that against Penn State. It was a good idea to play three running backs early, but only two will be needed as the games get bigger.

PASSING OFFENSE?

Remember when Tressel was hired in 2001 and was immediately asked what type of offense he would run? The coach responded that he would always cater his offense to the strengths of his players.

Well, the first four years into his tenure that looked like "coachspeak" as the Buckeyes utilized a traditional power-I running attack. I honestly never thought we would see the day where OSU was known as a "spread offense."

But halfway through the 2005 season, something changed. Maybe Smith was finally to the point where the coaches trusted him, but OSU moved to a shotgun-spread and hasn't looked back since. Yes, the Buckeyes always had the shotgun-spread in their playbook, but it wasn't the primary offensive formation until last year.

And now this season, you can't read a national OSU story without seeing something about the "Buckeyes dangerous spread offense." Who would have expected it? Well, if we would have taken Tressel's words to heart when he was hired, we all should have.


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