The rock? The Ohio State quarterback will be starting his first Michigan game Saturday, and in doing so will be charged with replacing Troy Smith, the wunderkind whose three virtuoso performances against Michigan will be the standard against which all OSU signal callers will be measured. The hard place? His three-interception performance against Illinois last week, a showing that contributed mightily to the first loss of his OSU career as a starter.
So how will Boeckman respond given the collision of those two facts?
"This is the first game I've lost, so I don't know," Boeckman said. "I've just got to keep on fighting, not dwell on the past because we know we have a battle this week."
OK, so Boeckman is realistic, which is not so surprising given that the junior quarterback is 23 years old. However, his teammates have a high opinion of his ability to bounce back in short order.
"I don't think it will bother him nearly as much as people think," said punter A.J. Trapasso, who said he was a good friend of Boeckman. "The kid is am amazing competitor. He started 10-0, so it's tough. Everybody's going to go through it. Every quarterback has. I'm excited to see how he's going to bounce back. I think he'll do just fine. I think he's going to show a lot of people the quarterback that he is this weekend."
The quarterback he is: a deep-chucking, touchdown-throwing daredevil with the occasional brain cramp. On the year, Boeckman's total numbers show him completing 169 of 260 passes (65.0 percent) for 2,121 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His passing efficiency is tops in the Big Ten and 12th in the nation.
He has shown a propensity for making the big play, whether it be good or bad for his team. He has completed 25 passes for 20 yards or more and threw for at least two touchdowns in each of his first 10 starts. However, he has thrown interceptions in six games, and twice – including against Illinois – he has thrown three balls to the other team.
Against the Fighting Illini, all three appeared to be picks he'd like to have back. The two second-half tosses were particularly tough, one of which came in the end zone on a third down play and the other of which was on the last offensive play the Buckeyes would run.
"I can't be throwing three interceptions like that," he said.
The quarterback he isn't: Troy Smith, who made a living chopping up the Wolverines with his arm and his legs. In '04, he threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns and added 145 yards on the ground and another score. In 2005, threw for a touchdown and ran for another, using his legs to bedevil the U-M defense, and to create more room so he could throw for 300 yards.
Last year, Smith tossed for 316 yards and four touchdowns on the way to sealing up his bid for the Heisman Trophy.
Boeckman was on the sideline for each of those games and said he could learn quite a bit about how to approach the rivalry by watching Smith work his magic.
"He led by example, he led by watching film, doing little things like that," Boeckman said. "I've got to be in the film room, knowing hopefully every snap what they're going to do, when they're going to do it and things like that."
Perhaps most important, loquacious tackle Kirk Barton said, was to not try to be Smith.
"Todd has to play within himself, play within the offense and still make big plays," Barton said. "He's come along this season, but he just has to continue to do what he's been doing, not make it too big; realize it's the Michigan game but not make it out to be something that's higher than a football game."
A St. Henry, Ohio, native, Boeckman has watched The Game since he was a youngster, so he knows the importance of one's performance against Michigan, adding that he's been able to glean some insight from fellow former Redskin Bobby Hoying, who started three games against U-M and won the 1994 contest.
"Definitely, I've always fantasized about being a quarterback here, and now that I have the honor to do that and actually play in Ohio State-Michigan game it's something special," Boeckman said.