For the punt return team, the answer was yes. After Ray Small returned the first Penguin punt four yards, he picked up 11 on his second attempt before breaking off a 45-yarder in the second quarter. The Buckeyes did not reap the full benefit of Small's long dash, however, because of a penalty on Boom Herron for an illegal block. Herron's misdeed came at the very end of the return and did not have anything to do with
Small's breaking free in the first place, though, meaning there is reason to be optimistic about the unit overall. Small made good use of a couple of good initial blocks, making a cut and getting up field.
On the day, Small finished with 79 yards on four returns, an average of 19.75-yard average. DeVier Posey also had one return. He gained four yards.
As for the kickoff return unit, we'll have to continue to wait. Brandon Saine returned the opening kickoff 28 yards – and looked good doing so – but that was it because the Buckeye defense pitched a shutout.
2. Can the Buckeyes dominate the line of scrimmage?
The difference between the openers of 2007 and '08 was like night and day.
Ohio State ran for 251 yards on 43 attempts, a 5.8-yard average. Compare that to the 147 yards and 3.6-yard average of a year ago and it is easy to conclude the Buckeyes had a much better time of things in the second go-round with YSU. That came even with the Penguins again selling out to stop the run, as they did last season, often putting an extra defender in the box and preferring to allow the cornerbacks to play alone on the outside.
"Basically we have a year of experience under our belt now," said second-year starter at right guard Ben Person. "We were very green last year. We had basically three weeks of working together." Four starters return this season, and Person said having Jim Cordle back at center for a second year accounts for much of the line's improvement.
"How much he's grown in the mental aspect of the game from Youngstown last year to Youngstown this year, sometimes it amazes me how well he sees the field and sees things developing," Person said.
The defense produced better numbers up front as well, at least in terms of the running game. Not only did become the third team to finish with negative rushing yards (minus-11), the Penguins managed just three rushes that gained more than three yards.
Give the pass rush mixed reviews, however. The Buckeyes notched two sacks, one that came from pressuring with four men and another on a blitz, but the Penguin quarterbacks were hurried on a regular basis.
3. How will the quarterbacks look?
All three quarterbacks did some good things. Starter Todd Boeckman was 14 of 19 through the air for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He threw excellent deep balls to both Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie.
He also had his customary handful of times that he threw without setting his feet in the pocket or when he might have trusted his arm a little too much and let his mechanics get out of whack.
"There were a few times in that first half where I just wasn't as composed or poised as I should have been," he said afterward. "I didn't throw the ball as good as I could have. My feet were maybe a little off-balance here and there, but I think as I kept on going I got into a rhythm a little bit." Joe Bauserman showed a bit of nimbleness in the pocket and completed 3of his 6 passes for 22 yards.
Then of course there was Terrelle Pryor. The freshman phenom was just about as good as advertised (if that is possible). His first pass found its way into the hands and chest of classmate Lamaar Thomas, and he showed his wheels later with a couple of long runs, including an 18-yard touchdown run in which he outran a couple of defenders to the edge then split two more before reaching the ball over the goal line.
Pryor was far from just a runner, though. He completed 4 of his 6 passes for 35 yards.
"My favorite thing about him, and I've said this before, is when he drops back to pass, he's looking to throw the ball," said Person. "He's not looking to run first. I think that shows real maturity for a young quarterback with the legs that he has."
4. What about the backups?
Posey came off the bench to grab a game-high four passes. He gained 47 yards and left a defender without his jock strap on a 25-yard touchdown reception.
Also looking good were the three highly touted offensive line prospects, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts and Michael Brewster, who combined with holdovers Andy Miller and Andrew Moses to produce a solid second offensive line unit.
Herron's debut was nothing to write home to Warren about, but the redshirt freshman tailback did show some shiftiness while gaining 17 yards on five carries. His cohorts, Brandon Saine and Maurice Wells, combined o carry 10 times for 52 yards, with Saine showing some of the rust the coaches talked about during the week leading up to the game and Wells taking advantage of space to scoot for a couple of nifty gains.
On the defensive side of the ball, Thaddeus Gibson's move to defensive line paid immediate dividends as the reserve end had a sack and got pressure a few other times. Fellow backup end Robert Rose also had a tackle-for-loss, and linebacker/safety Tyler Moeller shared team-high tackle honors with six stops. Backup cornerback Shaun Lane was credited with four tackles – all solos – and garnered some oohs and aaahs from the crowd for big hits. He also got a collective grown from the Buckeye faithful when a chance for an interception return for a touchdown slipped through his hands.
5. Are there any new gadgets ready for unveiling?
This was not Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl from two years ago, but there were plenty of new things on display by the Buckeyes.
The much-ballyhooed "pistol" offense made its first game-time appearance in the third quarter and later was in effect when Pryor first scampered around end for a 21-yard run (his longest gain of the day) and later in the same drive on his aforementioned touchdown run.
That scoring run also began with Pryor using the read-option to freeze the defense for a split second before taking off. Pryor also ran a regular old speed option with Chris Wells on his second play from scrimmage. He kept the ball and gained two yards, just enough for a first down.
Defensively, the experiment of putting linebackers Moeller and Jermale Hines at nickel back seemed to work well. Moeller primarily filled the "Star" postion as Hines slid back to safety in place of injured starter Kurt Coleman, and both looked comfortable in coverage. Hines had two tackles, one of which came for loss when reacted quickly in run support, and he scored a big hit on the sideline while breaking up a third-down pass.
Gibson and Curtis Terry, another former linebacker playing defensive end to help the Ohio State pass rush, both looked comfortable holding the point of attack against the run, too.