The game did, however, showcase a lot of young players, many of whom are on the bubble of being in the regular rotation once the REAL season begins. This week's game will provide the last chance to prove their readiness before the Buckeyes invade Southern California next weekend. Let's take a look at eight young players and see how their play in the first two weeks will determine how much they will contribute the rest of the year.
Bryant Browning's play appeared to be a mixture of several solid plays, along with a few errors in pass protection, although Browning was singled out for praise by head coach Jim Tressel. Browning's first start was obviously a performance that he will look to improve on this week against the Bobcats. He was probably relieved to finally get his first start under his belt. As long as he continues to get better on a weekly basis, Browning's job is more than safe, although should he regress, there are two freshman that showed they are players to watch closely.
Mike Adams' debut in a Buckeye uniform was surprisingly good. Surprisingly because he missed a lot of training time due to a shoulder injury suffered in the spring. Adams was thought to be a red-shirt candidate at that time, but through hard work he has placed himself squarely in the mix for extended playing time. It was only one game, but Adams' talent level was easy to see. This five-star recruit is going to be a great player at Ohio State someday. The only question remains when his day will come. Watch him closely this week to see how much time he gets, especially after earlier reports of Alex Boone not being fully healthy this week.
J.B. Shugarts is backing up Browning at right tackle and this true freshman was also very impressive last Saturday. Shugarts had several "pancakes" and did not allow a sack during his time on the field. Like Adams, Shugarts showed the ability to play, and contribute, at this early stage of his career. Is he ready to take on the speed rushing defensive ends of USC? We should learn more about that answer this week. Here's hoping Shugarts receives some extended playing time this week to see just how far along he has come and where he stands in the offensive line rotation.
Danny "Boom" Herron has received a lot of praise for his work last year as the scout team tailback. The former Warren Harding star took the field for the first time against Youngstown State and the reviews were mixed on his play. Herron's effort could not be questioned, but he did seem a little tentative in attacking the line of scrimmage. With Chris "Beanie" Wells sitting out this week, Herron figures to get at least 15 carries and needs to make the most of the time he gets. Senior Maurice Wells is not spectacular, but he is solid and might be the player Tressel turns to against USC should Beanie not be able to go. Herron can make a statement that he is ready to be the backup to Beanie with a strong performance against Ohio U.
Dexter Larimore appears to be one of the most improved players on the squad, and he plays a position at which the Buckeyes need to see improvement over their 2007 performance. The big defensive tackle is stronger and quicker than he was last year and that physical improvement was evident against Youngstown State. A solid game against Ohio U. should go a long way toward enabling Larimore to prove he is worthy of being on the field full-time against USC. Yes, it was only Youngstown State, but Larimore's play was noticeably better than last year. He needs to build on that game and continue to get better for Ohio State to be able to control the line of scrimmage against the Trojans.
Thad Gibson is a player the Buckeyes are counting on to provide a consistent pass rush off the edge. His first-week performance was very good overall, and provided a glimpse at the talent his teammates have been raving about since last spring. Gibson has a burst coming off the corner that no other Buckeye can imitate. He needs to add strength to be able to be on the field as a three-down player in the future, but right now his job is to attack the quarterback in obvious passing situations. Gibson needs to continue to show he can provide pressure from his defensive end spot. One has to believe he will be counted on heavily against USC to chase Mark Sanchez. A strong performance this week almost ensures he will get that chance. Gibson is a player that just might raise his game tremendously as he has some success and his confidence grows. I'm optimistic about "The Predator" making his mark in 2008.
Wide receiver Devier Posey scored a touchdown in his first varsity appearance last week. Rest assured, it won't be his last, and I'm going out on a limb and predicting that he finds paydirt again this week. Posey is simply ready to play now, both against the likes of Youngstown State AND against USC. He might not start, but that doesn't matter, because he's going to be on the field a lot for the Buckeyes the rest of the year. Even with Ray Small seemingly back in the good graces of the Buckeye staff, Posey is too good to keep off the field. At the end of the year, we might be comparing his first season in a Buckeye uniform to former great David Boston. Posey has that kind of talent and he should get a lot of playing time to show it off this week.
The final youngster to profile is super quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was nothing short of spectacular in his Buckeye debut. Because so much is expected of Pryor, I believe his play last week has largely gone unnoticed by Buckeye fans. It did not go unnoticed by the Buckeye coaching staff, however. It was thought that 2008 would be a learning year for Pryor, one where he would set himself up to be the starter in 2009, but maybe there are bigger plans for Pryor this year. Everyone knew he had a tremendously high skill level and had great physical ability to play the position. It was surprising to see such poise, maturity and football intelligence for someone who has only been receiving coaching since early August. The question now is how much of an effect Pryor can have against USC and whether or not he ready to be part of the Buckeye game plan against the Trojans. Pryor's play this week, and it should be substantial, will go a long way in answering that question. Should Pryor duplicate, and surpass, his play in week one, don't be surprised to see him receive more than a few token snaps on September 13th in Southern California. I know the Buckeyes do not want a quarterback controversy between Pryor and two-year senior starter Todd Boeckman, but Pryor's talent might force them to find a way to utilize both players. That situation, should it arise, will only make this team that much harder to defend as the year goes on.
There are several other players looking to jump into "contender" status, rather than "pretender" status. True freshmen Lamaar Thomas and Etienne Sabino also saw action last week, in limited roles. Mike Brewster also played on the second team offensive line with Adams and Shugarts and acquitted himself well. Brandon Saine will look to benefit from Beanie Wells' absence and place himself in the run for the backup tailback role. Robert Rose played well last week and the only thing keeping him out of the regular rotation on the defensive line is a complete return to health. Although not a young player, senior Shaun Lane played well last week at defensive back and will look to build on his play and establish himself as a viable option, even with the return of Donald Washington and Jamario O'Neal looming on the horizon.
In short, this week's game is not for evaluating the progress of Brian Hartline, Marcus Freeman, Alex Boone or the other returning starters. Their grade won't count in the first two weeks. They will be judged in earnest on the evening of September 13th, and rightfully so.
For now, the interesting part of playing Youngstown State and Ohio U. comes from being able evaluate the progress of several players looking to make their mark in the two-deep. The outcome of this week's game won't be in doubt, but a lot of youngsters can remove any doubt about them being ready for prime time with a great performance. You can take that to the Bank.