Cus Words 9-23: Back When I Knew It All

Thinking of a Montgomery Gentry song, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman is reminded that sometimes we can't assume a team knows what it has until the games get under way. That can make for surprises both pleasant and not so wonderful.

WHAT WE LEARNED LAST WEEK: Sometimes our clichés are just wrong. More often than we probably realize, we can't get a square peg into our old round hole, and that's cool, because sometimes the results can be pretty neat.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Ohio State quarterback position, circa 2008.

Conventional wisdom be damned!

Why? Because Terrelle Pryor is no conventional player, let alone freshman.

Todd Boeckman? He's a regular guy, no more and no less. There's generally no shame in that, but mixing in that he is the same guy as a senior that he was during jersey scrimmages in 2006 and the choice of man to lead this group of Buckeyes is obvious.

It's not that Boeckman isn't good. He's just not good enough when someone like Pryor is available.

Boeckman can make all the throws you'd like a quarterback to make. He just can't make them consistently enough.

He can find the open man, just not as much as you need him to. That's especially true because he can't do anything else.

But there is something to be said for knowing what you're getting in major athletic competition, and so I entered the season assuming Boeckman was still the best option at this point in time.

Jim Tressel said Saturday he hates to use games as practice, and who can blame him? They only play a dozen or so of those things a year, you know?

After seeing Pryor's calm in the pocket, his effortless motion and the arc and zip to his passes, I can't help but think this was not a difficult decision for Tressel and his staff.

I would have said that going with Pryor just because he's younger, agreeing to live with the mistakes of a freshman for long-term gain would not have been the right move for a team that should still be able to win the Big Ten, but that's not exactly the case here, because, in hindsight, Pryor is better than Boeckman in every way, and potential has nothing to do with that.

We've heard for almost two years about Boeckman's vast knowledge of the Ohio State offense, but that doesn't make much difference if it can't be put to good use.

The younger player was born not just with more physical skill but apparently a better ability to process what's going on around him and react to it. Maybe that's a byproduct of having the ability to escape from more situations and needing less time to do so, like how a hitter with quick hands is infinitely more effective than someone without. The quicker batter is going to get better swings and make better contact because he can wait longer to make sure he really knows what he's getting before he goes after it.

Boeckman doesn't have that luxury. What's worse, he has no sense of what to do when the pocket breaks down, and so he seems to expend extra mental energy trying to anticipate that situation arising and his overall effectiveness suffers as a result.

Pryor, on the other hand, must know he can slip away from most mortals even when they get to within an arm's length, and having figured that out, lets himself worry about other things, such as those teammates of his running around all over the field trying like crazy to get open so he can fling them the ball and they can be just a part of his star as it rises.


WHAT WE'LL LEARN THIS WEEK: This might take a while, but Minnesota represents the beginning. Will college teams catch up to Pryor? If so, how quickly? And how will he then react?

That's the test for the rest of the year, or, perhaps more accurately, what will determine where the Buckeyes end up this season.

I'm reminded now of Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds outfielder and former No. 1 prospect in baseball.

He came up earlier this summer and set the world on fire for a week or so, but the rest of baseball caught up with him for a time. Bruce has had some awful slumps, but he's had plenty of great moments, too. Through Tuesday he had hit 21 home runs in 389 at-bats, seemingly getting by mostly on sheer ability as the knowledge slowly filters in.

This is likely to happen to Pryor, too, although college football is a different animal.

He'll need more help from his teammates to beat a zone blitz than Bruce does to get a hit off Brandon Webb. In that situation, Bruce can just concentrate his own ability to accomplish the task at hand.

Pryor's publicly televised education comes with higher stakes, too. A bad week for Bruce might just mean his team ends up another couple of games out of a playoff spot it wasn't going to get anyway.

Pryor risks letting slip a standard that has seen Ohio State win its conference three years in a row (including twice outright) and won double-digit games in each of those seasons.

As with Bruce, surely methods exist for making Pryor's life tougher. Spy him with a linebacker to limit his running ability. Mix and match zones. Walk an extra defender near the line of scrimmage until he and his receivers show they can make you pay deep on a consistent basis. Bring pressure from a variety of angles. He'll have to adjust in a matter of minutes - one quarter at most - to keep his team on track for all its usual season goals, not the least of which is that Big Ten championship we already mentioned.


All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: Troy receiver Jerrel Jernigan is an easy choice. His eight-catch, 66-yard day was punctuated by a dazzling open-field run after a short catch that ended up a 45-yard touchdown.

Feature back DuJuan Harris had a nice game as well both running and catching the pigskin, so he's included, and up front Dion Small, Steven Adams and Danny Franks all had strong efforts in limiting Ohio State's pass rush and making some room for Harris to run up the middle.

Despite getting abused a few times by Ohio State's guards, linebacker Boris Lee recorded a game-high 15 tackles, and his positionmate Bear Woods added 12, so they are both included.

Nose guard Maurice Coleman was also very impressive with five tackles, including 1.5 for loss.


DVR Directions: I must say, I find this to be an interesting opening weekend of Big Ten play.

While Ohio State and improved Minnesota square off at noon on the Big Ten Network, two other teams looking to make a move back to the top-half of the standings face off when unbeaten Northwestern travels to Iowa. The Buckeyes don't play Iowa, but Northwestern could have a trap waiting for them Nov. 8, one week before a trip to Illinois. If you'd like to get a sneak peak at the Wildcats, set the DVR for ESPN Classic.

If you're not buying the power of the Purple, Michigan State and Indiana provide an alternative on ESPN at the same time. See what MSU head coach Mark Dantonio can cook up to stop Indiana's hurry-up, spread offense and dynamic quarterback Kellen Lewis.

Now that we've seen Notre Dame embarrass Michigan and get throttled by Michigan State, we might be able to consider Purdue's 3:30 p.m. trip to South Bend a good barometer for the Boilermakers. That's on NBC.

I'd say DVR that one, though, because the better live viewing is probably on ABC, where Wisconsin can be seen traveling to Michigan. There we can find out either that Wisconsin is a fraud or that Michigan's descent to the bottom of the standings is certain.

The best game of the night figures to be in prime time, though, as Illinois travels to Penn State. Illinois scored a huge win over the Nittany Lions last season, and this ABC game will tell us a lot about both squads this year.


Cus Words Power Poll (Previous week's ranking)

I see an infinitely better Big Ten than what's been out there the last two seasons, but conference play should tell us for sure.

1. (same) Ohio State
tie-2. (same) Penn State
tie-2. (same) Wisconsin
4. (5) Michigan State
5. (4) Illinois
6. (same) Northwestern
7. (8) Purdue
8. (11) Minnesota
9. (10) Michigan
10. (7) Indiana
11. (9) Iowa

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman@buckeyesports.com.

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