OSU Looking At Stretching Field Horizontally

As Ohio State transitioned into a different team with Terrelle Pryor under center last year, fans clamored for the Buckeyes to throw the ball deep on a more consistent basis. With a full year under his belt, the thought is that OSU will look to go downfield more. As it turns out, that might not be the case.

Every Ohio State fan knows Woody Hayes was fond of describing his offense as picking up a few yards and a swirl of dirt.

This year, the saying might not just apply to the running game. With quarterback Terrelle Pryor preparing for his first full year as the starter and a stable of largely untested wide receivers stepping into the spotlight, the OSU passing game figures to look different than it has in the past.

According to Pryor, that might mean a different way of looking for his targets through the air.

"We've got some players that are going to catch the ball from three, four yards and take it to the house," he said. "We've got some playmakers that need the ball and that are going to run the ball 70 yards after the catch."

During the 2008 season, the Buckeyes underwent a changing of the guard at quarterback as Pryor took over for incumbent starter Todd Boeckman. In the process, they relied less on the passing game to win games and more on the running of Chris "Beanie" Wells instead.

Compared to the 2007 season, the number of passes thrown in 2008 was down nearly 20 percent – from 330 to 267 – but the average yards per reception remained at 12.2. However, in 2007 the Buckeyes had at least one completion of 40 yards or more in 10 of their 13 games, a figure that dipped to six games last year.

Gone is Brian Robiskie, the team's primary deep threat. Also gone is Brian Hartline, another downfield threat who was OSU's second-most prolific wideout in the past two seasons. With fans wondering who will replace them when the Buckeyes look to go vertical, it appears they might be looking a little too far downfield.

"Our receiver corps this year is not a big receiver corps but more of a quick one," junior wideout Taurian Washington said. "We're quick and we make guys miss. If you can get the ball to us we can go. We've got a lot of quick guys."

Only one returning wide receiver had a catch go for more than 30 yards last season. Dane Sanzenbacher hauled in a season-long 53-yard catch against Penn State that saw him pick up roughly 30 yards after the catch.

That play could be an example of how the OSU passing game will look to attack opponents this season. Sanzenbacher is not regarded as a speed receiver, but showed elusiveness while making PSU's Tony Davis miss on the play to pick 10 more yards at the end of the run.

Instead, players such as Ray Small, Lamaar Thomas and DeVier Posey are regarded more as speed guys who can make turn short catches into big gains. Thomas and Small have been the recipients of screen passes in the past.

"I think that always can benefit you when you have people that can run," Sanzenbacher said. "Obviously it's safer and easier to throw short passes. We'd like to go long, but if it comes down to short passes and running with it then so be it."

Washington singled out Small as the fastest wideout on the team, a sentiment the senior agreed with. When looking at the wide receivers as a group, however, Small compared the Buckeyes to a southern team more frequently associated with speed.

"I'm going to compare us to Florida," Small said. "We've got a lot of fast guys: Lamaar, DeVier, Taurian, Dane. We've got a lot of fast guys. The other years I've been here there have been one or two guys who are blazing fast. This year I just feel like we don't have a big receiver or a big huge receiver, we've just got a lot of small, fast guys."

Wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said his three starting wideouts right now would be a healthy Sanzenbacher, Small and Posey with Thomas and Washington behind them. Of the five, just Posey (6-3) and Washington (6-2) are listed at more than 6-foot tall. Combined, those five wideouts have six starts under their belts.

Looking at the group of players under his command, Hazell said he likes their chances of taking short passes for long distances.

"This is an athletic bunch of guys that will help us make some big plays," he said. "I think we'll be what we do, but I think that option of being able to break the tackle and go a long ways will probably change a few calls that we'll have."

Now in his third season with the Buckeyes, Sanzenbacher said he feels the amount of speed in the wide receivers room is higher than it has ever been in his OSU career. Whether that proves to be true or not could be tempered by the fact that the Buckeyes are young at wide receiver – a fact head coach Jim Tressel was quick to point out.

"I think they need to get a little bit more sure of themselves and a little bit more sure of reading coverage and making route adjustments before they'll be able to really put those abilities to work," he said. "They're still very young."

Although Small said it is easier to catch a long pass on the fly and pick up big yardage, the wideouts will be happy with whatever passes come their way.

"Passes are passes," he said. "I can catch it two yards behind the line of scrimmage and I'm happy."

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