Scouting the Ohio State Buckeye Offense

Texas is about to travel to Glendale, Arizona to take on Jim Tressell's Buckeye club in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. In anticipation of that match-up, Burnt Orange Beat spoke with Mark Rea of to get his thoughts on the clash, and what he thinks are the pivotal parts of the game. This part 1 covers the offense.

Texas vs. Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Part 1 - Offense

The three Ohio State tight ends (Nicol, Smith, and Ballard) have 18 catches between them for a cumulative average per catch of about 11 yards. Is there any reason for their limited touches in the passing game? How good are they at blocking, for the run especially?

Every member of that trio is an excellent run-blocker. But each has been begging for several years to get more involved in the passing game. Unfortunately, the offensive line has not played as well as the coaching staff had hoped. There are several reasons for that, most notably injuries that have robbed the Buckeyes of offensive line depth and forced some players to learn new positions on the fly. Couple that with a young quarterback and you have tight ends who typically have to stay in to pass protect.

If something were to happen to Terrelle Pryor in the game, how do you feel about Todd Boeckman at this stage? What happened with him early this year as a senior who finished #13 nationally in pass efficiency last year? He obviously has size (6-4, 244, per your official roster), though dubious quicks. What kind of prospect is he for the pros?

I'm not as down on Todd as many others. I have heard comments that Ohio State went into last year's national title game in spite of Boeckman. That's ridiculous. That said, he did level off at the end of last season and played poorly against USC. Tressel was already thinking about rotating Pryor in and out, but when Boeckman threw an interception late in the first half against USC – the one Rey Maualuga returned for a touchdown – it was the straw the broke the camel's back. I wouldn't have any problem with Todd playing in the Fiesta Bowl if Pryor went down and I doubt Tressel would either. It would be his last game and I think he would do well.

As for his NFL hopes, it's possible some team would take him near the end of the draft. If not, I see him signing with someone somewhere. I'd go so far as to say he could be a decent NFL backup in the right system.

While apparently your OL is improving a lot compared to the first games this fall, what was the problem early on in the season? Sure, Wells getting hurt was a big blow, but I still would have expected better production in those early season games considering the returning talent from 2007's second ranked team. From notes, the only loss was all-Big Ten right tackle Kirk Barton and a backup left tackle.

As I mentioned before, the offensive line has been a work in progress all season. Senior left guard Steve Rehring got hurt early and that forced center Jim Cordle into his spot and freshman Michael Brewster into the center position. Brewster is an excellent prospect and may be a Rimington Trophy contender one day, but he was not quite ready to be a starter. Also, right tackle Bryant Browning had some trouble in his first year replacing Barton and then right guard Ben Person got hurt down the stretch. Add in some injuries to backups that robbed the Buckeyes of depth along with Wells' injury and you get an offensive line that was inconsistent almost all season.

You have several big, pretty highly recruited kids on the line back (especially Boone), yet had a lot of trouble moving the ball with any consistency until late in the season. Is it primarily due to the initial ineptitude from Boeckman, followed by Tressel's conservative nature with a true freshman quarterback? Are there any additional reasons? How much of the improved run production is directly tied to having a quarterback who can run?

The inconsistency of the offense can be traced to the inconsistency of the offensive line already mentioned. When Pryor entered the starting lineup, Tressel did keep things conservative – not that he's a wide-open kind of guy anyway. Down the stretch, Pryor stayed in the pocket a little more often and held the ball a little too long, leading to some sacks that were probably unnecessary. I would think he'll be much more apt to go ahead and take off against Texas. At first glance, there's nothing to be threatened by with your wide outs, since Robiskie and Hartline average only a combined 75 yards per game. But later in the year, Hartline had a 56-yarder versus Michigan State (27th defensively in pass efficiency rating), Sanzenbacher had a 53-yarder versus Penn State (#6 nationally in PER) and 82 total for the game, with Robiskie adding 56. In addition, Hartline had a 46-yarder versus Northwestern (28th in PER) and 90 for the game, and then the offense had three plays of 35+ versus Michigan (79th in PER), with Hartline getting another 56-yarder.

Generally, then, as the ground game took off in the latter part of the season, Pryor's passer rating skyrocketed and those receivers became at least worthy of paying attention to, if not legitimate downfield threats. Is it a case of the ground game making the difference, or has Pryor's improvement as a passer (when he did pass) open up the running game more, or some of both?

It's really nothing more than the fact that Ohio State likes to try and stretch the field at least a couple of times each game. With Texas' young secondary, I would expect they'll stay with that kind of mentality in the Fiesta Bowl. It's true that none of the OSU receivers stands out – but they are all pretty good at running routes, getting open and catching the ball.

Your roster has just one Texan, freshman J.B. Shugarts from Klein. How has he acclimated to Ohio State, has he already contributed, and what is expected of him in the coming years?

Shugarts is one of several young offensive linemen that Ohio State is extremely high on. He played some this year, and like any freshman, had his high points and low moments. He has also been nicked up this year and may or may not be available for duty against the Longhorns. Next year, he projects as the main contender to Browning at the starting right tackle position and many believe J.B. will be the starter.

Has Beanie Wells given any indication as to whether this is his last game as a Buckeye?

He hasn't said anything publicly but from every indication we have had, he's gone after this game. It is a shame too. He is extremely gifted and never had a fully healthy season as a Buckeye.

What is the injury situation for Ohio State? How banged up are the Buckeyes and is anyone out for the game/season?

OSU is about as healthy as it has been in a while. Rehring returned down the stretch and they get Person back for this game. Wells is also as healthy as he has been all season.

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