5 observations about Ohio State’s opener

Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner (11) scores a touchdown as he is chased by University of Akron safety Josh Richmond (L) during the second quarter of their NCAA football game in Columbus, Ohio September 3, 2011. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Following a brutal off-season dominated by tattoos and the departure of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, many people were counting out the Buckeyes for 2011. Others were just a little uncertain about what the Buckeyes had for this season. A few like Kirk Herbstreit and some other experts were willing to go out on a limb and say that the Buckeyes would be a force again in the Big Ten.

You can’t draw too many conclusions from watching one game against a very weak Akron team, but there was plenty to get excited about after one game.

1. The Buckeyes have two good options at quarterback

I was very skeptical about Joe Bauserman but he looked very good yesterday. He played against a weak defense and had open receivers, but he consistently hit them. He also showed some mobility and solid leadership. Meanwhile, Braxton Miller looked very good as well, and you could see why he was a highly touted recruit. He has a great arm with a quick release, and he’s also very athletic. He also has a quiet and clam demeanor about him, which makes him look like a potential leader. At the end of the game, Chris Spielman noted that we didn’t see one bad throw from either quarterback. After watching Terrelle Pryor consistently miss easy throws this was a refreshing change.

I can see them using both quarterbacks for a while and that’s just fine with me. I don’t compare this to the Stanley Jackson/Joe Germaine fiasco where Germaine was clearly the better option. Here, we have a 25-year-old senior who seems to be rising to the challenge and a very talented true freshman who has a ton of upside. I think we’ll need Miller to beat teams like Wisconsin and Nebraska, but Bauserman gives the Buckeyes a security blanket and gives Miller room to grow into the role of team leader.

2. The Buckeyes are loaded at running back

We knew that going in, but this unit was put to the test as only sophomore Carlos Hyde and freshman Rod Smith were available for the game. Frankly these guys reminded me of Beanie Wells and Eddie George as they’re both 235 pounds and they ran with authority. There’s no doubt that Fickell is going to stress the running game this year, and it’s clear he has the horses to do it. The biggest issue will be finding carries for everyone when the rest of the guys return.

3. The receivers will be fine

They’re young an inexperienced, but the receiving corps looks fine. They didn’t drop any passes and Evan Spencer made a spectacular one-handed catch. Meanwhile, tight end Jake Stoneburner looks like a real threat as he pulled down three touchdowns and provided a big target for the QBs.

4. The defense keeps on rolling

We really don’t know how good this defense can be, but again we saw the size and athleticism you would expect from a Buckeye defense. This team is still loaded with athletes and all the off-season BS just doesn’t matter.

5. Luke Fickell is ready

Again, one game means nothing. But Luke Fickell had the Buckeyes ready to play, and he’s pushing this team to excel. He’s focusing on the running game, yet he’s smart enough to let the run set up the pass. I want him to succeed, because we don’t need to be that program that looks to the big-name coach as a savior. We have the recruits, and Fickell bleeds scarlet & gray, so he should be given every opportunity to lead this program for years to come.

I think many people around the country took notice yesterday. Even though it was an Akron game, the Buckeyes served notice that they are still loaded with talent. Hopefully the NCAA won’t rain on this party with idiotic sanctions.

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Terrelle Pryor makes a statement

Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against Marshall University during the first quarter of their NCAA football game in Columbus, Ohio, September 2, 2010.  REUTERS/Matt Sullivan (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

What a difference a year makes. Last season, following the embarrassing loss to Purdue, many of us wondered whether it was time to bench Terrelle Pryor. As time went by following that terrible performance, we learned that Pryor really wasn’t putting in the kind of work necessary to succeed at the highest level, and he took the Purdue game for granted. Fortunately, Tressel stuck with him. He simplified the offense, and in a sense let Pryor start over.

Then, Tressel turned Pryor loose in the Rose Bowl, and we saw a preview of what Pryor could become if he continued to work on his game. During the off-season, we continued to hear reports of how Pryor had dedicated himself to improving his game and being a leader on the team. Translation – Pryor was putting in time beyond what the coaches could require of him according to NCAA rules.

On Thursday night against Marshall, we saw just how good Pryor could be. He had command of the offense and he made beautiful throws. He’s learned to step up in the pocket, and he doesn’t take off and run when he senses trouble. Sure, he’ll have to repeat this performance against tougher defenses like Miami, but Terrelle Pryor made a statement on Thursday night. He’s here to live up to his promise. He may or may not lead the Buckeyes to a National Championship, but he’s reset the bar of expectations again.

Ohio State Buckeyes are #2 in first coaches’ poll

Ohio State Buckeyes' quarterback Terrelle Pryor (R) hugs head coach Jim Tressel after victory over the Oregon Ducks 26-17 in the 96th Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California on January 1, 2010. UPI/Jon SooHoo Photo via Newscom

Coming off their huge win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes start the season with the #2 ranking in the first USA Today coaches’ poll.

The Big Ten also gets some recognition to open the season.

With four teams in the top 15, the Big Ten had more than any other conference. Iowa is No. 10, Wisconsin No. 12 and Penn State No. 14. The Buckeyes play all those teams, as well as playing host to No. 13 Miami in the second week of the season.

I thought that the Buckeyes would have to go undefeated to earn a shot at the National Championship, but the schedule might give them a shot even if they suffer a close loss in one of the Big Ten games, though I still think that’s a long shot.

The key is beating Miami. The Buckeyes have no chance at a title shot without beating a respected non-conference opponent.

Jim Tressel sticks by Terrelle Pryor

Not surprisingly, Jim Tressel has indicated he is not planning on benching Terrelle Pryor or giving backup Joe Bauserman any playing time. As I mentioned the other day, Tressel has to consider benching Pryor at some point given the way he’s playing, but that none of us should hold our breath.

Tressel did what he had to do. If he still has any hope of Pryor emerging as a good quarterback for Ohio State, he needs to publicly support the kid when he’s down.

That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that Tressel in running various scenarios in his head. Pryor seems to be getting worse, and at some point Tressel’s hand will be forced if Pryor doesn’t improve. Naturally, Tressel will do all in his control to prevent that scenario, but he’s certainly thought it through.

Is it time for Ohio State to bench Terrelle Pryor?

CLEVELAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball during the game against the Toledo Rockets at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Ohio State Buckeyes shutout the Toledo Rockets 38-0. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

When he arrived at Ohio State as the biggest recruiting prize in the country, Buckeye fans were hopeful that Terrelle Pryor would be the second coming of Vince Young. Instead, Pryor looks more like the next Juice Williams.

Terrelle Pryor’s performance in yesterday’s loss to Purdue was a disaster. It wasn’t simply a bad game from a young quarterback. Pryor has been getting progressively worse throughout the season. Rather, it was a performance that raised the question of whether Terrelle Pryor can ever be a good college quarterback, let alone the NFL quarterback he dreams of becoming.

Pryor had two fumbles and two interceptions. But his stats don’t tell the story here. When you watch Pryor play, you wonder why anyone ever thought this kid could be a good college quarterback. Pryor looked like a track star thrown into the game who had never played the position before. He lacks practically all the tools one would need to play quarterback, apart from his size and speed.

* Arm strength – Pryor can throw the ball, but he hardly has a gun. Most of his long throws look like heaves rather than smooth throws.

* Accuracy – Pryor rarely makes accurate throws. Even short throws seem to be a challenge.

* Mechanics – Pryor’s footwork and throwing mechanics are a mess. He’s not a natural at all with the ball in his hands. Sure, coaching can help, but the coaches aren’t developing a natural passing talent.

* Pocket presence – The Buckeyes have a weak offensive line this season, so that makes it more difficult to develop a young quarterback. But Pryor consistently panics in the pocket. He doesn’t seem to have any sense of how much time he really has to make a throw. Not surprisingly, he often relies in his incredible athleticism to buy some time for a possible pass or run, but he often seems to make the wrong choice.

* Decision-making – He rarely seems to do the right thing. How many times have we seen him run out of bounds under pressure and take a loss of five or more yards when he easily could have just tossed the ball out of bounds? He seems to throw when he should run, and run when he has an open receiver. On blitzes, he rarely gets the ball to the hot receiver.

* Leadership and temperament – Pryor often acts like an immature kid who can’t control his emotions. He’s only nineteen years old, so we need to cut him some slack here, but compare him to freshmen like Tate Forcier at Michigan and the surfer dude playing quarterback at USC. They seem to thrive under pressure, while Pryor seems to come unglued under pressure.

Jim Tressel made a good point early in the season when some were questioning Pryor’s play – Vince Young didn’t become Vince Young until his senior season. The message was clear – young players need to develop, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to come in a perform consistently this early in a college career. Tressel prides himself on his ability to develop young players and young men. He knows players and teams will face adversity, and he wants to help them face it and overcome it.

For this reason, we shouldn’t be surprised that Tressel didn’t pull Pryor against Purdue. He should have been pulled, but Tressel doesn’t have a great option sitting on the bench, and he probably wanted to see how Pryor would react in that situation.

As an Ohio State fan, it’s hard to imagine watching Pryor play quarterback for two more seasons. The Buckeyes are loaded on defense, and they have a solid offense as well, even with a mediocre offensive line. All they need right now to compete is a quarterback who can hit open receivers and avoid turnovers. They don’t need a Vince Young or even a Troy Smith. Put Craig Krenzel on this team and the Buckeyes are competing for a national championship. Instead, we have the Terrelle Pryor train wreck, and an excellent defense is being wasted.

Pryor chose Ohio State because he wanted a program that could help him develop as a future NFL quarterback. That seems like a pipe dream now. The kid needs to focus on just being a competent college quarterback.

What should Tressel do? Would sitting Pryor help? Tressel needs to consider this if Pryor continues to turn over the football. He owes it to the other players on the team.

In the meantime, short of benching Pryor, Tressel needs to rethink what he’s trying to do on offense (the issue of Tressel calling the plays will be addressed another time). We can see he’s already tried to incorporate the option more into the offense, but we’re seeing that Pryor’s instincts aren’t much better there. Perhaps with practice he’ll get better, as the option at least plays to his running ability. Tressel should toss aside a good chunk of the playbook and go to a much simpler offense. Focus on running the football, the option, and other Wildcat-type plays, and have Pryor make much simpler throws that play off the running game. Dig up old tape from Oklahoma and Nebraska from the 1970’s, or even most of the Woody Hayes years. Keep it simple until the kid shows he can handle more.

Buckeye fans often get frustrated with Tressel’s conservative play-calling, but opening up the offense is not the solution here. He has to pull things back and start over. And, if Pryor can’t cut it in a simpler offense, then Tressel will have to make a change.