Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pfef's Ultra DVR-Enhanced Spring Game Analysis

Yes, I am still alive.

Today was the annual Ohio State Football Spring Game, which pitted two split-squads against each other in what are the first competitive downs of football that the Buckeyes have played since November 18th.

Obviously, the hot topic of the day was the quarterback race. Today was the first chance that OSU fans got a good look at the three candidates to attempt the impossible task of replacing the legendary Troy Smith. The three guys, of course, are the front-runner Todd Boeckman, the unknown Rob Schoenhoft, and the young, flashy Antonio Henton. Of course, this game is only a scrimmage, so making bold statements based solely on this preseason game is about as logical as claiming a baseball player the next Babe Ruth because he hit two home runs in Spring Training. However, the game is definitely worth paying attention to, because it helps the fans get an idea of how the players are progressing, and it also shows who the new key players are.

This year's edition of the Spring Game was a tad different than past years. The quarterbacks were not limited by the black, "hands only," jerseys, and as a result, passing plays were given a much greater chance to develop, and it also allowed the quarterbacks to showcase their running abilities. The game was much more aggressive than in seasons past, as the defenses seemed much more aggressive and were always flying to the ball.

As for the actual game, the Scarlet team was in control for just about the entire game. Antonio Henton threw an interception on the first drive of the game, which Marcus Freeman took all the way for a touchdown. The pickoff would be the first of three for Henton, two of which were the result of extremely ill-advised passes, with the third coming off of a tipped pass at the line. Late in the third quarter, Scarlet led 9-0 with the game seemingly at hand. However, an extreme momentum shift came from the most unlikely of sources. On 4th down, AJ Trapasso took the snap for a fake a punt, and he began to run for the first down (for those of you who didn't know, Trapasso played running back in high school). He got the first down, broke a tackle, and then steamrolled over Zach Willis. The Gray team then drove down to the five yard line, and eventually lost the ball on downs. However, on Scarlet's third play, Alex Barrow tipped an Antonio Henton ball into the air, turned around, and then intercepted it, giving Gray another shot. The turnover eventually led to a 40 yard Aaron Pettrey FG, cutting the score to 9-3. Gray then went on to hold Scarlet to a punt, and once again had the ball with another chance to score. With Schoenhoft at the reigns, everything on the drive worked in fluency. The blocking, for a change, was excellent, as was the running and receiving. Eventually, Schoenhoft hit TE Brandon Smith on a play-action touchdown to put the Gray team up 10-9. The Scarlet team seemed poised for a comeback, when on 4th and 1, the coaches (whether or not it was the actual coaches or Conley & Co. beats me), showed some guts and did a play-action pass down to about the 10 yard line. However, when Scarlet was trying to run the clock out to set up a game-winning Ryan Pretorious Field Goal, Larry Grant came in off the edge unblocked (think Cie Grant in the Fiesta Bowl), and forced a Boeckman fumble. Then, Grant managed to pick up the fumble and return it 87 yards for the final dagger, which put Gray up 17-9, and they would hang on to win by that score.

The following is a much more detailed analysis of some of the more notable aspects of the game:

The ultimate display of class
Everyone in the game yesterday featured a Virginia Tech logo on the left side of their helmet. This is, of course, a tribute to the horrendous shootings that occurred earlier in the week. When Jim Tressel was asked about it mid game, he said that when he talked to VT head coach Frank Beamer about it, Beamer was honored that the school was attempting to reach out to them. I'm sure that just about every other school in the country has made a similar effort to honor the lives of those who died, but I'm not sure if anyone went as above-and-beyond as Ohio State did.

Now, on to the on-the-field issues...

Players not participating/limited due to injury:
OL Kirk Barton
RB Chris Wells
OL Jon Skinner
WR Brent Ullery
CB Andre Amos
S Anderson Russell
S Jamario O'Neal
LB Kyle Libby
OL Scott Sika
S Aaron Gant
LB Thaddeus Gibson
LB Curtis Terry
WR Brian Hartline

Players that impressed
Rob Schoenhoft
Although none of the three quarterbacks did anything spectacular to strengthen their position in what is sure to be an ongoing position battle throughout the season, Schoenhoft did the most to help his cause. He finished the game with 5-10 p
assing for 75 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and only two stacks. In the fourth quarter, he orchestrated the drive that led to the go-ahead touchdown pass. Throughout the game, and on that drive in particular, not only did Schoenhoft display uncanny leadership skills for a kid who has hardly ever played in an actual game, but he also had some real nice throws that, even if they fell incomplete, showed his true potential. Perhaps what was most surprising about Schoenhoft was his ability to scramble out of trouble when protection broke down. He finished the game with six carries for 30 yards, giving him the highest yards per carry of anyone who played yesterday, given that they carried the ball more than one time. In all honesty, the entire time I saw the kid play out there, the one name that kept on ringing in my head was Craig Krenzel, Craig Krenzel, Craig Krenzel. The only difference between Schoenhoft and Krenzel at this point may be that Schoenhoft's ceiling is so much higher than Krenzel's ever was. Schoenhoft is a little bigger and has a bit of a stronger arm, and will only get better with experience. Time will tell if Robby is anywhere near as good as Krenzel was when it counted the most, but with Tressel coaching him, I'm confident that he'll be able to pull through.

The Linebackers
Lets face it, the last two games that the linebackers actually showed up to play last season were at Northwestern and Illinois. I know this because, when someone comes to Ohio State to play linebacker, they do not allow 144 yards and 3 touchdowns to Mike Hart on their home ground, and they definitely do not allow what transpired in Glendale to happen. Well, it looks like Laurinaitis and his co
llective gang of head hunters agreed with me, because watching all of the linebackers play yesterday, I couldn't help but be impressed at the progression that each of these kids have made since last season. Last year, the linebackers fooled everyone into thinking that the defense was good, until they got truly exposed in the final two games. This year, everyone knew that the defense would be experienced (the only linebacker to graduate was John Kerr, and you guys know how I feel about him), but the question of "will these guys actually be good?" was completely up in the air. A lot was made of these guys' speed last season, but it seems as if this year they have added some strength and smarts on to that speed, and have made themselves a group to be reckoned with. Larry Grant probably had the best game of any of the linebackers, finishing with four tackles, two sacks, one pass break up, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered, one 87 yard touchdown, and three tackles for loss. If Curtis Terry continues to struggle against the pass, Grant could very quickly overtake his spot. Other linebackers who played well include James Laurinaitis (6 tackles, 3 solo, 1 TFL), who looked much stronger than the end of last year, and he also was clearly the defensive leader on the field yesterday. He may not be a captain since he's only a junior, but I have a good feeling that just about everyone on the defensive side of the ball is going to be answering to him come the season. Marcus Freeman took an interception to the house, and in the process he looked very, very fast. Austin Spitler was one of the surprises on the day, finishing with six tackles, including one very sure-handed solo tackle on the highly evasive Ray Small.

Maurice Wells

With Bean
ie Wells out of the game due to a bum ankle, Maurice Wells was the only experienced tailback playing. Before he even took a carry, I was immediately impressed with how much he actually looked like a running back this season, in contrast to that quick little guy with dreadlocks we've gotten so used to. He has clearly put on some muscle, and his running style is changed to a much more aggressive, down field style. His final stat line on the game was a modest 14 carries for 48 yards, but I am no longer as worried as I previously was about our running back situation. When Beanie needs to be spelled, it really shouldn't be all that big of a problem.

Devon Lyons and Albert Dukes
It seems like every year for the past couple of years these two players have been highly anticipated, only to either get lost to injury or lost in the shadow of other receivers. Well, with the recent loss of Ginn and Gonzo, these two guys are going to get their fair share of licks out on the field, and it looks like each of them has worked hard in order to embrace his role. Lyons in particular was impressive, mainly because he brings a big, over the middle target to the field. He stands at 6'4", 214 lbs, and made a real big target for the young quarterbacks to throw to. He finished the game with 3 catches for 72 yards, all the while showing incredible ability to get open, make the tough catch, and move with the ball. Dukes, on the other hand, looked like he had been playing with Sc
hoenhoft since Pop Warner. He too only had three catches (20 yards), but he was thrown to a lot more than that. Granted, getting thrown at so often could simply be a failure on the quarterback's part to make his progressions, but often times, Dukes was open and the throw just wasn't there.

Players that need to do more
Antonio Henton
Henton was by far the player that the fans were most anxiously awaiting to see play the most. And I'm not going to lie, I was anxious, too. I would love to be wrong about this guy, I really would. But seeing him play today only strengthened my argument that there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that this guy comes in as a freshman and instantly becomes the next Troy Smith. He has all the potential to do it, but like most freshman quarterbacks, he really only has the physical attributes, and still has a lot of learning to do. He threw three interceptions on the day, two of which were just the kind of throw that an inexperienced kid is prone to making. He didn't completely analyze the defense, and someone popped up and made the interception. On the first drive of the game, he was about to set the world on fire, too. He had made some nice runs (Troy Smith comparisons began roughly .4 seconds after the play ended), and also had a real nice throw over the middle to Devon Lyons that was both strong and accurate. However, he then made a throw right to Marcus Freeman, who went on to score a touchdown the other way. There are still plenty of positives to take from his game, however. When he runs with the ball, he does it like a scrambling quarterback should: He looks for holes, runs through them, and then makes some guys miss. He doesn't run around like a chicken with his head cut off. He is incredibly quick and agile, perhaps more so than Troy Smith. He also has a rocket for an arm, which means that if he can ever put all of these tools together, he could be a special player.

Both offensive lines
The pass protection, especially in the first half, was absolutely horrid at times. Granted, likely captain Kirk Barton was injured and did not play in the game, but one person is not responsible for an entire line. None of the quarterbacks really had any time to throw whatsoever, which could have played a role in their mistakes throughout the game.

Dexter Larimore and Nader Abdallah
These guys are going to have to step it up this year, there is really no way around it. Doug Worthington and Dexter Larimore (Both on the Scarlet team) are the likely starters at defensive tackle this year, but due to the fact that the team lost it's three top interior linemen from last year, two of which were team captains, depth is a huge issue. Abdallah has waited his turn for quite some time, and seems to be finally getting down to good playing shape, but when he and Larimore were lined up side by side yesterday, they just seemed to get tossed around by the interior offensive line, especially on running plays. There were way too many holes in the middle of the line for the running backs to go through, and they're just fortunate that the linebackers had their backs all game. The only problem with the linebackers cleaning up after the defensive tackles, is that it usually happens about five yards down field. Now I'm no math major, but five yards without getting touched is a whole heck of a lot for a walk-on running back to be getting in a scrimmage.

Other Game Notes:
  • Although Schoenhoft played well, and Henton wasn't so hot, Boeckman will still almost definitely be the opening day starter. Boeckman showed a great arm, and with his experience on the team, he will get the first chances at quarterback. However, all three guys will get their licks.
  • The kickoffs were moved back as part of the new clock rules. Ray Small handled most of the returning duties, and he was really impressive when he got a chance to run it back. The kickoff coverage gave him plenty of lanes to run through, and his speed/athleticism did the rest. Don't be surprised if he takes a couple to the house this year.
  • Chris Wells was interviewed during the game, and he said his ankle was at about 90%. Benching him was pretty much a precautionary measure, and he will definitely be ready to go in no time.
  • Some of the basketball players were "honorary coaches" during the game today (whatever that means). Mike Conley and Daeuquan Cook were Gray coaches (Jim Tressel's efforts to get them to stay?) and David Lighty and Jamar Butler coached the scarlet team.
  • I'll give a grade of "incomplete" to the entire secondary. Three key members, Anderson Russell, Jamario O'Neal, and Andre Amos did not play due to injury. Reshirt freshman Chimdi Chekwa got a lot of playing time, but during one drive, he got burned by Brian Robiskie on the same exact route twice within a span of three plays. Both times, however, ex-linebacker turned safety Tyler Moeller bailed him out by hitting Robo a la Mike Doss.
  • On the second of those hits, Robiskie limped off the field with a bruised knee. Initial reports say that he is fine, but this is a condition that, if there are any developments, I will mention.
  • Official game Box Score, as well as the O-Zone's analysis can be found here and here, respectively.
  • Other spring game reviews: Buckeye Commentary, the Columbus Dispatch, Eleven Warriors, Scout, Rivals (if you can dish out the cash, I know I can't), and BuckNuts
  • Game photo gallery, as well as the source for all pictures used in this post, from the premier source for Buckeye imagery, the O-Zone

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