Buckeyes struggle with the run, but the new QB sparkles

Todd Porter

As the winds of historical upsets swirled through the Big Ten, Ohio State wasn’t what anyone thought it would be. The Buckeyes struggled running the football, and quarterback Todd Boeckman didn’t look like a guy making his first start Saturday against Youngstown State.

Against a lesser opponent, Boeckman didn’t look that much different than — gasp — Troy Smith. Then again, this was Youngstown State.

“It didn’t matter if it was St. Henry High School,” Boeckman said after leading Ohio State to a 38-6 win over the overmatched Penguins. “There were 105,000 people in the stands. ... I was excited.”

Boeckman threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns, three true freshmen scored TDs and starting tailback Beanie Wells averaged fewer than 3 yards a carry on his 16 attempts. Nevertheless, Ohio State’s season opening thumping over Division I-AA YSU went much better than things in Ann Arbor.

Michigan, the preseason Big Ten favorite, lost to defending I-AA national champion Appalachian State, 34-32.

“You’ve got to bring it every Saturday,” Buckeye co-captain Kirk Barton said.

Ohio State brought enough and did what it was supposed to Saturday. The Buckeyes scored on six of their nine full possessions.

OSU’s offense racked up 417 yards. YSU was held to less than 100 yards each for passing and rushing.

“It’s tough when you play against your old folks,”  said OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel, who won four national titles in his 15 seasons at Youngstown State. “Jon Heacock is like a brother, because he was with us for so long and meant so much.”

Most expected the Buckeyes to stick the ball in Wells’ arms and power past the Penguins. But Boeckman came out slinging. He completed his first four passes, including a 3-yarder to freshman Dane Sanzenbacher for a 7-0 lead. Ohio State’s first three plays were all passes.

Boeckman completed nine balls to Brian Robiskie for 153 yards, the bulk coming on a 41-yarder.

“It was just him being open,” said Boeckman, who finished 17-of-23 and put more distance between himself and the backups. “Whoever is open, I’m going to try to get them the ball. Brian is a big, tall receiver at 6-foot-3. He has great speed and hands. He made plays for us last year, and that’s carried over to this year.”

The Buckeyes’ second score came from YSU’s 1. They had struggled in the first drive in short-yardage and didn’t exactly get it fixed the second time, either.

Wells and freshman Brandon Saine needed three cracks to get into the end zone.

“I am proud of our guys,” Heacock said. “They came into the toughest place we might ever play in and made them battle.”

Boeckman did most of the work on the third scoring drive. He completed 4-of-6 passes, including a 28-yarder to Robiskie to get to the Penguins 37. From the YSU 21, he dumped off a screen pass to Maurice Wells that went to the 1, and Saine scored from there.

Ohio State led, 21-3, at about the same time Michigan was down, 21-14.

“Todd did a lot of good things,” Tressel said. “I know there’s going to be some things we need to get much better at. He seemed to have excellent command. He had his head up when things weren’t perfect, which is crucial for a quarterback. ... So often the world looks different, but if you keep your eyes up and study it, you’ve got a chance to make things happen.”

YSU got on the board with a 14-play, 85-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter. Brian Palmer hit a 21-yard field goal to make it 14-3. Worse than the points, defensive end Lawrence Wilson’s season may be over. Wilson was carted off the field with a broken right leg.

Tressel said early reports are Wilson could miss as many as eight weeks.

Up 24-6 late in the third quarter, the Buckeyes might’ve lost interest. They were penalized on consecutive plays for illegal substitution and a false start.

Maybe the biggest offensive concern Ohio State has is its short-yardage offensive line.

“I’m not sure what happened with Beanie at the goal line,” Barton said. “But we’ve got to get those things fixed Monday in practice.”

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: todd.porter@cantonrep.com