Big Ten: Taurian Washington

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Terrelle Pryor can be a maddening player to watch.

Pryor can also be one of the most exciting players in college football to watch.

He can be both in a matter of moments.

We've seen both the good and the bad of Pryor in today's game, and he just showcased some magic as Ohio State extended its lead to 10-0. On third-and-6, Pryor looked headed for a sack as he backpedaled out of field-goal range, but he evaded the rush, waited until the last possible moment and then gunned the ball to Taurian Washington for a first down.

Just a brilliant all-around play by Pryor. He made another great throw two plays later to top target Dane Sanzenbacher in the end zone.

Although Pryor has had some ugly looking throws today, he offsets it with magical plays.

Michigan is in real trouble now. The Wolverines could use a boost from their own magic man, Denard Robinson.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Bring on the U.

Ohio State began its season in dominating fashion, outclassing Marshall in a 45-7 victory Thursday night. The Buckeyes displayed tremendous balance on offense, received strong performances from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his weapons, and the defense continued its opportunistic ways.

The Buckeyes' quest for a national title continues against the team it beat to win the crown in January 2003. Miami comes to town in nine days for a blockbuster matchup.

Marshall clearly has a long way to go on defense, but Ohio State's offense actually was fun to watch tonight. The Buckeyes mixed plays, formations personnel, and achieved perfect balance in the opening half with 16 rushes and 16 passes. Pryor looked very impressive for the most part, completing 17 of 25 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns, two to close friend DeVier Posey. Pryor's completion percentage should have been even better if not for drops by Posey and Taurian Washington. Running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron both looked good, especially Saine, and receiver Dane Sanzenbacher established himself as the team's deep threat.

It'll be interesting to see if Jim Tressel opens things up this much against Miami. I hope he does.

Ohio State's defense was physical and continued to force turnovers, a hallmark of the unit from last season. Linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan looked especially good.

It was a strange night on special teams, as Ohio State set the tone with a forced fumble on the opening kickoff but also had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown.

All in all, mission accomplished for the Scarlet and Gray. But a much tougher test awaits Sept. 11.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
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It's game week, people. You ready for some football?

Recapping the Big Ten scrimmages

August, 23, 2010
8/23/10
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Scrimmages took center stage around the Big Ten this weekend as teams moved closer to the end of camp and the start of game preparations. I have links and a few thoughts on each scrimmage below, but only on the teams that put out information about what happened or had media in attendance. Those teams are: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

I'll do my best with Michigan's scrimmage, which oddly was open to fans but not media.

ILLINOIS

The Illini broke camp in Rantoul, Ill., and scrimmaged Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Check out what happened here and here and here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Illinois' coaches can talk all they want about running back by committee, but it's clear that junior Mikel Leshoure is the team's top option. As he did throughout the second half of last season, Leshoure showcased his big-play ability Saturday with a 49-yard touchdown run. Leshoure finished with 102 rush yards and two scores on only 12 carries. Jason Ford also had a nice day Saturday, but Leshoure is the guy to watch out for this fall.
  • After struggling in the first camp scrimmage, Illinois' first-team defense rebounded nicely Saturday. According to Mark Tupper, the first-team defense allowed only 59 net yards in 41 plays in the scrimmage. Defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Martez Wilson were among the standouts.
  • Although starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a shaky day, Illinois might have found another capable wide receiver in Eddie McGee, the team's former backup quarterback. McGee beat cornerback Miami Thomas on a jump ball in the end zone to record a touchdown and finished with three receptions for 56 yards.
INDIANA

The Hoosiers held a 96-play Saturday at Memorial Stadium, and you can read all about it here, here (subscription required) and here.

Quick hitters
  • Redshirt freshman Dusty Kiel has established himself as the team's backup quarterback in camp. Kiel, who has been competing with Edward Wright-Baker, had an excellent scrimmage, completing 14 of 16 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
  • Indiana used the scrimmage to assess its offensive line depth and limited the participation for sure-fire starters like center Will Matte and right tackle James Brewer. Coach Bill Lynch wanted to get a better read on his backup center and had Jordan Marquette, Chris Ahlfeld and Steve Fiacable take reps in the scrimmage. Ted Bolser stepped up nicely at tight end with five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.
  • The Hoosiers' already-shaky secondary suffered a blow as safety Chris Adkins had to be carried off the field because of an ankle injury. The extent of Adkins' injury is unclear at this point.
MICHIGAN

Michigan held a scrimmage Saturday at Michigan Stadium. It was open to some fans but not media, and while I love fan reports, I'm relying mostly on this video from the school's official website.
  • I really like what I've seen from freshman running back Stephen Hopkins, both in Saturday's scrimmage and during the Big Ten Network's tour stop. He gives the Wolverines a different look in the backfield at 6-foot, 227 pounds. Michigan boasts plenty of speed backs, but Hopkins provides the type of downhill, between-the-tackles running you need in the Big Ten.
  • Quarterback Denard Robinson looked pretty smooth in the scrimmage video, both as a passer and a runner. He hit his receivers in stride and broke off a long touchdown run, juking safety Jared Van Slyke before reaching the end zone. All signs continue to point toward Robinson being named the starter, but we'll see.
MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans held a 130-play controlled scrimmage Saturday at Spartan Stadium, closed to the media. The defense prevailed 45-32 as the team used a modified scoring system. Recaps can be found here and here.

Quick hitters
  • It was a good day for the defense and a great day for the linebackers, who should be Michigan State's strongest unit this fall. Eric Gordon recorded a scrimmage-best nine tackles, while Greg Jones added eight, including two for loss. Jon Misch had 2.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry, and Chris Norman had six tackles and a pass breakup. "The linebackers were very active," coach Mark Dantonio said.
  • Wide receiver B.J. Cunningham is having a very strong camp, and he continued it Saturday with five receptions for 67 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins. Cousins and Cunningham hooked up for two touchdowns in the team's first fall scrimmage. It's a pretty crowded mix at receiver, but Cunningham has put himself in a great position.
MINNESOTA

Minnesota held an open scrimmage Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and you can read all about it here, here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Minnesota's first-string offensive line stepped up nicely in the scrimmage, keeping quarterback Adam Weber safe and allowing him to complete 7 of 9 passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns. There was, however, a significant drop-off when the second- and third-team offensive linemen entered the scrimmage. "I didn't feel like some of the [second and third team] took advantage of the opportunity to go play today," coach Tim Brewster told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
  • Freshman running back Donnell Kirkwood has put himself in the mix for carries this fall alongside Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge. Kirkwood had 19 carries in Saturday's scrimmage with a long run of 14 yards. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton praised Kirkwood when we talked a few weeks ago.
  • MarQueis Gray is still getting reps as a reserve quarterback, but it's coming clear his primary role this fall will be at wide receiver, as long as Weber stays healthy. Gray seems to be embracing the change, and his big frame could really help the Gophers after the loss of Eric Decker. "I am pretty sure I can find a hole somewhere to catch the ball and get upfield for Weber when he throws it to me," he told the Star Tribune.
NORTHWESTERN

The Wildcats ended their off-campus training in Kenosha, Wis., with an open scrimmage. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald held out a large group of starters on both sides, so second- and third-teamers got most of the work. Recaps can be found here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Freshman receiver Venric Mark will make an immediate impact this fall, especially for Northwestern's middling return teams. Mark had an excellent scrimmage, recording a 28-yard touchdown catch and breaking off several big returns. Generously listed at 5-8 and 165 pounds, Mark also threw a block that helped classmate Adonis Smith reach the end zone.
  • A battle could be brewing at backup quarterback. As starter Dan Persa watched from the sideline, true freshman Trevor Siemian completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Siemian could push redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, who completed only four of seven passes.
  • Freshman defensive end Will Hampton could work his way into the rotation this fall. Hampton recorded a tackle for loss in the scrimmage.
OHIO STATE

Ohio State held its jersey scrimmage Saturday at Ohio Stadium, as the offense prevailed 54-48 after 130-140 plays. The scrimmage was open to the media, and you can find recaps here, here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Quarterback Terrelle Pryor had a so-so day, although he wore a no-contact jersey and couldn't be the running threat he'll be after Sept. 4. Pryor completed only 10 of 24 pass attempts but did fire a 25-yard touchdown strike to Taurian Washington, considered the front-runner for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. He also found tight end Jake Stoneburner for a 25-yard gain and nearly threw an interception in the end zone.
  • Andrew Sweat appears to have a slight edge on Etienne Sabino for the third starting linebacker spot. Sabino entered camp as the favorite to start, but Sweat logged more time with the first-team defense Saturday and recovered a Brandon Saine fumble.
  • Coach Jim Tressel said he hopes to get defensive end Nathan Williams (knee) back by the Sept. 2 opener against Marshall. Meanwhile, several young defensive linemen stood out Saturday. Redshirt freshman Adam Bellamy recorded three sacks and true freshman Johnathan Hankins added one.
WISCONSIN

The Badgers scrimmaged Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The session was open to the media, and you can read all about it here and here.
  • Wisconsin's offense moved the ball decently but struggled to finish drives, as Antonio Fenelus picked off a Scott Tolzien pass and safety Aaron Henry broke up a pass in the end zone. It was a theme throughout the scrimmage. There's little doubt Wisconsin can control the clock and keep moving the chains with its balanced attack, but it must execute in the red zone.
  • Freshman running back James White had a good day and could push Zach Brown for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. White had runs of 29, 26 and 22 yards, the last for a touchdown, in the scrimmage. Starting tailback John Clay, by the way, had 11 carries for 51 yards.
  • Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr had a tough scrimmage, going 0-for-9 passing on his first three series with two near interceptions. He finished 9-for-27 for 107 yards for a touchdown and an interception. Wisconsin really can't lose Tolzien and would get a big boost if Curt Phillips can return from his knee injury early in the season.
Who will be Ohio State's No. 3 wide receiver this season?

The question has been asked for months, even before Duron Carter's departure from the school in mid June. Ohio State boasts two proven receivers in DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but the team has no other returning wideouts who caught a pass in 2009.

Interested parties wondered if senior Taurian Washington would take charge. Others watched redshirt freshman Chris Fields, who drew strong reviews from the coaching staff after spring ball. And don't forget about guys like Grant Schwartz, James Jackson or even true freshmen like James Louis or Verlon Reed.

[+] EnlargeJake Stoneburner
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOhio State tight end Jake Stoneburner only had two catches last sesaon, but figures to play a bigger part in the offense in 2010.
My take: forget all those names for a second. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor's third option in the passing game this fall doesn't even play wide receiver but ... wait for it ... tight end.

"Oh, yeah," Jake Stoneburner said when asked about filling the No. 3 role. "During camp, they've had some instances where they'll split me out and they’ll have a two-back set with three receivers, and I'm the third receiver out there with Dane and DeVier."

Some people out there must be thinking I can't be serious. An Ohio State tight end being an integral part of the passing game? Jim Tressel would go for fourth-and-8 in his own red zone before featuring a tight end as a pass catcher.

Stoneburner had a grand total of two receptions in 2009, while starting tight end Jake Ballard had only 13. In 2008, Ballard and Rory Nicol combined for 11 receptions all year.

Nicol used to joke about how rarely the ball came his way. Ohio State tight ends used their hands for blocking and not much else.

It's why Stoneburner initially wasn't thrilled about switching from receiver to tight end before last season.

"I knew they didn't get the ball," he said.

What might change in 2010? For starters, Stoneburner is admittedly a pass-first tight end who has made blocking his top offseason priority.

He's a big target at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, and he boasts good speed in the middle of the field. Perhaps most important, Pryor likes to throw him the ball.

"The spring is when I really saw it," Stoneburner said. "We would have plays we normally hadn't run with the tight end running routes, and he's looking at me, like, 'Hey, get open on this. I'll try and get you the ball.' With Terrelle knowing the offense more and being more comfortable out there, he's looking for more targets. With me being able to run good routes and get open, he's looking at me to be one of his primary targets."

A year ago, we heard similar talk about Stoneburner being a bigger part of the passing game, and it never happened. But Pryor spread the ball around a bit better in the Rose Bowl and has continued to do so in practice.

Plus, Stoneburner has developed his game.

"I want to be an every-down tight end, and you've got to be able to block and catch the ball," he said. "I felt like with my speed and athleticism, I'll always be able to get open and catch the ball, but I really had to work on my strength, knowing the defense, knowing who to block when and footwork and that kind of stuff."

Stoneburner agrees that Ohio State needs more than two reliable receivers this fall. But Pryor should have more options, regardless of the position they play.

"We've got a lot more weapons," Stoneburner said. "The running backs can catch the ball just as good as the receivers and tight ends, so having all that come together at once, it's going to lead us to being able to do more things with our offense."
I won't be making it out to many preseason practices this year. Fortunately, the Big Ten Network is giving all of us a peek at every Big Ten squad during its Football Preview Tour. My pal Dave Revsine and analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith are more than halfway through the tour, but the first two episodes aired earlier this week: Indiana and Ohio State.

I'll be watching all 11 preview shows and posting my thoughts right here.

Up first, Indiana and Ohio State.

INDIANA
  • The Hoosiers practiced in shoulder pads and shorts, and head coach Bill Lynch is intentionally reducing the amount of hitting in this preseason (to keep his team fresher for the season), so the workout wasn't as revealing as most of the others should be.
  • Wide receiver Damarlo Belcher is a huge target and made several routine catches in space. Indiana also seemed to be swinging the ball a lot to the running backs, including Trea Burgess and Zach Davis-Walker. "Against the nonconference opponents, they can win those games with this pass game," DiNardo said. Starting quarterback Ben Chappell was a bit shaky on some throws, but I'm not worried about him.
  • The running backs didn't seem to have much room on the inside throughout the practice. A few backs did a nice job of bouncing to the outside. Freshman Matt Perez had a very nice run in team drills.
  • Defensive tackle Tony Carter did a nice job of crowding the middle on one play, and linebacker Tyler Replogle had a nice hit against Darius Willis.
  • I liked what I saw from Indiana's three junior college transfers on defense: linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerbacks Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles. Kates has extremely fast feet, and Thomas brings good size to the table.
  • Despite the losses of left tackle Rodger Saffold and veteran guard Pete Saxon, Griffith said Indiana's offensive line looked the best it has in years.
  • Quarterback Edward Wright-Baker reportedly has fallen behind Dusty Kiel on the depth chart, but he looked good passing the ball in this practice.
OHIO STATE
  • DiNardo brought up a good point about the need for Ohio State to have a dominant running back again, and how it will keep defenses guessing against quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
  • Pryor definitely seemed different to me, both in his interview with the BTN crew and in the practice. He showed patience and footwork under pressure and fired a good pass to Dane Sanzenbacher in team drills. I also liked the way he yanked defensive lineman Garrett Goebel off the pile to help running back Dan Herron get out. Pryor seemed to be running hard during conditioning and talked about his new attitude toward meetings as he hopes to increase his leadership.
  • Pryor had one big mistake, though, as safety Jermale Hines stepped in front of a pass to Jake Stoneburner and made the interception. Just a perfect read by Hines.
  • Cameron Heyward just looks bigger than everyone else on the field (probably because he is). I particularly enjoyed watching Heyward go against All-Big Ten guard Justin Boren. Two All-America candidates right there. Everyone keeps calling Heyward a defensive end, but I saw him lining up inside several times during the practice. I'll keep going with the very vague "defensive lineman."
  • The running backs and linebackers went against each other during a goal-line drill, and both sides had their moments. Herron absolutely trucked Dan Bain on one play, living up to his "Boom" nickname. Jaamal Berry scooted by his man, while Scott McVey made a nice stop against Carlos Hyde, who boasts good size and had mixed results in the drill.
  • Running back Jordan Hall had some nice moments, including a burst up the middle in team drills.
  • Some of the reserve wide receivers stood out. Sophomore James Jackson made a nice catch along the sideline, and senior Grant Schwartz showed the ability to create vertical separation.
  • Defensive end Nathan Williams, currently sidelined with a knee injury, was in a stand-up position on one play, while the other three first-team linemen -- Heyward, John Simon and Dexter Larimore -- were down in a stance. You figure Ohio State will use Williams like it did Thaddeus Gibson in 2009.
  • Berry had a good blitz pickup on one play, nearly leading to a big completion from Joe Bauserman to Taurian Washington.
  • Linebackers Andrew Sweat and Dorian Bell showed good hitting and tackling skills.
Up next: Penn State
Ohio State still needs a No. 3 wide receiver to emerge this fall alongside DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher.

This much is known: it won't be Duron Carter.

Carter's academic troubles have forced him to withdraw from Ohio State and head to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where he'll play this fall. The son of Buckeyes legend and ESPN analyst Cris Carter had been ruled academically ineligible for the Rose Bowl against Oregon and sat out all of spring practice because of academic reasons.

Duron Carter appeared in all 12 regular-season games for Ohio State as a true freshman in 2009 and recorded 13 receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown. The departures of Ray Small and Carter leave Ohio State with only two wide receivers who recorded more than 10 receptions last year (running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron combined for 30 receptions).

A source within the Ohio State program seemed optimistic last month that Carter would get his grades straightened out, but the turnaround will need to happen at Coffeyville. Carter certainly could have helped the Buckeyes this year as a receiver and as a potential return man.

Taurian Washington and promising redshirt freshman Chris Fields are the top two candidates for the No. 3 wideout spot.
Sixth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools.

Going ...

Kurt Coleman, S: Coleman was the heart and soul of the nation's fifth-ranked defense in 2009, providing not only tremendous leadership in the secondary but tons of playmaking ability. He tied for the team lead with five interceptions and led Ohio State with three fumble recoveries to go along with 68 tackles. A co-captain, Coleman was Ohio State's only consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.

Thaddeus Gibson, DE: Gibson opted to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft, a decision that looked a bit questionable after he slipped to the fourth round. A rush end who will play outside linebacker at the next level, Gibson led Ohio State with 13 tackles for loss, including four sacks. He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection.

Staying ...

Justin Boren, G: Boren brought the nasty back to Ohio State's offensive line in 2009, and expectations are even higher for the group this season after a strong finish. A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, Boren is a strong contender for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. He's not the most athletic lineman on the roster, but he sets an example with his play and his approach to the game.

Cameron Heyward, DT/DE: Ohio State had good reason to be thrilled when Heyward passed up NFL millions for another year in Columbus. He dominated games against USC and Penn State last year and is taking steps to be more consistent in 2010. Heyward led Ohio State with 6.5 sacks and creates headaches for every opposing offensive line coach in the Big Ten.

Coming ...

James Louis, WR: Ohio State boasts a nice 1-2 punch at wide receiver with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but after that things get a little hazy. Wide receiver depth is one area that can certainly be upgraded, and Louis might be a solution. The Florida native brings top-end speed, makes defenders look silly and can go up and get the ball. If Taurian Washington, Chris Fields or Duron Carter don't fill the No. 3 receiver spot, look out for Louis.

Christian Bryant, DB: The secondary is one of the biggest question marks for Ohio State this fall, and Bryant could be a name to watch. He's a bit of a tweener, but might be able to fill a need at safety after the departures of Coleman and Anderson Russell.

More revolving door ...
As we put a bow on spring football in the Big Ten, here's a look back at several things that stood out from the past seven weeks.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
AP Photo/Tony DingQuarterback Denard Robinson was at his best during Michigan's spring game.
Best spring game performance: A lot of good choices, but in terms of both short-term and long-term impact, I'm going with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. With a full offseason under his belt, Robinson capped a strong spring by guiding Michigan's offense to touchdowns on five of six possessions. He provided the scrimmage's highlight by finding Roy Roundtree for a 97-yard touchdown. Honorable mentions go to Illinois running back Mikel LeShoure (12 carries, 129 rush yards, 2 TDs), Michigan State wideout Mark Dell (138 receiving yards), Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush (13 for 18 passing, 147 yards, two TDs), Illinois linebacker/defensive end Nate Palmer (two sacks, INT, fumble recovery) and Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins (10 for 15 passing, 254 yards, TD).

Best out-of-the-blue performance: Kenny Guiton barely made it into Ohio State's 2009 recruiting class, but the quarterback made a strong case to be Terrelle Pryor's backup in the spring game. Guiton tossed two touchdown passes to Taurian Washington and racked up 167 passing yards to lift the Gray team to a win.

Top off-field story: A no-brainer here, as expansion was the story around the Big Ten and most of college football this spring. The expansion push gained greater support and/or more acceptance from Big Ten head coaches, several of whom see the writing on the wall. Although commissioner Jim Delany shot down reports that the expansion timetable has been accelerated, this story isn't going away any time soon.

Top newcomer: Robert Marve seems to have turned a page at Purdue, showing greater maturity off the field and strong play on it. The quarterback transfer from Miami drew good reviews from his new teammates and coaches this spring as he put himself in position to be the Boilers' starter Sept. 4 at Notre Dame.

Best position change: Until Robinson's scrimmage showcase, Cameron Gordon was the talk of spring ball at Michigan. The former wide receiver made an immediate impact at safety, a major position of need for the Wolverines, and drew praise from his coaches and teammates for his hard-hitting style. Keith Nichol also drew good reviews at Michigan State after moving from quarterback to receiver.

Best performance by a true freshman: Paul Jones might challenge Joe Paterno's stance on true freshmen after his performance in the Blue-White Game. While sophomore quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin struggled, Jones, an early enrollee, connected for two touchdown passes.

Biggest setback: Purdue starting running back Ralph Bolden suffered a torn ACL midway through spring drills and is sidelined indefinitely. Although the Boilers think Bolden could return for the fall, it would take a pretty amazing recovery. He'll be missed in the backfield.

Best quote: "There are a couple of defensive ends that haven't played much ball that are going to make a lot of people forget about Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton in a matter of minutes." -- Indiana co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic, on Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush.

Best quote II: "My name's Tucker, not sucker, so we're not going to have him get hit this spring." -- Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, on holding running back Jewel Hampton out of contact.

Ohio State spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
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2009 overall record: 11-2

2009 conference record: 7-1 (1st)

Returning starters

Offense: 10, defense: 5, kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Brandon Saine, RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, LG Justin Boren, C Michael Brewster, DL Cameron Heyward, LB Ross Homan, LB Brian Rolle, DE John Simon

Key losses

OL Jim Cordle, DE Thaddeus Gibson, DT Doug Worthington, LB Austin Spitler, S Kurt Coleman, S Anderson Russell, PK Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma

2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Pryor* (779 yards)

Passing: Pryor* (2,094 yards)

Receiving: Posey* (828 yards)

Tackles: Ross Homan* (108)

Sacks: Cameron Heyward* (6.5)

Interceptions: Ross Homan* and Kurt Coleman (5)

Spring answers

1. Pryor ready for expanded offense: Ohio State fans have wanted the offense to open up, and they finally should get their wish this fall. Pryor built on his Rose Bowl performance with a solid spring, displaying improved footwork and rebounding nicely from some struggles in the jersey scrimmage to complete 8 of 12 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

2. Sabino steps up: Ohio State returns two All-Big Ten linebackers in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, but it needed a third player to step up and Etienne Sabino answered the call this spring. He spent the entire session with the first-team defense and finished things off with a game-high seven tackles and a forced fumble in the spring game.

3. Guiton provides insurance at QB: Pryor played through pain toward the end of last season and has proven to be durable at quarterback, but every team needs a backup plan and Ohio State might have found one with Kenny Guiton. He wasn't the Buckeyes' first choice for the 2009 recruiting class, but Guiton showed some promise in the spring game by tossing two touchdowns. Guiton certainly will push Joe Bauserman for the backup quarterback spot.

Fall questions

1. The kicking game: It seems sacrilegious to question the specialists on a Jim Tressel-coached team, but Ohio State has some legitimate concerns here. Devin Barclay couldn't separate from freshman Drew Basil, and the place-kicker competition will continue in fall camp. Ben Buchanan should lock up the starting punter spot, but he struggled a bit in the spring game.

2. Left tackle: Ohio State opened up the competition this spring and seemed to narrow it down to Mike Adams and Andrew Miller, with Adams as the frontrunner entering the summer. The competition will continue for some time, but the hope is the gifted Adams can finally step up and lock down a starting spot. Ohio State returns its other four starters up front and likely would rather have J.B. Shugarts stay at right tackle.

3. No. 3 pass-catching option: Some folks don't think this is a big deal in Tressel's offense, but if Ohio State really wants to open things up, Pryor needs a third target after Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Wideout Taurian Washington made a good case in the spring game with 83 receiving yards and a touchdown, and he'll compete with Chris Fields and most likely Duron Carter this summer. Tight end Jake Stoneburner also should be a much bigger part of the passing attack this season.

4. Running back rotation: I couldn't resist and had to toss in a fourth question for the fall. Brandon Saine and Boom Herron are two proven options, but Ohio State has plenty of depth and only one football to go around. Can Jaamal Berry, Jordan Hall or Carlos Hyde challenge the top two?
The spring game recaps series marches on with Ohio State, which held its spring game Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes didn't have many glaring issues this spring, but Terrelle Pryor and the offense responded nicely Saturday after a poor performance the week before in the jersey scrimmage. Pryor played only one quarter but completed 8 of 12 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, finding wideout Dane Sanzenbacher four times for 61 yards.

The game's most significant development came with the reserve quarterbacks, as Kenny Guiton made a strong case to back up Pryor, rather than Joe Bauserman. Guiton, an eleventh-hour signing in 2009, completed 11 of 21 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, both to Taurian Washington, including the game-winner with 55 seconds left to give the Gray team a 17-14 victory. Guiton also had a potential touchdown pass dropped by DeVier Posey minutes into the game.

Bauserman, meanwhile, had his struggles Saturday, completing just 6 of 15 passes for 75 yards and two interceptions, including one in the end zone. He had a 43-yard completion to James Jackson and led the Scarlet team with 35 rush yards, but he'll be in a battle with Guiton in preseason camp.

The game didn't provide too many answers in the running back race, as top backs Dan Herron and Brandon Saine both had only four carries apiece. Herron racked up 32 yards, giving him a solid yards-per-carry average (8 ypc), while Saine broke off a 14-yard gain. Redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry missed the game with an ankle injury, so Carlos Hyde (6 carries, 26 yards), Jordan Hall (4 carries, 17 yards) and Bo DeLande (5 carries, 28 yards, TD) got most of the work.

Other Buckeyes nuggets:
  • Ohio State needs to identify a No. 3 wideout, and Washington strengthened his case Saturday with three receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Duron Carter should be back with the team at some point, but Washington enters the summer as the man to beat. Chris Fields and Jackson also are in the mix there.
  • Linebacker Etienne Sabino ended spring ball on a good note with a game-high seven tackles and a forced fumble. Sabino likely locked up a starting job this spring alongside All-Big Ten candidates Ross Homan and Brian Rolle. Dorian Bell also should be in the mix at linebacker after recording five tackles, including one for loss, in the spring game.
  • Like the rest of the offense, the line bounced back nicely from the jersey scrimmage and protected the quarterbacks. The left tackle spot isn't settled, but junior Mike Adams finally appears to be taking charge of a spot that, given his talent, should already be his.
  • I really think Ohio State needs to get its tight ends and fullbacks more involved in the passing attack this fall, and Saturday seemed to be a good step in that direction. Tight end Jake Stoneburner, who could be a huge factor for the Buckeyes, had three catches for 43 yards, while fullback Zach Boren led the Gray team with four receptions for 44 yards.
  • The kicking game remains a question mark entering the summer. Punter Ben Buchanan struggled Saturday (35.7-yard average), and there was only one made field goal, a 47-yarder by freshman Drew Basil. It'll be interesting to monitor the kicker competition between Basil and Devin Barclay in preseason camp.
My apologies for the tardiness of this post, as I had to get to several other items today. But to answer several of you, I was in Columbus on Friday visiting with Ohio State. I'll take a more in-depth look at Ohio State later this week, but here are some thoughts and tidbits from my trip to central Ohio.

  • Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel had an interesting comment about his team's last two bowl appearances. While most fans wouldn't group the Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas with the Rose Bowl win against Oregon, Tressel doesn't see much difference between how his team performed, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. "A year ago this time, we were coming off a very tough game with Texas, a very good team and really, we played very well," Tressel told me. "Fast-forward a year, and we played against a very good Oregon team. I don't know if we played as well this year in our bowl game as we did a year ago in our bowl game, but we won." Ohio State certainly looked more dominant in the Rose Bowl than the Fiesta, but the competition in Glendale was a little stronger as well.
  • Etienne Sabino has the inside track for Ohio State's third starting linebacker spot alongside Ross Homan and Brian Rolle. "He's the guy," co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell said after Friday's practice. "I know he's going to be a junior, but he's still only 19 years old. You'd like to have more time with him, but he's coming along. This has been his best spring so far." There was a lot of buzz about Sabino last summer, but Ohio State went with experience (Austin Spitler) when the season rolled around. It sounds like Sabino is ready to take the next step in 2010.
  • Speaking of high praise, Rolle gave some to defensive lineman John Simon, who appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman last year and should see significant playing time this fall. Rolle expects Simon to earn All-America honors before his career is done, in large part because of the work he does in the weight room and the film room. "If somebody's going to try to outwork him, they'll going to have to work really hard," Rolle said. "And he's going to outwork that effort. He's going to be a guy who will be a star here the next couple of years." Rolle also is seeing good signs from Solomon Thomas, who is stepping into the Leo (rush end) spot vacated by Thaddeus Gibson. Thomas could have a tough time beating out Nathan Williams, who has had a good spring.
  • Terrelle Pryor showed no limitations from offseason knee surgery in practice and moved around well. He has some obvious chemistry with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but Ohio State needs a No. 3 wide receiver to emerge. The hope is Taurian Washington can take that role, although Duron Carter should re-enter the mix when he gets out of Tressel's dog house. Chris Fields is another name to watch at wideout.
  • Devon Torrence didn't have the best day, but I still like his potential at cornerback. Torrence is an excellent athlete who could be a factor on punt returns, and he displays good aggressiveness going after the ball. I liked what I saw from Donnie Evege, who won't start at corner but could work his way into the rotation there. Evege made several nice plays during a red zone passing drill.
  • Jaamal Berry worked mainly with the third-team offense Friday, and the redshirt freshman running back has several players to leapfrog on the depth chart. I like his power with the ball, and though Jordan Hall isn't a big guy, he's pretty crafty and runs hard. Dan Herron appeared to hurt his ribs midway through practice, so I didn't see too much of him.
  • Homan is the senior member of the linebacking corps, but I really like the vocal leadership Rolle provides. He said he has always been a talker, but as a senior coming off of a strong 2009 season, he'll command more respect this fall.
The Rose Bowl shed new light on Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense -- a glow that Buckeyes fans hope doesn't go anywhere.

[+] Enlarge
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Pryor completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Oregon.
Ohio State's offense was mediocre at best during the regular season, and Pryor hadn't shown enough consistency in the passing game to complement his unique athletic talent. But in Pasadena, Pryor and his teammates put forth the balanced, efficient and effective product everyone had been waiting for.

The game marked a potential turning point for Pryor and the offense, a place where the Buckeyes could build. Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman certainly hopes so.

But Bollman also knows it's not that easy.

"You're not going to walk on the field [Thursday] and all of a sudden, be at that point," Bollman said. "How hard we all have to work, how focused we have to be to get back to that point, that's what's in front of us. That's the challenge, that's how you try to improve.

"You're not working toward an unseen performance level. We've been to that point. But everybody's got to understand what it takes."

Getting back to that point -- and beyond it -- is the challenge for Ohio State's offense, which begins spring practice Thursday afternoon. Bollman said Pryor won't be limited after offseason knee surgery, and the hope is that the third-year quarterback takes another step after his giant leap between the 2009 regular-season finale and the Rose Bowl.

So can Ohio State open up the playbook, particularly with the pass, for Pryor?

"If we show [progress] along those lines, certainly that would be a logical way for us to head in," Bollman said. "Plus, having the weapon of him being able to run, should we choose to do those kinds of things. But for him in the realm of the passing game, that's got to be a full team deal. Our protection has got to improve. His own performance has to be more consistent. We've got to get more of those outs going to the tight ends and the running backs.

"All of that has got to come together, and that's going to be a fun part of this spring."

Ohio State returns nine starters on offense, including four of five linemen and two capable receivers in DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. But to truly spark the passing attack, the Buckeyes must identify more options this spring.

They need a No. 3 wideout, as Ray Small departs and no returning players besides Posey and Sanzenbacher recorded more than 20 receptions last fall. Running back Brandon Saine, who had 17 catches for 224 yards last year, should help a bit, but Ohio State wants more depth at receiver.

Bollman said Taurian Washington has the best chance to step in, but the senior had no catches last year and boasts only three in his college career. Duron Carter also returns, and Bollman thinks Chris Fields and James Jackson, as well as some incoming recruits, could factor into the mix.

"Washington's probably the leading candidate," Bollman said. "He really finished up the year strong, did a good job coming through in the bowl game. He'd be a guy that we're counting on to give us a hand in there."

A bigger boost could come from the tight end position, which Ohio State typically uses for run blocking. Former Buckeyes tight end Rory Nicol used to joke about how little the tight ends were used in the passing attack, and while Jake Ballard made a memorable catch in the Rose Bowl, he finished the season with only 14 receptions.

Things could change with Jake Stoneburner stepping into a featured role. The 6-5, 245-pound Stoneburner had only two receptions as a freshman last year, but his production should increase.

"His speed certainly can have more of an effect on the game than some other guys we've had in the past," Bollman said. "That's going to cause openings for someone, if not him. That can have a different effect on things, for sure."

Big Ten mailblog

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
5:30
PM ET
You have questions. I might have the answers.

Stephanie from Denver writes: Is there a specific reason Adam why the Big Ten gets constantly made fun of and/or bashed in majority of sports? For example, people continually made fun of Big Ten basketball throughout the year, yet in the Sweet 16 no other conference has more teams in than the Big Ten?Is it due to the money factor and the Big Ten having more than any other conference (as well as the number of alumni)?

Adam Rittenberg: Stephanie, I was thinking about this very topic after Sunday's NCAA tournament games. The negativity stems from a lot of factors, and money and fan support are certainly among them. No one likes it when the rich get richer, and the Big Ten is having a very good year both on and off the court/field. There's also a perception that the Big Ten is arrogant and set in its ways, and the league lacks some of the flashy teams or personalities that media members and fans love. The style of play in both Big Ten football and basketball also doesn't jibe with those who love to see 50-47 scores in football and 95-90 scores in hoops. It's funny how a Big East basketball game can end 53-50 and no one makes a stink about it. The Big Ten constantly will fight some negativity, but the league doesn't care if it keeps winning.


Dallas from Evanston, Ill., writes: Hi Adam, have you heard anything new on whether Northwestern will be playing at Wrigley this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Dallas, from talking with Northwestern officials the last few weeks, there are still some hurdles to clear to get a game finalized. One issue is insurance for the game and who will pay for it. I have little doubt the game can happen, but time is running out to have it played this fall. Northwestern really wanted as much time as possible to promote a Wrigley Field game, and we're basically seven months away from a potential event there. That might sound like a lot of time to fans, but you would ideally like 9-12 months at the very least to market the game to fans. Moving a game to Wrigley would leave NU with only five true home games, so the school would have to sort out its season-ticket package. If something isn't finalized by the end of March, you could be looking at 2011 or 2012.


Mike from New York writes: Hey Adam,When Penn State heeded the call in 1989 to join the Big 10, something rather funny happened. It was still called the Big 10! I am actually a really big fan of the Big 10 logo, with the clever idea of sneaking "11" into the negative space. I guess my question is, if the big 10 expands to 12 schools, do you think the conference would/should change their name or stick with tradition? I would prefer it still be called the Big 10.

Adam Rittenberg: I would expect the Big Ten brand name to be too powerful for the league to change it. The conference has been called the Big Ten since 1917, when Michigan resumed membership, and I can't see a name change coming. As for the clever logo, it would have to change because the "11" wouldn't apply any more.


Leland from Hebron, Ohio, writes: Hey adam im a huge Buckeye fan and i know the defense will be alright and i see terelle pryor imroving with stability on the o-line but i was wondering who do think will step up and make an impact at the wide receiver position i know we got posey makin plays and sanzenbacher is a good 1st down receiver but who do think will step up and be the 3rd 0r 4th guy cause i think if our offense wants to be explosive we need another go to guy to catch the deep ball and do think stoneburner will make an impact i think if they use him he could make some plays Go Bucks!

Adam Rittenberg: Duron Carter showed some good things last fall as a true freshman, and I'd expect him to move into that No. 3 wide receiver position in 2010. Carter has good size and quickness, and if he keeps his academics on track, he should be a contributor this fall. Taurian Washington also will be in the mix for the No. 3 spot, and Chris Fields and James Jackson aren't too far behind.


Theresa from Irvine, Calif., writes: Adam, I've read that Notre Dame would make more from television contracts if the school joins the Big Ten. But then there are contrary reports that state the exact opposition (Notre Dame makes more television money because it doesn't have to split coupled with BCS money and so on).Which one is correct? Would the Irish make more if they joined the Big Ten?

Adam Rittenberg: Even after the Big Ten television revenue pot is sliced 11 ways, Big Ten teams still take away more money ($15-20 million) than Notre Dame does on its own (reportedly $9 million). So Notre Dame would definitely make more from TV if it joined the Big Ten, largely because of the successful Big Ten Network. How much the Irish would lose from relinquishing their independent status is tough to tell, and we're not just talking money there. But from a media rights perspective, Notre Dame and just about any team would benefit from joining the Big Ten.


Eric from Stanford, Calif., writes: I am a life-long (admittedly rather young) Michigan fan who currently attends Stanford. In response to a question regarding the possibility of hiring Les Miles to replace [Rich] Rodriguez should he be fired, you responded "I totally agree with you that Harbaugh gets too much credit for simply making Stanford respectable again". Although somewhat biased, I cannot disagree with you more. Jim Harbaugh has taken a team with relatively little athleticism, except for Toby Gerhart and sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, and last year led them to the point where they were able to compete for a Pac10 Conference Championship. Given the state of Stanford football when he arrived, his coaching stock is deservedly high. It would be difficult for me to witness Harbaugh leaving Stanford, but if he is going to do so, I hope he leaves for Michigan.

Adam Rittenberg: Again, Jim Harbaugh has done a really good job at Stanford, especially in recruiting. The program was in terrible shape after the Buddy Teevens/Walt Harris years. But it's not like Stanford has no football tradition or nothing to sell. You have one of the nation's best academic schools, best campuses and best overall athletic departments. Stanford is competing for conference titles, which is great. Growing up in the Bay Area, I remember Stanford football being very solid in the 1990s. My point is, to anoint Harbaugh as the Second Coming, like many of my media colleagues tend to do, seems a bit premature. How about winning a Pac-10 championship or a bowl game first? It seems like certain coaches whose personalities appeal to media members (Harbaugh, Mike Leach) get so much credit, and while some of it is deserved, I'd just like to see more proven on the field.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel confirmed today that wide receivers Ray Small and Duron Carter and defensive end Rob Rose all will miss the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

Multiple media outlets had reported the three players were suspended for the game, but only Carter had officially been ruled out by the team. Tressel didn't provide specifics for the suspensions, but a source told me that Carter is academically ineligible, while both Small and Rose violated team rules. For Small, it was a repeat violation.

Small is probably the most significant loss, as he serves as Ohio State's No. 3 wide receiver and starting punt returner. The Cleveland product can be very dangerous on the field, but his troubles off the field have ended his college career early. Rose is also through at Ohio State.

With both Small and Carter sidelined, a Buckeyes passing attack that ranks last in the Big Ten and 106th nationally won't have two of its top four receivers. Tressel expects junior Taurian Washington and sophomore Lamaar Thomas, as well as freshman tight end Jake Stoneburner, to take on larger roles in the passing game.

"It certainly gives us less depth, without question," Tressel told WBNS radio in Columbus. "Guys like Taurian Washington and Lamaar Thomas are gonna have to step up in those areas from a depth standpoint."

Rose proved valuable at times in the defensive line rotation, but he's not a major loss. Top wide receivers DeVier Posey or Dane Sanzenbacher could handle the punt return duties against Oregon.

The Ducks aren't without their issues, either, as reserve wide receiver Jamere Holland is academically ineligible for the game.

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