NCF Nation: 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.

Recapping the Big Ten scrimmages

August, 23, 2010
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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."
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."
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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Terrelle Pryor's right arm and legs will go a long way toward determining Ohio State's success or failure against USC on Saturday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), but the space under the quarterback's left eye continues to draw more attention.

Pryor displayed his support for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick by wearing "Vick" on one of his eyeblack stickers during the season opener against Navy. The sophomore explained later that he has always looked up to Vick and looks past Vick's shortcomings off the field.

"Not everybody is the perfect person in the world," Pryor said of Vick. "Everyone does -- kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me. I just feel that people need to give him a chance."

The tribute and Pryor's comments have drawn some mixed reviews. Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel, who said he wasn't aware of the Vick sticker until told about it after the game, doesn't have a strict policy on eyeblack displays.

"It's a little bit tough in this country to have too much of a policy on personal expression, but it's unfortunate when that distracts from situations that were so extraordinary as the weekend we had," Tressel said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "And I guess you'd have to know Terrelle like I know Terrelle. There's probably not a more compassionate human being in the world than Terrelle."

Tressel recalled how Pryor sent him a text message Monday night saying the team needed to provide a boost for junior wide receiver Taurian Washington, who dropped two passes against Navy. Pryor also sent Tressel a text after Ohio State's loss to LSU in the BCS title game, which read, "Don't worry about it, Coach. We're going to get it done in the future."

Though Pryor's tribute to Vick caused a stir, Tressel is confident the quarterback didn't intend to cause any harm.

"He's one of those guys that he feels terrible about anything that's not just right," Tressel said. "And I know he doesn't feel good that [the tribute] disappointed someone. And his intention would never be to make anyone disappointed about something.

"We all sometimes miss the mark, but as I say, teachable, learnable moment."

A few other notes from Buckeye land:
  • Tressel said wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small looked better after a nasty bout with illness kept him off the field against Navy. An update on Small's status for the USC game will be provided Thursday. Wide receiver DeVier Posey is expected to return to practice in the next day or two after missing the second half of the Navy game with an ankle injury.
  • USC safety Taylor Mays last month referred to Pryor as "the little deuce" and himself as "the big deuce." Both players wear No. 2. Tressel's response? "They're both big deuces if you ask me, man."
  • Tressel called USC's return men "frightening."

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