Pac-12: Chris Wells

Does Ohio State have a QB controversy?

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
2:14
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
 Jim Tressel would not say who his starting quarterback would be when Ohio State faces Troy next weekend.

LOS ANGELES -- The big debate at Ohio State this week probably won't just be about Chris Wells' banged-up toe. It's just as likely to be about who's going to lead the offense.

And a quarterback controversy may be more palatable than endlessly reviewing a 35-3 drubbing delivered by top-ranked USC in the Coliseum.

For the third consecutive time, Ohio State got embarrassed on a big stage against an elite foe. There was no redemption to be had in the Coliseum for consecutive bad defeats in BCS title games.

"I don't know that we did the best we could do," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said, "but we fought hard."

The offensive woes started at the top. The Buckeyes alternated starter Todd Boeckman and touted true freshman Terrelle Pryor throughout the game.

At first, it worked.

Ohio State scored first, getting a 29-yard field goal from Ryan Pretorius after an impressive 17-play, 69-yard drive. And then the offense got sloppy and USC got inspired.

The Buckeyes had 177 yards and 13 first downs at halftime. They had 30 yards and two first downs after the break.

"We just had too many turnovers tonight," Boeckman said. "You can't turn the ball over against a team like USC. You know they'll take advantage of it."

Boeckman completed 14 of 21 passes with two interceptions, one of which was returned 48 yards for a touchdown by USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. He also fumbled once when he was getting sacked by Clay Matthews.

Pryor, completed 7 of 9 for 52 yards and rushed 11 times for 40 yards. He didn't have any turnovers.

Boeckman is the fifth-year senior who's supposed to be poised and well-versed in the offense. But he didn't look any more poised or well-versed than Pryor against the USC defense.

Perhaps that's why Tressel didn't say who his starting quarterback will be against Troy next weekend.

"You always compete for playing time," Tressel said. "I don't know about starting spots. But we will evaluate everything, how we executed and what we should do as we go forward."

It really comes down to what Ohio State is playing for. Pryor, the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit last winter, is an outstanding, Vince Young-type talent.

His ability as a runner is dramatically superior to Boeckman's, a 244-pound pocket passer who is mostly a manager of the offense.

The Trojans sacked Boeckman four times, Pryor once. Pryor is the future. The issue is whether that future arrives now.

"Whatever Tressel says -- whatever Tressel tells us, we'll do," Pryor said.

As to whether both quarterbacks might have played better if Wells had been healthy, Tressel wouldn't go down that road.

"No one was bemoaning the fact in the locker room or on the sideline," Tressel said. "We needed to be playing as good as we could possible play with or without Beanie tonight in USC's house."

When the Buckeyes return to their house, it remains up in the air not only whether Wells will be back in the backfield but also who will be handing him the football.

Ohio State's Wells isn't dressed

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
8:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- Ohio State RB Chris Wells wasn't dressed to play while the Buckeyes warmed up.

That means he is definitely out -- no longer doubtful -- unless he plans to pull an unlikely switcheroo in the locker room.

Again, unlikely.

That means three backs will share the ball: Dan Herron, Brandon Saine and Maurice Wells.

Wonder if this means more action for athletic freshman QB Terrelle Pryor?

Pac-10 lunch: Coliseum gets dressed up

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
4:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Was out late last night doing research on the USC-Ohio State game at a number of think tanks -- that's why "Pac-10 Morning" became "Pac-10 lunch."

Noting the Trojans: Sanchez as 'fired up' as Carroll

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
10:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Pete Carroll often begins talking about a game by telling reporters that he's "jacked" and "pumped", his personal thesaurus terms for "excited."

And, truth is, "excited" doesn't do justice to the way Carroll acts around his football team.

QB Mark Sanchez is in the midst of his fourth season with Carroll, and it's obvious some of that has rubbed off on the junior, who's learned to contain his emotions while not watering down his enthusiasm.

Sanchez, the knee he dislocated during the preseason apparently not bothering him at all, had a practice just short of brilliant Thursday. He missed on only a couple of throws and never badly. He was clearly in sync with his receivers.

He also was highly vocal and animated and was clearly enjoying himself.

"He knows he's ready," Carroll said. "He's bouncing all over the place. He had a great day out here today and he was really fired up. He feels the best he's felt."

Notes:

  • The USC camp had almost no reaction to news that Ohio State RB Chris Wells is now listed as doubtful. Said Carroll: "We're planning on him playing ... doubtful doesn't mean he's not playing ... I'd be surprised if he doesn't play." Defensive coordinator Nick Holt said it wouldn't change the Trojans game plan at all, and he doesn't expect the Buckeyes to throw more if Wells isn't playing.
  • WR Vidal Hazelton (ankle), SS Will Harris (ankle) and DE Kyle Moore (back) each practiced Wednesday and should play against Ohio State.
  • Carroll seemed to mostly yield an advantage to Ohio State in one area: special teams. "We're still finding our way a little bit," Carroll said. Special teams bailed the Buckeyes out against Ohio, and Carroll said he's been unhappy with his kick and punt coverage. The Trojans also had a few field goals blocked this week.
  • Carroll gushed so much about the Ohio State defense it almost made reporters suspicious: "These guys are the best defense in America -- every single guy played last year. This was the best defense in the country last year statistically. This is the ultimate challenge for our guys at this point. How can you play somebody better than the best?" The Buckeyes ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense last year, giving up just 233 yards per game. No. 2? USC at 273.

The underrated Trojan

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
9:46
PM ET
 
 Joe Robbins/Getty Images
 Trojans defensive coordinator Nick Holt says Shareece Wright may be the most underrated player on the team.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- If Ohio State running back Chris Wells doesn't play Saturday -- and few folks at USC believe that will be the case -- the Buckeyes might try to throw more.

"Hopefully," Trojans cornerback Shareece Wright said.

You just said, "Who?" didn't you?

Fans immediately recognize many names on the USC defense -- Cushing, Maualuga, Mays, Moala, Griffen, Matthews, etc.

Wright isn't one of them, a fact that gets the excitable Nick Holt, the Trojans defensive coordinator, even more excited than usual.

"Shareece might be the most underrated football player on our team," Holt said. "He is a great, great football player."

What does Wright do well? Cover and tackle. He plays tough and has good instincts.

What else do you want?

Yet when most Pac-10 adherents think of the conference's best cornerbacks, they start at Oregon (Jairus Byrd, Walter Thurmond III), go south to Arizona State (Omar Bolden), stop off at UCLA (Alterraun Verner) and then shoot back north to Oregon State (Brandon Hughes) before Wright enters the discussion.

If he does at all.

But if you talk to folks who actually know about these sorts of things, Wright belongs at the beginning of that discussion, even though the junior has largely functioned as a nickelback the previous two seasons.

It's endearing that Wright, however hard he is prodded by a reporter, waves away an opportunity to start that discussion himself.

"I'll let the season play out," he said. "If I'm underrated or not, it's going to show. I know how I feel about it, but I'd rather play and not speak."

Wright does admit that Saturday's big-stage showdown at the Coliseum will give him a platform to improve his Q-rating.

The Buckeyes offense isn't just Wells, nor do they adhere to the "three yards and a cloud of dust" philosophy.

Receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline are the best receiving tandem in the Big Ten, and would fit right in a Pac-10 receiving corps.

Heck, Wright compared the Buckeyes offense to Oregon, noting they don't hesitate to use four or five receivers and spread a defense out.

Wright wants Wells to play, but if he doesn't, he hopes that means Buckeyes QB Todd Boeckman tries to beat the Trojans downfield.

"I want them to test me and test our secondary," Wright said.

OSU's Chris Wells 'doubtful': possible outcomes

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
1:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Chris Wells' injured toe didn't respond well to his workout Wednesday and now coach Jim Tressel termed the Ohio State running back "doubtful" for Saturday's game at top-ranked USC.

Obviously a huge loss in that one of the Buckeyes' most talented players and a vocal offensive leader probably won't play -- or if he does, will not be 100 percent.

However, things like this can play out in many ways.

  • USC could lose its focus upon hearing the news and become overconfident. The Trojans have been treated like overwhelming favorites all week and many are aware they are 10-point favorites. Pete Carroll is a master at keeping his teams focused for big games, but who knows? Maybe this is an exception.
  • Ohio State might be crushed emotionally by the news and get run out of the stadium.
  • Ohio State may be galvanized by the news and play an inspired game, with one of Wells' backups coming off the bench and becoming the day's Surprising Big Story. Buckeyes fans then would light up message boards with, "Just imagine how we'd have killed them if we had Beanie!"
  • Ohio State may be galvanized by the news and play an inspired game, but still get whipped by a superior team.

Internal affairs: Big week for Pac-10

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
1:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A look inside the Pac-10 this week.

Pac-10: This week defines the conference, with eight of 10 nonconference opponents having played in bowl games last year and five representing other BCS conferences. It's more than USC trying to defend its No. 1 ranking against visiting Ohio State, ranked fifth. It's UCLA at No. 18 BYU. It's No. 16 Oregon at Purdue. It's Arizona looking for revenge at New Mexico. It's Washington playing host to No. 3 Oklahoma. It's California at Maryland, Stanford at TCU, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and Arizona State trying not to look ahead to Georgia while playing UNLV. The Pac-10 is 7-3 so far in nonconference games, and two of the losses came against ranked opponents. If the conference were to have a big weekend -- say go 8-2 or 9-1 -- it would send a message to the rest of the nation.

USC: Coach Pete Carroll sometimes can be difficult -- in a pleasant way, of course -- with reporters. Ask him a question that has a negative turn, and he'll reject it in favor of something positive. But when asked about linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga nursing wrist and hand injuries this week, he admitted that, yes, those types of injuries make it harder to tackle. Harder to tackle, say, 240-pound speedsters like Ohio State RB Chris Wells. Maualuga has practiced all week, but seems to favor his hand. Cushing missed half of practice Tuesday, but because of a hip bruise, not his wrist. If Cushing is limited, DE Clay Matthews, a pass-rush specialist, would slide over at strongside LB. It's hard to believe that one of these injuries won't become an issue Saturday.

Washington: It's hard to imagine Washington beating Oklahoma, so that means an 0-3 start for the Huskies with the screws tightening on coach Tyrone Willingham. The question, really, then is whether the Huskies play hard the entire game and keep things interesting. Would a respectable performance mollify fans, with a string of more manageable games ahead after a bye week (Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Notre Dame)? After school president Mark Emmert -- who held the same post at LSU and loves his football -- went public with a request for patience, it seems like even a blowout loss wouldn't cost Willingham his job before the end of the season. If the Huskies gut it out and put a scare into the Sooners, it's not unreasonable to project them winning a couple of their upcoming games and possibly building some momentum. Still, finding six wins over the remaining nine games feels extremely difficult, and the general feeling is six wins is a minimum standard for Willingham to survive.

UCLA: Is UCLA ready to refocus after a bye week? BYU will come at the Bruins with a far more sophisticated -- and balanced -- offense than Tennessee, so the week off to game plan likely will help. Washington barely touched Cougars QB Max Hall, who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate while completing 30 of 41 passes for 348 yards and three TDs, so figuring out ways to apply pressure will be the biggest task for defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. This will be the second consecutive veteran offensive line Walker has schemed against, and the Cougars may be even better than the Vols. On the other side of the ledger, the Cougars' secondary is vulnerable -- it will not be able to match the athleticism of the Bruins WRs. But QB Kevin Craft needs time to throw, and it's still uncertain how well the Bruins OL will hold up. The BYU front seven won't be as athletic as the Vols, but it's still a strong crew. Further, will "Leaky" Craft or "Jet" Craft show up? Guess is OC Norm Chow is hoping for the Craft of the second half of the Tennessee game, not the one who threw four interceptions in the first half.

Oregon: With Oregon, it's almost always about the Ducks' potent spread offense, which is fancy. But the visit to Purdue figures to be more of a test for the defense. Purdue QB Curtis Painter has started 33 consecutive games and has thrown for a lot of yards in the Boilermakers' version of the spread. In other words, he knows most of the tricks in the book. The Ducks' defense focuses on stopping the run first and relying on an experienced and talented secondary to win one-on-one matchups in the back-half. So this one figures to turn on how the touted Ducks' secondary does against Painter. Will the front seven help by pressuring Painter into mistakes? Or will Painter find seams in the secondary and earn the Big Ten a statement victory?

Overheard at USC... notes and quotes

September, 9, 2008
9/09/08
10:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- A full day's worth of notes and quotes as coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel talked to reporters on both ends of the USC-Ohio State showdown.

RECRUITING BATTLE

Carroll and Tressel don't know each other personally but that doesn't mean they don't know each other.

"We know them through recruiting," Carroll said.

They don't steal prospects from each other's states very often -- Ohio State has three players from California, USC one from Ohio -- but both programs recruit nationally.

Tressel noticed some familiar names when he looked over the USC roster.

"Gosh -- all of those guys were on our wish list," he said.

He then ticked off some of those names: center Kristofer O'Dowd, tight end Blake Ayles, receiver Ronald Johnson, quarterback Mark Sanchez and offensive guard Jeff Byers.

USC hasn't always won recruiting the recruiting battles either -- see Chris Wells and Ted Ginn, Jr.

CARROLL AND WOODY

The best anecdote of the day was Carroll talking about his year as an Ohio State assistant coach under Earle Bruce.

It just so happens that it was 1979, the season Ohio State lost in the Rose Bowl to USC and Charles White.

But Carroll's biggest thrill was looking out a window and seeing former coach Woody Hayes as he walked down the sidewalk.

"I had never seen him before," Carroll said. "So I dropped everything and took off across the parking lot and met him and I introduced myself."

Carroll said it was especially gratifying that Hayes knew who he was. They, of course, talked football.

"To me that was a really special moment," Carroll said.

QUOTABLE

Tressel to an L.A. audience about the poor performance in the 26-14 victory over Ohio on Saturday: "I've tried not to spend too much time looking back at that... We survived, I guess."

Carroll on the Ohio State-Ohio game:
"I don't think that has anything to do with it... They just won that game a little differently than everybody wanted them to and expected them to."

Tressel on the comments from Ohio State WR Ray Small suggesting that there is a "class" difference between the two schools: "It's disappointing when anyone talks... The only thing I can say about Ray is Ray doesn't have a malicious bone in his body and has no ill-intention... Those of us who speak to the press at times can error... Obviously it wasn't a good thing but he's a good kid."

USC safety Kevin Ellison, who was injured most of the 2005 season, on comparing OSU QB Terrelle Pryor to Vince Young: "I couldn't compare them right now. Vince Young was a totally different level. Terrelle Pryor is a freshman. I'm sure he'll be good a couple of years down the line. But you're talking about Vince Young, the second pick of the NFL draft."

LB Cushing leaves practice with bruised hip

September, 9, 2008
9/09/08
10:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- USC's All-American linebacker Brian Cushing, who's already nursing a wrist injury that requires a protective cast, left practice Tuesday with a bruised hip.

Defensive end Kyle Moore also missed action with back spasms.

Coach Pete Carroll said he doesn't expect the injuries to keep either player from starting against No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday.

"It doesn't look like it," Carroll said.

Cushing apparently took a knee to his hip early in practice.

Receiver Vidal Hazelton, who's nursing a sprained ankle, participated in some drills and could be ready by Saturday.

"He did pretty well today," Carroll said. "We'll see."

  • Carroll upon learning that Ohio State All-American RB Chris Wells had been cleared to play: "It's good for them. He's a great player. I'm sure it pumps them up and gives them a good boost going into the game."
  • The defense beat the offense on Competition Tuesday, Ohio State week addition.
  • Carroll on the improved play of his WRs, who were merely talented underachievers last year: "They've just grown up. They're more mature about playing in a game. They're more comfortable. Their batting average on their assignments is way, way higher than it was ... We're way different than a year ago ... I guess it was too much to ask of the young guys last year -- they couldn't emerge fast enough."

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