Pac-12: Todd Boeckman

Opening the mailbag: Finessing a couple of Oregon questions

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
7:31
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Happy Friday.

First, this:

Alex from Santa Ana, Calif., writes: Hey Ted, Mater Dei is in Santa Ana, not Newport Beach. Big difference

Thanks Alex. Quite a few folks caught this error, since corrected.

My explanation: A little knowledge is dangerous.

I knew that Matt Barkley went to Mater Dei. I also knew Matt Barkley is from Newport Beach.

Doh.

My bad.

Coaches say teams improved the most between Week 1 and Week 2.

You guys did your part. Hope I can keep up.

To the notes...

Jimmy from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Just pondering over the Pac-10 bowl arrangements and how can there be no PAC-10 vs SEC game? Both are powerhouse conferences and the matchup possibilities are endless. Does location have something to do with this, are the commissioners on both sides worried about bad publicity, why no game?!

Ted Miller: Two reasons.

1. The SEC has great bowl arrangements, and they negotiate bowl contracts from a position of strength.

2. The Pac-10 has a reputation, fair or unfair, for not travelling well, so potential bowl partners would be nervous about shelling out big bucks for a team that might not sell all its tickets.

Neither conference is worried about the other. Both just want to make money.

The Pac-10 has tried in the past to get the Florida bowls interested. Those efforts have failed.

Not saying it could never happen. It's just going to take some ingenuity -- and a better economy -- to make it happen.


Noah from Burbank, Calif., writes: Do you think that Oregon's bad game can be attributed to a combination of a few factors that spelled doom for the Ducks before they even took the field last week? A new head coach, playing a ranked opponent on the road, and questions on both lines? I would think that any team in the nation no matter the talent in the other areas could avoid an upset given these three factors.

Ted Miller: The first two things I took away from that game were about Boise State: 1. Chris Petersen is a great head coach; 2. Justin Wilcox is one of the nation's best D-coordinators, and I'm not sure I wouldn't rank him in the top five.

[Quick story about Wilcox: On our trip down from Seattle to Scottsdale in the summer of 2008, my wife and I stopped by Boise State to see the blue turf. It wasn't there -- they were redoing the surface. Still, we walked into the football office and ran into Wilcox. He had no idea who I was but he gave us a quick tour and couldn't have been more pleasant. So he's a heck of a guy and a heck of a coach.]

Boise State's plan was better than Oregon's.

Does that make Chip Kelly a failure as a head coach? No. But he got outcoached in this one.

The Broncos did things on defense that consistently fooled and outflanked the Oregon O-line. Moreover, it's possible that the Ducks offensive coaches overestimated the physical skill of their line as well as their ability to withstand adversity.

On the plus side: I'd be willing to bet that quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has already played his worst game of the season.

Understand this about game plans, too: I've talked to some very good coaches and coordinator through the years who've told me that every game plan is a roll of the dice as much as a chess match. Sometimes when you -- with justification -- anticipate one thing, you get the opposite.

As for your points, they are valid. It was a tough situation for a new head coach with new personnel on both lines.

Obviously, the measure of Oregon and Kelly is going forward. How this team responds over the next few weeks might be more revealing about Kelly than if the Ducks were coming off a 3-point win.


Dan from Yokosuka, Japan writes: Why is it that everybody is worried about the experience at QB of USC when the guy on the other sideline isn't exactly the most QB either?

Ted Miller: I get the best notes from Yokosuka!

There's a big difference between a true freshman making his first-ever start on the road and a sophomore who is 10-1 as a starter playing at home.

Doesn't mean Matt Barkley won't play well and Terrelle Pryor will, only that Barkley has never done this before and Pryor has. So if you value experience, Pryor has a lot more.


(Read full post)

Is Pryor the second coming of Young?

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- He's 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. And he's got a cannon for an arm.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a special athlete playing in a special game, and it's hard not to recall that the last time that combination came together opposite USC, the Trojans saw Vince Young break their hearts and end their bid for a third consecutive national championship.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Terrelle Pryor can beat defenses with his arm or his legs.

That's why, as much as anything, USC's visit to Ohio State on Saturday likely comes down to how the Trojans rebuilt defense contends with Pryor, who is 10-1 as the Buckeyes starter and was preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

"This is a very, very unusual athlete to be this tall and this fast and have a great arm," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I think you'll see he's not just a runner. He's working hard to be an all-around quarterback. He's showing that."

Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Buckeyes season-opening win over Navy. He also ran for 30 yards on six carries with a touchdown.

Last year, Pryor transformed from the nation's consensus top recruit to the Buckeyes' starter, much like Matt Barkley is doing this fall for USC.

In last year's game in the Coliseum, Pryor alternated with senior Todd Boeckman, rushing for 40 yards and completing 7 of 9 passes. He became the full-time starter thereafter.

"He's still not a wily veteran by any means," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He understands the game much, much better. I think he knows more of why he's doing what he's doing and why we're doing what we're doing and why the defense does what they do and all of those things."

While observers from both sides call Pryor a complete quarterback -- not just an athlete taking the snap -- the aspects of his game that are hardest to contend with are his speed and improvisational ability.

"I've always said that the most difficult aspect of defending an opponent is when they have a quarterback that can run and run on plays that aren't designed to be quarterback running plays," Carroll said. "When a pass starts and it breaks down and it takes off, it becomes a sweep or a draw or a scramble situation. It's just so out of the normal structure, that, you know, anything can happen. So that's an X factor that a running quarterback presents."

The theme for the USC defense: Tackle, tackle, tackle.

And with prejudice.

"You've really got to key on your up-field shoulder and rely on your technique with a running quarterback like that," end Everson Griffen said. "We've got to swarm as a team and hit him hard every time he runs. Hit him hard -- make it harder for him, not as fun."

Griffen said the defense expects to see more speed option and designed runs with Pryor. Because the Buckeyes are playing in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium -- "The Horseshoe" -- it will be easy for Pryor to check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage if he thinks he sees a vulnerability in the Trojans' defense.

So it will be a chess match.

The Trojans might assign a spy for Pryor. It certainly will try to limit his running lanes. But the likelihood is Pryor will make plays with his feet. It's a matter of limiting them, which the Trojans failed to do with Young.

"A really good runner like Terrelle Pryor can go where he wants to go," Carroll said. "You can say you're going to keep him in the pocket and then he just scoots up and gets out again. He's really got a knack for escaping. You can holler at guys for not containing, but he just dips and goes. He's really good at it and he's really fast. The thing you hope you do is when you get your chances you tackle him because he breaks a lot of tackles. Guys drip off him a lot. He doesn't run over you, he just runs. He's fast and really strong and really big and he's difficult to get down. When he wants to go, he goes."

And there's always the issue of overcompensating. If Pryor breaks contain and two or three Trojans shirk their responsibilities in pursuit, then Pryor might be able to make a play downfield.

"You play the offense -- you don't want to look at it as playing Terrell Pryor," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "You want to look at it as playing the Ohio State offense."

That said, Young accounted for 467 of Texas' 556 total yards in the Longhorns' nail-biting victory in the BCS title game.

So there's no other way to say it: USC's defense has a Pryor engagement on Saturday.

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.

USC 35, Ohio State 3: Fourth-quarter reflections

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
11:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- More thoughts:

  • Ohio State had two yards in the third quarter. USC had 135.
  • Sort of wondering why Mark Sanchez was still playing in the fourth quarter. He's such a gamer -- he ran down the field and tried to deliver a block on a shovel pass to C.J. Gable.

It's cool that he's like that, but it would be horrible if he got hurt.

  • Attendance: 93,607, most in Coliseum since 1993 USC-UCLA game.
  • Aaron Corp took the field with eight minutes left. Good call, Pete.
  • Sanchez's final numbers: 17 of 28 (61 percent) for 172 yards with 4 TDs.
  • Lots of folks predicted this would be a blowout. It was.

Ohio State has now lost three straight big games by wide margins against elite foes from other conferences, twice to the SEC (Florida and LSU) and now to the Trojans.

The general feeling in college football nation will be the Buckeyes may have to surrender their Elite BCS team card.

And that may go double for the Big Ten.

And USC figures to cement its spot at No. 1. And, considering the bad day the rest of the Pac-10 had, the Trojans suddenly look like an overwhelming front-runner to earn a spot in the national title game.

USC 35, Ohio State 3: Third-quarter reflections

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
10:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- More observations:

  • The Trojans opening drive stalls but they down the ensuing punt on the 5-yard line. Recall this past week when Pete Carroll talked about how he wasn't happy with his special teams while praising the Buckeyes?
Would you say the Buckeyes, with a missed field goal, are winning the special teams and field position battle? Neither would I.
  • Fili Moala seems to be winning the battle inside vs. the Buckeyes interior linemen.
  • Joe McKnight eclipses 100 yards rushing with 8:50 left in the third quarter.
  • Sanchez's third TD pass -- 24 yards to Damian Williams -- makes it 28-3. Is that the killer with 6:02 left in the third?
  • And let's pause for a moment and announce that Sanchez has become a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
  • Now the Trojans defense gets to button its ears back and attack as pass-rushers. That's not good for Ohio State, which lacks the fire power to play from behind.
  • Fine. I'm lighting the lamp. Another wrong call for me. Not a great week for my prognostication skills.

This won't end up close.

Drat. I was rooting for a good game.

  • Sanchez TD pass number four, 17 yards, again to Damian Williams: 35-3 with 1:33 left in the third. See above.
  • Ohio State had three third-period possessions. They didn't get past their own 33-yard line.

Ohio State-USC: Second-quarter reflections

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
9:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- Some quick hits at the half:

  • It became clear at USC practices that both FB Stanley Havili and RB Joe McKnight were big parts of the game plan.
  • McKnight has rushed five times for 49 yards -- his 24-yard run on the TD drive gave USC the ball on the Buckeyes 26 -- and Havili has caught two passes for 47 yards and a TD.
  • The Buckeyes answered but another good drive -- which even featured a 13-yard run from Terrelle Pryor -- was killed by a pair of holding calls. The result was a missed 46-yard field goal.
  • Ohio State isn't haven't much trouble getting first downs. The Buckeyes have 11 with three minutes left before the half.
  • Maybe I'm wrong and the Trojans are going to blow this thing open.
  • It is worth noting that the Buckeyes have outgained USC 156 yards to 149 as of the pick-six.
  • Also, Pryor is going to be a weapon. He's 2 for 3 for 23 yards and has rushed six times for 41 yards.
  • Turnovers are killers against the Trojans. New exhibit: Boeckman fumbles on a sack from Clay Matthews and the Trojans, now winning the turnover battle 2-0, take over on the Buckeyes 28 with a minute left before the half.
  • Joe McKnight goes 15 yards on a third and 7 for a first down on the 20. He's averaging over 11 yards per carry and has 82 yards rushing.
  • The Buckeyes probably won't feel physically overwhelmed it the locker room.
  • Still think this might turn out to be interesting but my confidence is not as high as it was a hour and a half ago.

USC 7, Ohio State 3: First-quarter reflections

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
8:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- First quarter quick-hits:

  • USC cornerback Shareece Wright started. He was charged with resisting arrest Friday from an incident that occurred last weekend. So no suspension yet.
  • Defense anyone? Both teams go three-and-out on their first possessions.
  • Super frosh Terrelle Pryor sees his first action on the Buckeyes second possession. He goes five yards on a run and then throws for a 15-yard gain to the USC 40. Obviously, the Buckeyes coaches aren't afraid off putting the freshman on this big stage and even having him throw.
  • Both teams are eager. USC is offsides twice and OSU has two false starts.
  • Ohio State finished an impressive drive with a 29-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Sure, the Buckeyes had a first-and-goal on the USC 5, but going 69 yards in 17 plays in 8:45 against the USC defense has to build their confidence. Particularly QB Todd Boeckman, who was 5-for-5 for 25 yards on the drive. In past big games, Boeckman has struggled.
  • Not feeling a blowout just yet folks.

On the drive, we saw a little super-secret play USC has been working on (yeah, USC kept a secret with open practices). RB Joe McKnight lined up in shotgun and took a direct snap. He did it one play and ran up the middle for 11 yards.

Drive: 74 yards, 7 plays in 2:25.

The view from the other side of Ohio State-USC

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
1:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg has been in Columbus with the Buckeyes all week, while I've been in Los Angeles. It seemed like we should catch up.

Ted Miller: Folks over here in beautiful Southern California are feeling pretty confident -- read: really confident -- about their Trojans' chances to not only beat but whip Ohio State. What's the feeling over there in the Midwest?

Adam Rittenberg: The feeling here in flyover country is a little more tense. Something to do with a big toe. But they're confident that "Little Animal," AKA James Laurinaitis, and the Buckeyes defense will give Mark Sanchez some trouble on Saturday night. You sounded pretty pumped up the other day after actually getting to watch USC practice. What stood out during the Trojans' workouts?

Ted Miller: What stood out? How good the Trojans look. These guys pass the sight test. Of course, Ohio State would too ... if Jim Tressel let you Big Ten folks into the super-secret football sanctum. Anyway. What caught my eye was 1) Mark Sanchez; 2) Joe McKnight. Sorry to stick with the fancy guys, but Sanchez was sharp this week and he's obviously fired up about leading the Trojans. As for McKnight, he's got the sort of speed and elusiveness that he stands out among a team loaded with fast, elusive guys. So let me ask ... Is Beanie going to play? All the USC folks say yes.

Adam Rittenberg: My sense is he'll play, but probably not much, 5-10 carries. The fact he was still so sore from taking 20 "carries" with no contact in Wednesday night's practice suggests there's still plenty to risk by leaving him out there too long. He obviously gives that offense a ton of confidence and let's be honest, Ohio State needs to win this one to get back to the national title game. But this guy, despite his size, can be labeled injury prone at this point, and Jim Tressel might not want to gamble again. Speaking of injuries, what's the latest on the USC front? Cushing? Hazelton?

Ted Miller: USC has notable bumps and bruises but it appears that nothing will keep guys from playing -- at least initially. WR Vidal Hazelton practiced yesterday and looked OK -- Pete Carroll said he was "behind" in terms of the game plan. LB Brian Cushing has a bum wrist and hip -- he gets nicked a lot -- but he should be a go. LB Rey Maualuga is wearing protection on his hand and briefly sat out with a hyperextended elbow Thursday but he returned to practice. This is a healthy team. So, let's say Wells is limited: Does that mean the game is in Todd Boeckman's hands and the Buckeyes will have to throw to win? And is Boeckman ready to post that signature performance?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Boeckman needs a huge performance in what will be the defining game of his career to this point. He admitted the timing was off with his top wide receivers, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, last week against Ohio. That simply can't happen for Ohio State to keep up with USC. Boeckman doesn't exude a ton of personality, which might be good or bad. He could be a steadying force for an offense going through adversity or a guy lacking in leadership skills. Then again, we could see a ton of Terrelle Pryor on Saturday, especially with Wells limited. How about the other quarterback in this game, Mark Sanchez? Great numbers in the first game, but c'mon, it's Virginia. Is he ready for an elite defense like the Buckeyes?
 
Ted Miller: That's a good question. Sanchez got some playing experience last year when John David Booty was hurt -- most notably at Oregon -- but he has not faced an elite defense, other than every day in practice. Still, he hasn't faced anything like the pressure and soundness the Buckeyes will bring when the lights are on. My sense is the guy can't wait to show the world what he can do -- he's a very confident, charismatic guy. It's fun to watch him charm and work reporters. Moreover, the WRs, who underachieved last year, seem to have found their rhythm. If so, it's a talented, deep group. Let's talk speed. That's all we heard during the Buckeyes twin BCS title game face plants vs. the SEC. "Ohio State is slow." What's the feeling on that in Columbus? Exaggerated or true?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Man, it must be nice to be talking to players with personality. Why can't we all cover the Pac-10? OK, rant over. The speed thing is exaggerated, in my opinion. The NFL scouts who list Malcolm Jenkins as the top cornerback on their draft boards don't see a slow player. Same goes for Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and many others. A bigger problem for Ohio State has been discipline, sticking to its assignments rather than trying to make the extraordinary play. The Buckeyes have lost their composure in the national title games, either with personal-foul penalties or blown assignments. I think the defense steps up for a while and makes it closer than some anticipate, but I can't see Ohio State winning this one on the road. I'll stick with my pick, 31-24 Trojans. You get the last word. What happens Saturday night?
 
Ted Miller: I had thought all summer I was going to pick Ohio State. Most people don't realize that the Buckeyes contending for a national title in 2007 was gravy. 2008 was supposed to be the year. The Buckeyes are seasoned and talented. But, I just can't pull the trigger. I'm sticking with my projection this week of 28-17 Trojans. I'm rooting -- hard -- for a good game. And I'd think we'd both salute these programs for showing the courage to play each other. Some so-called elite teams hide from showcase nonconference games like this.

Ohio State-USC: Who has the edge at QB?

September, 9, 2008
9/09/08
4:33
PM ET

Lou Holtz and Mark May debate who is stronger at quarterback: Todd Boeckman or Mark Sanchez.

Should USC's defense be on Pryor notice?

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
10:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- USC defense end Everson Griffen has a confession to make.

Yes, he prefers an opposing quarterback to be a big, lumbering pocket passer rather than an athletic scrambler.

 
 Matthew Emmons/US PRESSWIRE
 Freshman quarterback phenom Terrelle Pryor figures to play a role for the Buckeyes against USC.

"With a quarterback who scrambles around, you've just got to work that much harder to get the sack," he said. "Yeah, we like quarterbacks who stay in the pocket because they are right there waiting for you."

Right there waiting to get earholed.

Not so with a running QB.

USC also has a history vs. running QBs.

Washington's Jake Locker gave the Trojans some problems last year. And Oregon's Dennis Dixon beat them while rushing for 76 yards on 17 carries.

Finally, everyone remembers a noteworthy evening a few years back when a certain tall, highly athletic scrambler made USC's defense look discombobulated and, yes, very average.

Therein lies the intrigue of Ohio State freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound dual-threat quarterback figures to be a part of the Buckeyes game plan Saturday at USC.

But how much? And is he going to go all Vince Young on the Trojans?

Everybody's got a theory.

"I think if [Ohio State running back] Chris Wells doesn't see much playing time, we'll see a lot of him, just to make us think about a running quarterback," Griffen said.

USC coach Pete Carroll said he expects Wells to play and he doesn't seem sold on his defense getting a heavy dose of Pryor.

"There's no way a quarterback can be ready with everything at this time -- they're doing a beautiful job of managing him," Carroll said. "I noticed when the [Ohio] game was tight they didn't play him very much."

That's because, for all the Pryor hype, Ohio State already has a pretty good quarterback in first-team All-Big-Ten performer Todd Boeckman, who's likely going to be far more comfortable on a big stage.

Boeckman threw for 2,379 yards and 25 TDs with 14 interceptions last year. He's no slouch. And, by the way, even at 6-4, 244 pounds, he's hardly immobile.

"He's got good arm strength and he can scramble too for a big guy," Griffen said.

Last year, Griffen was in a similar situation as Pryor. He was a touted freshman thrust into early playing time. Only it's that much harder when the freshman plays QB and the venue is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the nation's No. 1 team.

"He's going to be nervous," Griffen said.

Linebacker Brian Cushing as a true freshman played against Young in the 2005 national title game.

(Question: "You played against Vince Young, right?" Cushing: [Flicker of a glower] "Oh yeah.")

"By the time Vince was doing it to us he was a redshirt junior in his fourth year in the program," Cushing said. "Terrelle is still young. He looks good in the game film. He can pass and run. He's going to be special in the future."

In other words, while Pryor adds another wrinkle for a defense to prepare for, the Trojans don't expect him to be a major headache until they make a return visit to Columbus in 2009.

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