Another season of college football will soon be underway and amidst all the anticipation lurk many predictions of what will soon take place. Ironic that I turn my focus on an event of the past, namely, the benching of Todd Boeckman for then true freshman Terrelle Pryor.
The surprise for me was not so much that it happened, but rather that it generated little criticism. Football fans are all too familiar with the term 'quarterback controversy'. Yanking your starter is no small thing and yet Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel miraculously emerged from the 2008 season unscathed. The move to start Pryor under center was anything but controversial.
Since coming to Ohio State in 2001, Tressel has enjoyed a choirboy image, capable of no wrong-doing. However, to quote one of my colleagues, "The grace period is over". My aim here is to revisit this 'controversy' and argue why benching Todd Boeckman was a huge mistake and that the whole situation stunk to high heaven.
In 2007, Boeckman threw for 2,379 yards, 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions
completing 63.9 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating of 148.95 leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency. As a first year starter, he led his team to an outright Big Ten championship and took them to the national championship game. Not bad considering he had about half the weapons to work with than his Heisman winning predecessor Troy Smith. Did I mention it was his first year as a starter?
How soon we forget.
When Boeckman was benched after nearly getting upset by Ohio University
and a 35-3 meltdown to Southern California, the Buckeye faithful presented their senior quarterback with a "Do I know you?" cold shoulder, not to mention the boos that he received from his own home crowd at a game against Troy. To be fair, the amnesia was probably sparked by the eagerness to see the hottest recruit in the nation under center. When Pryor got the keys to the kingdom, he was met with no objections.
Before the 2008 season began, Ohio State boasted an offensive line of 4 returning starters and was expected to be one of the best in the Big Ten, if not in all of college football. By the middle of the season, the consensus was that it went from being an asset to a liability. The line provided the quarterback with about as much protection as a newspaper during a hurricane. Senior left tackle Alex Boone was especially guilty and is slowly turning into the next Maurice Clarett as we speak.
Was Boeckman sub par against Ohio and USC? Maybe. But it wasn't as if he had time to check down receivers, make good decisions or throws. He was getting knocked around all night against the Trojans and receivers were well covered. When that starts to happen, expect the quarterback to melt no matter how good he is.
Eventually, the o-line was addressed but a day late and a dollar short for Todd Boeckman.
When Chris Wells injured his right foot in the season opener against Youngstown State, the Buckeyes not only lost their best offensive player for the next 3 games, they lost their rushing attack. Wells' ability did not depend on the performance of the disappointing offensive line and he could bust through the line of scrimmage with or without their help.
Without an o-line providing sufficient holes for the undersized Daniel "Boom" Herron and the injury-prone speed demon Brandon Saine, Ohio State was rendered a one dimensional offense making them incredibly easy to defend.
After Terrelle Pryor replaced Todd Boeckman, he led his team to 5 straight victories and was soon heralded as a hero. But look at who he had to play: Troy, Minnesota, an underachieving Wisconsin team, Purdue and Michigan State. Not exactly national contenders. Not to mention, Wells was back in full force for 4 of those games.
Boeckman was stuck facing one of the best teams in the nation while Pryor, though indeed a great athlete, won against a bunch of cupcakes that Boeckman could have handled just as easily. Yet this went unnoticed and Tressel looked like a genius.
The reasoning behind the quarterback swap, or so I was told, was that it helped to re-establish the run. With Pryor's ability to run the ball, this was certainly accomplished.
But at what cost?
As I mentioned before, when Wells injured his foot, the offense became one dimensional leaving it all up to the passing game. When Pryor replaced Boeckman, the running game returned, however the offense remained one dimensional.
Though Pryor can run, his passing abilities were rather lacking. As a starter, he averaged a mere 14.8 attempts per game while the team racked up a grand total of 1,953 yards for the year. Compare that to when Boeckman started in 2007 where he averaged 23 attempts and the Buckeyes tallied 2,565 throwing yards. The running game certainly came back thanks to Pryor, but it came at the cost of the passing attack.
Speaking of the suffering passing game, nobody exposed this better than the 2008 Nittany Lions. With the Buckeyes lacking a fearsome passing attack, the Penn State defense was able to focus more on shutting down the run. If they could do that, then the game would be theirs.
They did, and it was.
Penn State constantly stacked 8 defenders in the box to limit Chris Wells to a measly 55 yards on 22 carries averaging just 2.5 per touch. The whole team gained a dismal 61 yards on the ground that evening. With that shut down, the Buckeyes had to rely on Pryor's arm, which threw for 226 yards and 0 touchdowns as Ohio State lost a home game against Penn State for the first time since the Nittany Lions joined the conference.
Had Boeckman started that game, I believe the Buckeyes would've had a more two dimensional threat to keep the Penn State defense a little more honest.
Jim Tressel publicly stated that he had taken the appropriate measure of speaking with Boeckman to tell him that the team was going in a different direction by switching to Pryor. However, a source close to Boeckman said that such a discussion did not happen until a couple of weeks after he was benched and that the senior was taken completely by surprise when he showed up to the first practice after USC and was told to go with the back-up squad.
On top of that, Tressel wasn't even the one who initiated the conversation, but it was in fact Boeckman who sought an audience with the head coach for 2 weeks before it became a reality. If this was the case, Boeckman deserved better no matter what.
As I mentioned before, a major reason why the quarterback switch was made after the USC game was to improve the ground game during the absence of Wells. But was it necessary? After all, the return of the Ohio State rushing attack was signified by Wells' return which ended up happening after only one more game. With only Troy and Minnesota looming ahead, were things really so urgent that it necessitated the most drastic change in roster that a coach could make?
In the game against Troy, I was upset to see receiver Brian Robiskie give a sub par effort to reel in a well-thrown pass from Pryor. Afterward, I heard a possible reason why.
Rumblings started to circulate that there were some veterans that objected to the benching of their senior captain including Robiskie and tight end Rory Nichol. It was rumored that the dropped pass in the Troy game was Robiskie's way of protesting the swap.
Though there has been little support to corroborate this, one could logically deduct that the NFL-bound wideout was loyal to the receiver-friendly Boeckman. When Pryor took over the show, receivers like Robiskie and Brian Hartline suffered a drop in their production which caused their draft stock to fall. Good thing they performed well at the NFL combine .
The Texas Longhorns were one of the worst teams in college football in pass defense. But with Pryor at the helm, the Buckeyes failed to properly exploit the weakness. He threw for 66 yards and no touchdowns that night. Meanwhile, Boeckman outgunned his usurper by 54 yards including 1 touchdown to Pryor. By the way, why didn't we see more of that in the season?
The Buckeyes dropped their third straight BCS appearance 24-21 against a team they should have exposed as being overrated.