In 100 years, college football historians will look back and see that the special teams scrimmage was Jim Tressel’s enduring contribution to the game.
Well, that and at least five national championships.
Tressel and his staff conducted the preseason version of his own personal invention, the special teams scrimmage, Wednesday afternoon at Ohio Stadium. The Gray squad, powered by an 85-yard punt return touchdown by Ashton Youboty and the kicking of Josh Huston, prevailed 31-24.
Members of the losing Scarlet squad could be seen exiting through the north entrance of Ohio Stadium and making the three-quarters mile trek back to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
The scrimmage was marked by those who made plays and some who did not play, most notably standout punt returners Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr. Holmes is just recovering from an injury, while Ginn did see some action rushing field goal kickers but did not return a punt – likely as a concession to the risk of injury.
In the battle at the kicker position, Huston, a sixth-year senior, appeared to outpoint freshman walk-on Ryan Pretorius. Huston was 8 of 11 on field goals with long kicks of 42, 45 and 47 yards. Two of his three misses were blocked and he missed a 43-yarder. Pretorius was 8 of 12 with a long of 39. He had misses of 31, 32, 42 and 55 yards.
Freshman Aaron Pettrey did not compete, presumably as he recovers from a sore leg that has plagued him in camp.
The kickers performed in largely an empty stadium. But they could get a sense for the wind directions inside the Horseshoe.
“You don’t get the fans, but you get the arena,” Huston said. “You also get your teammates needing you. In practice, sometimes, they don’t even watch if they aren’t involved. Today, those guys need you. They’re patting you on the butt and saying, `Let’s get these balls through. I don’t want to walk back.’
“You get that sense of team and it feels good that guys notice you and pat you on the back and say, `Good job.’ ”
Redshirt freshman A.J. Trapasso appears to be the starting punter. Unofficially, he punted 11 times for an average of 42.5 yards. Freshman walk-on John Thoma punted seven times for 38.4 yards. Walk-on Tyson Gentry punted three times for a 35.0 average.
“It was OK at best,” said Trapasso, who had a long punt of 56 yards. “I don’t feel like I hit the ball well at all today. But it’s coming along and we’ll be ready.”
It appears that Trapasso will be the starting holder on kicks with Gentry backing him up. Drew Norman is clearly the long snapper.
“Drew did a good job today getting the ball back there,” Huston said.
Trapasso’s tenure at OSU started rocky last year. He was not invited to fall camp after a pair of underage drinking arrests. He redshirted as Kyle Turano held the punting job all season.
“Maturity-wise, I think I’ve grown up a lot,” said Trapasso, who hails from nearby Pickerington, Ohio. “What happened last year, I’ve put it behind me. It’s a fresh start. Coach Tressel has given me my chances and I’m not going to let him down.”
Although Turano has appealed to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility, Trapasso is approaching this season as if it is his.
“It’s my job to lose,” he said. “I have the starting job right now and I intend not to give it up. I’m preparing for the first game. That’s it. That’s all I can think about right now.
“It is a dream to come true to play in this stadium and for these fans. I can’t wait for that opener against Miami. It’s going to be a thrill.”
Trapasso discussed his goals for the upcoming year.
“We’ve led the Big Ten in net punt every year,” he said. “It’s been right around 40 yards every year. My goal is to be over 40 in net punt with a hang time between 4.4 and 5.7 with five seconds being the average.
“The coverage guys are unbelievable. Our snipers are awesome. You couldn’t ask for a better crop of guys to punt for.”
Huston’s Time, Too
Huston arrived at OSU from Findlay, Ohio, in the fall of 2000. But he spent the last five years on the sideline, the last four working mostly behind two-time All-American Mike Nugent. The NCAA granted his request for a sixth year of eligibility due to past health problems.
“I’m real confident,” Huston said. “I think it’s just maturity. I’m ready to go and get it started on Saturday.”
But Pretorius, who hit a 55-yard field goal in Saturday’s jersey scrimmage, has kept Huston on his toes this fall.
“Ryan hits the ball real well,” Huston said. “He’s right there. He doesn’t let me slack off at all. I can’t miss four kicks in a day because he’s right there to push it back on me. He’s going to do well here if he keeps it up.”
On one of Huston’s two blocked field goals, it appeared that lineman Tim Schafer skied to bat the ball out of the air. On the other, it appeared he barely got the ball to helmet height and it was easily blocked.
“I have to look at the film,” Huston said. “I don’t want to put the blame on anyone else. I know on that second block, I didn’t get it high enough. The first one, I don’t know what happened on that. I thought it was all right, but I’ll have to go back and see what happened.”
But Huston rallied and capped the day with a 45-yard field goal to cinch the win for the Gray.
“I would have liked it to be with us down two with the last kick,” said Huston, who is champing at the bit for his chance to try and win a game for the Buckeyes – a la Nugent a year ago against Marshall.
As It Happened
The kick scrimmage rules are simple – every play is a special teams play. It begins with a kickoff. The receiving team, wherever the return ends, faces a fourth-and-10 predicament. Typically, they line up for a punt, but can also attempt fake punts. The idea is, obviously, to return a kick or blocked kick for a touchdown or put your team in field goal range with a fake or a return.
At various prescribed times in the scrimmage, Tressel orders each side to attempt five consecutive field goals. He also orders each team to try and execute punts out of its own end zone. Unlike in past scrimmages, there were no blocked punts this time around.
The team is divided down the middle and neither side has the full starting unit for any of the various special teams.
The teams traded punts four times to open the scrimmage. Included in there was a 33-yard run off a fake by Trapasso, who was a prep running back at Pickerington. He was spotted running pass patterns at this morning’s practice.
“I love that,” Trapasso said. “I love to get out there and hit with those guys and show them I can hang.”
Neither team had scored when Tressel ordered the first series of prescribed field goal attempts. Pretorius made 3 of 5 field goals for the Scarlet and Huston answered with 3 of 5 for the Gray for a 9-9 tie.
Moments later, Youboty fielded a Trapasso punt at the Gray 15-yard line. He faked a reverse to Brian Hartline, got a big block from Malcolm Jenkins and was gone down the sideline for his 85-yard touchdown return that gave the Gray a 16-9 lead.
“He’s fast,” said Trapasso, who dove in vain at the Scarlet 40 to try and stop Youboty. “He’s really fast. They had a really good fake. They had a fake reverse and then they set up a wall down the right side and that really worked well for them.”
Huston added, “He blew it wide open and we kept the lead from there.”
In the second half, Tressel again ordered the kickers to attempt five field goals. Pretorius was 4 of 5 for the Scarlet with a 42-yard attempt sailing wide left. Huston was 4 of 5 for the Gray, missing from 43 but making kicks from 42 and 47 to keep the Gray on top 28-21.
Gray’s Sirjo Welch committed a fair catch interference penalty on a punt out of the end zone, giving Scarlet possession at the Gray 22. Pretorius drilled a 39-yard field goal to cut the gap to 28-24.
Moments later, Gray upback Anthony Schlegel hit his linebacker mate, A.J. Hawk, for a miraculous 37-yard pass on a fake punt. But, alas, the play was negated by an ineligible receiver downfield penalty.
Scarlet could draw no closer with Pretorius missing from 55 yards before Huston’s 45-yarder on the final play gave the Gray its final seven-point margin.
The team practiced for about an hour at the stadium prior to the scrimmage. Brandon Smith, now wearing No. 87 as a tight end, looked pretty good in drills.
Troy Smith threw a rocket to walk-on Dan Potokar during the seven-on-seven drills. Justin Zwick also made a neat pass down the middle to Anthony Gonzalez. Freshman Rob Schoenhoft was victimized on an interception by classmate Andre Amos.