After a year for the Ohio State football team during which the special teams were not exactly special, the Buckeyes began camp with a renewed focus on an area so focused on by head coach Jim Tressel.
The fall kick scrimmage in Ohio Stadium shows the Buckeyes might have a way to go, still.
The gray team – boasting backup specialists Jon Thoma and Aaron Pettrey – won the scrimmage 22-15, but there were plenty of places for improvement. The team’s three kickers – Pettrey, returning starter Ryan Pretorius and freshman Ben Buchanan – made just 11 of 19 field goals and starting punter A.J. Trapasso wasn’t at his sharpest.
Still, Tressel didn’t sound all that concerned when talking to the media afterward.
“There’s no question the guys are committed to it,” Tressel said. “We won’t judge until we see it live.”
The kicking game was perhaps where the most was to be desired. Pretorius made 5 of his 8 field goals, making from 31, 33, 53, 40 and 47 yards while missing a 35-yarder and a 48-yarder wide left and a 42-yarder wide right.
“Obviously I want to make everything,” he said. “I hit a 53-yarder and a 47-yarder, and that’s great, but you want to be perfect every day, and I wasn’t perfect today. But I couldn’t have hit the balls better.”
On his heels is Pettrey, the 2006 kicker who was overtaken last fall by Pretorius before the latter made 18 of 23 field goals on the season. Pettrey got off to a rough start, missing his first three kicks, before finishing 4 of 8 with makes of 37, 40, 42 and 45 yards. He had his first try of the day, a 31-yarder, blocked by Kurt Coleman and a later 40-yard attempt blocked by Donald Washington.
Pettrey was happy with the way he turned things around near the end.
“I’ve actually hit the ball real well all camp out here,” he said. “My first miss out here all camp was today. But I mean, I hit the ball good I thought today. I just got off to a rocky start.”
Afterward, Tressel said that if the team had a game today, Pretorius would probably be taking field goals and Pettrey would be kicking off.
The other kicker in the game was Buchanan, a highly touted true freshman from nearly Westerville South. Buchanan made his first try of 35 before hitting the left upright from 40 yards and pushing a 45-yarder wide right. He also attempted a 42-yarder that was blocked by Coleman, but the junior safety was offside. Washington recovered the football and tweaked an ankle in the resulting pile, though he seemed fine while joking with teammates on the sideline afterward.
In the punting game, Thoma hit the ball especially well, averaging 44.4 yards on his seven kicks and hitting a 57-yarder and a 55-yarder. The latter kick came with his gray team punting from its own 1-yard line and prevented the scarlet from trying a field goal on the next play.
“It went well,” he said. “I came in really confident. I’ve been punting well this camp. My legs feel good. I just wanted to come out and show my team, show everyone I could do a good job if need be this year.”
Four-year starter A.J. Trapasso was solid if unspectacular, averaging 38.8 yards on his five punts. His low was a 32-yarder, after which slammed his helmet to the ground in frustration on the sideline.
“Personally, I don’t feel I had a great day, but I don’t think it’s going to shoot down any of my confidence going into the season,” Trapasso said.
The return game was fun to watch, as many of the players returning kicks were donning jersey numbers different from the ones they normally wear. Among those returning kicks were Maurice Wells, Devon Torrence, Lamaar Thomas and Ray Small, while the primary punt return men apeared to be Small, Torrence, Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey.
Small broke off a 17-yard return early in the scrimmage, Torrence picked his way through traffic for a 30-yard kickoff return and Posey later had a nice 18-yard return with the punt block unit in. Early in the scrimmage, Torrence of the scarlet was leveled by Malcolm Jenkins while catching one punt.
As for the scrimmage itself, every play is fourth down, with teams able to advance the ball up the field by winning the field-position battle or through fakes (a fake that achieves a first down means the ball stays with the original team for another fourth-down play). After about 10 plays, the script flips to about 10 field goal attempts, and those two setups alternate until a round of punts from each team’s own 1-yard line closes the action.
No team was able to score through the first rotation of punts, then a field-goal rotation saw each team struggle, as Pretorius’ two field goals let his Scarlet team escape with a 6-3 lead. That disappeared, though, as the Scarlet attempted a fake punt from its own 38-yard line. Trapasso attempted a pass, but it was deflected and intercepted by gray’s No. 41 – ostensibly either Jermil Martin or Tony Jackson, who each normally sport the numeral. That player ran over Trapasso, stumbled down the sideline and leapt to reach the ball over the goal line at the pylon. Pettrey made the kick to make the score 10-6, Gray.
“It wouldn’t have been my call,” said Trapasso, who normally excels at running the ball in the kick scrimmage. “It would have been there, could have been there. We just missed a block, or maybe I didn’t get my head around fast enough. I’m not sure what happened. It wasn’t pretty.”
A number of other fake attempts went begging later, including one on the final play. Gray increased its lead to 22-15, but Scarlet had one final play from the Gray 38. It was obvious a fake was in the cards, as the team needed a touchdown, and the call was for Thoma, the personal holder of Pretorius, the chuck the ball down the sideline.
After getting the snap, he rolled right, picking up a block from Pretorius, who did his best to slow Jenkins. Thoma lofted the ball down the right sideline for Sanzenbacher, who nearly made a leaping catch in traffic at the 1-yard line only to see the ball fall through his hands.