Season openers for teams such as Ohio State are typically games to knock off the rust, chalk up an easy victory and avoid major injuries to key personnel.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, two out of three not only wasn’t the charm, it was nearly disastrous.
OSU dipped deeply into its bench, playing a host of players including freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor and several of his classmates, and blew out Division I-AA opponent Youngstown State to the tune of 43-0.
It marked only the third shutout for the Buckeyes since Jim Tressel took over as head coach in 2001, and the first shutout of a season-opening opponent since a 10-0 win over Miami (Fla.) in 1977.
But midway through the third quarter, the Buckeyes lost junior tailback Chris “Beanie’ Wells to what initially appeared to be a serious ankle or foot injury. Wells, who had already rushed for 111 yards in the contest, took a simple handoff from quarterback Todd Boeckman and almost immediately fell to the Ohio Stadium turf.
Wells ripped off his helmet in obvious pain, grabbing at his right ankle area, and laid on the ground for several minutes before being helped off the field by teammates. After being attended by team physicians and trainers, Wells rode on a cart to the locker room.
He later re-appeared, walking gingerly back to the sideline under his own power, his right foot in a protective boot. But Wells’ appearance – and the fact he was putting weight on the foot – seemed to indicate the injury was less serious than originally believed.
“From what I gather, without getting into the medial things, it is more of a foot thing and X-rays were negative,” Tressel said. “When a guy goes down, you never know if it’s a knee or an ankle or whatever. So, yeah, your heart jumps a little bit. Maybe a lot.”
Before Wells’ injury cast a pall on the proceedings, the Buckeyes were enjoying a picture-perfect afternoon. Warm sunshine and a sellout crowd of 105,011 combined for a festive mood to kick off the 2008 season.
Ohio State wasted no time waking the scoreboard operator when Wells broke up the middle for a 43-yard touchdown bolt just 12:06 into the contest for a 7-0 lead.
The Buckeyes scored four more times in the first half – all on field goals from senior kicker Ryan Pretorius. He knocked through three-pointers of 28, 31, 26 and 50 yards, giving OSU a 19-0 lead, before Boeckman hooked up with senior Brian Robiskie for a beautiful 31-yard touchdown play to make it 26-0 just before halftime.
Boeckman threw his second TD pass of the game at the 2:01 mark of the third period on a 25-yard toss to freshman DeVier Posey, and Pryor pushed the advantage to 40-0 with a nifty 18-yard scramble at the 12:48 mark of the fourth period.
Backup kicker Aaron Pettrey capped the scoring with 5:08 remaining in the game, crushing a career-best 54-yard field goal to make the final score 43-0. Pettrey’s field goal was the sixth-longest in OSU history and second-longest by a Buckeye kicker in Ohio Stadium.
The victory was a complete on with the Ohio State defense recording its first shutout since a 44-0 win over Minnesota in 2006. While the Buckeyes rolled up 24 first downs and 495 yards of total offense, a young and rebuilding Youngstown State was held to only 74 yards and just five first downs. The Penguins had minus-11 yards rushing and were forced to punt nine times. OSU never punted during the entire game.
“We’ve got a pretty good defense and it’s pretty tough for a young offense to go against that,” Tressel said.
Boeckman finished the contest an efficient 14 for 19 in the passing department, good for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Pryor was 4 for 6 for 35 yards passing and added 52 yards and a TD on nine carries. Redshirt freshman Joe Bauserman also saw action for the Buckeyes, going 3 for 6 for 22 yards.
Posey had an excellent debut, corralling four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hartline had two receptions for 59 yards while Robiskie added three catches for 41 yards and a score.
“It was a good day for us,” Tressel said. “I thought our guys were very businesslike. The issue today wasn’t Youngstown State. The issue was whether Ohio State could get better. … It gives us a lot of film to study. I thought our guys stayed true to cause today.”
Ohio State (1-0) will host Ohio University next Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Game time is 12 noon Eastern and the game is scheduled to be televised by ESPN.