Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel apparently made the decision to get started immediately on his program’s future, starting freshman Terrelle Pryor at quarterback over senior co-captain Todd Boeckman.
And while the Buckeyes would probably have rather made more of a statement on the scoreboard, a 28-10 victory over visiting Troy had the desired effect. The victory, one week after a painful 35-3 loss at No. 1 USC, allowed Ohio State to unveil a revamped offensive attack featuring Pryor at the controls.
The 6-6, 235-pound freshman quarterback played nearly every snap for the Buckeyes and wound up completing 10 of 16 pass attempts for 139 yards and four touchdowns. Pryor also pitched one interception, a harmless pick on a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half.
Pryor is believed to be the first freshman to start at quarterback for Ohio State since Art Schlichter started every game under center in 1978. The four touchdown passes were the most for a freshman in school history and tied for second-most in a single game by an OSU quarterback. The record of five was set by John Borton in 1952 against Washington State and later equaled twice by Bobby Hoying – in 1994 against Purdue and a year later against Pittsburgh.
“Going into the game, we knew that we were going to start Terrelle,” Tressel said. “Terrelle had some rhythm, and was getting some things done with his feet. He was eager to get some things done in the passing game, too, but I like to ease guys into that.”
Pryor also turned in a 66-yard performance on the ground, carrying 14 times. Meanwhile Boeckman was relegated to only two plays – one in the first quarter and one in the second. He did not appear in the second half with redshirt freshman Joe Bauserman taking over for the team’s final possession.
“I wish Todd had gotten to play more,” Tressel said, “and I showed him late in the game that we had a whole column of plays for him (on the play sheet). But we didn’t feel that was what the team needed at that moment.”
While the final statistics looked pretty good, there were still some fits and stumbles by the Buckeyes as freshman center Mike Brewster also made his first start while regular center Jim Cordle moved to left guard for injured Steve Rehring. For example, despite rolling up 309 yards of total offense, OSU got only 38 of those yards in a third quarter that featured three possessions that never got past midfield.
“Offensively, we have a ways to go but we did some good things,” Tressel said. “We had some new guys in there who hadn’t been in there before. But that’s why this game was so valuable because it was tough. Troy is a tough team and we to rise up to beat them and we did that.”
Meanwhile, the Ohio State defense had some troubles with Troy’s quick-hitting offense. Quarterback Jamie Hampton dinked and dunked his way to a 30-for-43 performance, throwing for 218 yards and a touchdown. He was also picked off twice.
The Buckeyes did a decent job stopping the run, holding the Trojans to just 97 yards on the ground, but the visitors still managed to outgained OSU, 315-309.
Pryor made an immediate impact as he jogged into the huddle amid a roar from the 102,989 on hand in Ohio Stadium. He engineered a nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rory Nicol. OSU kicker Ryan Pretorius added the extra point for a 7-0 lead at the 10:14 mark of the first quarter.
Troy got on the board thanks to a 22-yard field goal from kicker Sam Glusman, making it 7-3 with 13:35 left in the second period, but the Buckeyes came back to score another touchdown after safety Kurt Coleman intercepted Hampton at the Troy 37-yard line. Four plays later, Pryor found split end Brian Hartline, who made a leaping catch near the 2 and fell into the end zone. Pretorius added the PAT for a 14-3 lead with 9:08 left until halftime.
But the Trojans refused to go away. Hampton led them on an 80-yard march at the end of the quarter – a drive that took only five plays. Running back Jerrel Jernigan turned a short flip from Hampton into a textbook piece of broken-field running, slipping at least three tackles on his way to a 45-yard touchdown romp.
Glusman added the extra point to make it 14-10 with 1:49 remaining in the second quarter and that’s how it stayed until the teams went to their locker rooms at the half.
It stayed a four-point game throughout the third quarter despite Ohio State getting another interception from Coleman. But the Buckeyes couldn’t seize any kind of momentum until punter A.J. Trapasso downed a 60-yard punt at the Troy 1-yard line on the final play of the fourth quarter.
OSU forced a three-and-out on defense, and after a short punt, took over on its own 37. Two plays later, Pryor lofted a high pass into the end zone that was snagged out of the air by senior Brian Robiskie for a 39-yard touchdown. After Pretorius’ extra point made it 21-10 with 14:08 remaining in the game, the Buckeyes were able to breathe a little easier.
Pryor pitched his fourth touchdown pass of the game at the 4:30 mark thanks to another short Troy punt. On the fourth play of a drive that began the Trojans’ 27, the OSU quarterback hooked up with Hartline again, this time for a 16-yard score. Pretorius added the PAT to close out the scoring.
In addition to Pryor, the Buckeyes got an excellent performance from redshirt freshman tailback Dan Herron, who started in place of the still-injured Chris “Beanie” Wells. Herron piled up 94 yards on 20 carries, both career-high numbers.
Defensively, OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis led the Buckeyes with 12 tackles while safety Jermale Hines, linebacker Marcus Freeman and Coleman added seven stops each. Coleman had his two interceptions while Laurinaitis and defensive end Thaddeus Gibson recorded sacks.
Middle linebacker Boris Lee had a game-high 15 tackles for Troy while fellow linebacker Bear Woods added 12 stops.
Ohio State (3-1) remains home next week to kick off the Big Ten season. The Buckeyes will entertain resurgent and undefeated Minnesota, a 37-3 winner over Florida Atlantic today. Kickoff will be at 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.