COLUMBUS — It took some new blood to help erase an old memory.
With the talk surrounding Ohio State football for the past seven months focusing on the Buckeyes’ lopsided loss to Florida in last season’s national championship game, it was three true freshmen that put scores on the board and led the scarlet and gray to a 38-6 victory over I-AA Youngstown State on Saturday afternoon.
Dane Sanzenbacher caught a 3-yard pass from junior Todd Boeckman for the Buckeyes’ first touchdown of the season, Brandon Saine had a 1-yard touchdown run in the closing seconds of the first half and Taurian Washington caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Antonio Henton — a redshirt freshman — for Ohio State’s final score.
“When you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “All those guys got some reps. They were real solid.”
The freshmen’s help was appreciated and, surprisingly, needed as the Buckeyes couldn’t get their running game going against the Penguins for most of the game.
Chris “Beanie” Wells, generally considered to be the top offensive weapon for the Buckeyes, rushed 16 times for 48 yards and a touchdown, with a good chunk of the yardage coming on a 20-yard run early in the third quarter.
Maurice Wells had a big, 26-yard run on the final scoring drive that helped boost his numbers — 46 yards on eight carries – while Saine finished with 42 yards on 10 carries and backup quarterback Rob Schoenhoft added 27 yards on three carries.
“(Saine) stepped in and gave us another dimension today,” Buckeyes offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. “We know he’s a burner. We in the offense are real happy about that. Between him, Beanie and Mo Wells, they’re a very capable backfield.”
Saine, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder from Piqua, wore a huge smile and couldn’t contain his excitement as he talked to reporters after the game.
“I thought I would play today, but I didn’t know for sure,” he said. “I go with the first string sometimes in practice so I thought I would get in at some point. I just didn’t know when.”
That point came with 3:08 left in the opening quarter, when the freshman hit a gap over right tackle for an 18-yard run to the Youngstown State 14.
“I saw the hole and just went for it,” Saine said. “It was amazing. I was trying to be cool, trying not to jump around and get too caught up in a crazy situation.”
With the running game expected to be Ohio State’s strength on offense this season, the Buckeyes were happy to see passing game get off to such a strong start.
Boeckman, Schoenhoft and Henton combined to go 21-for-31 for 270 yards and three touchdowns — and no interceptions. Brian Robiskie, who made a name for himself with some clutch catches last season, caught nine passes for 153 yards, and eight other receivers hauled in the other 12 passes.
“I think I made some good passes and I think I made some bad passes,” Boeckman said. “I’ve been waiting four years for this opportunity and now that I have a shot at leading this team, I wanted to take advantage of it.
“Troy (Smith) did some great things here, but now we have new guys and a new team and we want to surprise some people.”
The passing performance wasn’t a surprise to Tressel, who knew with three new quarterbacks on the roster he would have to go to the air early and often to get the arms loose and the nerves under control.
“In my mind, you can’t ask your quarterbacks to work on their throwing only when it’s third-and-10 or only when you’re behind and trying to catch up,” Tressel said.
The Buckeyes’ offense didn’t turn the ball over, but there was concern about five false starts, two illegal substitutions, one holding and a pass interference call, as well as Ohio State’s inability to punch the ball in at the goal line with their feature back.
“I know Coach (Earl) Bruce used to say when we had Keith Byers, ‘If you don’t get their feet to the line of scrimmage, I don’t care how good your back is,’” Tressel said. “All we wanted to do was keep Byers’ feet at the line of scrimmage and he was always going to gain.
“I’ll be interested to see (on film) if there wasn’t penetration and we didn’t get our feet to the line of scrimmage.”
Ohio State’s defense was solid, only surrendering the two field goals, but allowed several sustained drives by the Penguins, and didn’t manage to earn a takeaway against the smaller school.
“We did the fundamental things right today,” defensive end Vernon Gholston said. “We stopped the run, we didn’t give up too many big plays and we forced them into some mistakes.
“There are definitely some aspects we can improve on, but overall I think we did what we had to do to win the game.”
And that may be just what the Buckeyes program needed most.
“We’re glad we got a win in 2007,” senior fullback Dionte Johnson said. “We’ve been 0-1 (this year) all spring and summer long. We put that (national championship) game in the past and we don’t even discuss it anymore.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.