COLUMBUS — For 10 games, Todd Boeckman was downright Heismanlike as Ohio State’s first-year starting quarterback.
After closing the season with games in which he played about like a bronze statue, the Buckeyes are hoping that Boeckman can return to form heading into their game against LSU for the Bowl Championship Series national title.
“He probably didn’t have as consistent a games in the last two as he did in the first 10,” coach Jim Tressel said of his junior quarterback. “But he’s the kind of guy, he’s going to study it and he’s going to go back and work on his fundamentals. I know he’s been working hard these last few practices on really going back and thinking about footwork. This has been a good opportunity for Todd from that standpoint.”
The quarterback position is at the forefront of a lot of Ohio State fans’ tension these days, ever since Tressel stunningly revealed that Boeckman’s backup, Robbie Schoenhoft, has been working out at tight end. That move means that third-stringer Antonio Henton — suspended earlier this season until pleading guilty to a minor misdemeanor count of loitering for prostitution — apparently is now second team for the bowl.
But more on that momentous change later.
Boeckman was leading the Big Ten and was sixth in the nation in passing efficiency through the first 10 games, all wins by top-ranked Ohio State. Heading into the Nov. 10 game at home against unranked Illinois, Boeckman had completed 66 percent of his passes for an average of 197 yards, with more than two TD passes and less than an interception a game.
Some were even whispering that Boeckman might be just as good as the man he replaced, Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, who graduated and is now with the Baltimore Ravens.
Then over the last two games — a 28-21 loss to the Illini and a 14-3 win at Michigan in which the offense effectively buttoned up at halftime because the Buckeyes had the lead and the weather was bad — Boeckman looked like a scared rookie.
Over those two games, he completed 56 percent of his passes for a total of 206 yards with four interceptions and no touchdowns.
Boeckman said he and Tressel, a former college quarterback, looked at film and noticed that he was opening up his stance too much when throwing to his left. That error led to interceptions, which then caused him to lose his confidence.
“Maybe I got down on myself too much at the end,” he said. “At the beginning of the season I was making mistakes and bouncing right back. At the end I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly. You can’t let a turnover affect your entire game. I’m going to shrug those off and keep going.”
Even with the sour finish to the regular season, Boeckman has been surprisingly good for the Buckeyes. Remember, he came in having spent the last two seasons watching Smith take almost every snap. Boeckman had never started a collegiate game and had thrown just 10 passes in six mop-up performances.
Yet his 2007 numbers still are comparable to those of Ohio State’s most exalted recent quarterbacks. He finished with a .645 completion rate for 2,171 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 12 games. A year ago Smith was at .653 and threw for 2,542 yards and 30 TDs with six picks in 13 games. Craig Krenzel, who led the Buckeyes to the 2002 national title as a junior, had a .594 completion percentage for 2,110 yards and 12 touchdowns with 7 interceptions in 14 games.
“Todd had a great year,” said his favorite target, Brian Robiskie, who has 50 catches. “Obviously there were a ton of question marks with him coming in. We kind of knew the kind of worker he was and what he had the potential to do this year. He just continued to grow from game to game.”
As for Schoenhoft’s curious move to tight end, Tressel said the big, burly junior was just helping out on the scout team and had not changed positions.
But wide receiver Brian Hartline said, “It is going to be as permanent as he (Schoenhoft) wants it to be” — whatever that means.
Henton has played only sparingly this season, and never with a game in the balance. But no matter who backs up Boeckman, the replacement would not be a seasoned vet.
“It wouldn’t really matter if Boeckman goes down anyway (because) we might be in some trouble,” Hartline said. “Both guys (Henton and Schoenhoft) are going to be good but they’re not ready yet.”
Stay tuned. The drama at quarterback may not be remotely close to being over just yet.