Shades of 'Brady'
Unflappable Boeckman shines in No. 1 Buckeyes' rout
Posted: Sunday October 28, 2007 2:09AM; Updated: Sunday October 28, 2007 2:28AM
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Todd Boeckman has not thrown a game-winning touchdown pass across his body like Matt Ryan. He does not run over linebackers like Tim Tebow. He does not juke guys out of their shoes on the option plays, like Dennis Dixon.
But Saturday night at Penn State's overflowing Beaver Stadium, Ohio State's quarterback was every bit as effective as any of them in leading the nation's No. 1 team to a resounding 37-17 victory. He completed 19-of-26 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns, continually burning the nation's seventh-ranked defense with deftly placed intermediate throws and picture-perfect deep balls.
To listen to some of Boeckman's teammates tell it, the rest of us shouldn't be so surprised.
"I watch other quarterbacks [around the country]," said receiver Brian Hartline. "I haven't seen anything he doesn't do that the other guys do."
"Todd's not a caretaker," said tackle Kirk Barton. "He's a franchise-type quarterback. He's not like Trent Dilfer with the  Ravens. He's more like Tom Brady."
Easy there, Kirk. Franchise quarterback? Tom Brady? You just guys just had one of those last year, a certain Heisman Trophy winner. You know ... Troy Smith? This guy -- some 23-year-old, fifth-year junior (no, that's not a typo) who no one outside of Columbus had heard of two months ago -- couldn't possibly be a star himself.
Actually, according to NCAA statistics, Boeckman entered Saturday night's game as the nation's seventh-rated passer. (Among those rated lower than him: BC's Ryan, Kentucky's Andre Woodson and Missouri's Chase Daniel.) Hmm ... that's the exact spot Smith finished in 2006.
So why haven't you heard anywhere near as much about Boeckman? Because A) He's not the least bit flashy, B) He's not Troy Smith and C) His team, in case you haven't heard, spent the first eight weeks of its season playing West Massachusetts Knitting Academy and Eastern Oregon School for the Ceramic Arts.
On Saturday night, Boeckman and his teammates faced a slightly more respected, albeit hardly overwhelming foe in No. 24 Penn State.
The 6-2 Nittany Lions, subjects of much skepticism themselves ever since losing to Michigan (which lost to Appalachian State) and Illinois (which is coached by Ron Zook), figured to pose the biggest test 8-0 Ohio State had yet seen. And just in case the prospect of having to defend the mighty Anthony Morelli for 60 minutes was not daunting enough for the Buckeyes, Penn State decided to throw in such additional obstacles as 111,000 hostile spectators, a student section cloaked in all white, the ear-torture of listening to a canned lion's roar prior to nearly every third-down play and the bizarre yet off-putting sight of the Nittany Lion mascot replicating the choreography from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video during a first-half timeout.
Yet none of this managed to affect the Buckeyes any more than, say, a fly landing on one's arm (or Kent State). Ohio State jumped to a 17-7 first-half lead, went up 24-7 on its first available opportunity after the break and piled it on from there -- thanks in part to an inevitable Morelli interception return for touchdown (by Malcolm Jenkins) and other assorted PSU miscues.
While the Buckeyes' top-ranked defense certainly played its own important role in producing the disparity, and while running backs Chris Wells (25 carries, 133 yards) and Maurice Wells (13 for 55) helped keep the Nittany Lions' defense honest, Boeckman was the undisputed man of the hour. Outside of one poorly thrown second-quarter interception (which Penn State failed to convert into points after Joe Paterno elected to punt on 4th and 2 from the OSU 38), Boeckman was a picture of poise and efficiency, helping his team convert 12 of 16 third-downs.
"Todd threw with a lot of confidence," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, whose team has now run off 27 straight regular-season wins since losing here on Oct. 8, 2005. "And that starts with not having people in your face."
Indeed, there's no overstating how well Ohio State's offensive line played, both in opening holes for Wells and Wells (the overwhelming majority of their yardage came between the tackles) and in ensuring that Penn State's defense barely as much as breathed wrong on Boeckman. The Nittany Lions entered the game with a national-best 35 sacks, including 10.5 from Maurice Evans; they got just one Saturday, early in the fourth quarter, and it didn't come from Evans.
"We couldn't get any pressure on [Boeckman]," lamented Paterno.