COLUMBUS - The season has been a series of gut checks for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and their quarterback Todd Boeckman, who is in his first year as the starter.
Questions were repeatedly posed as to how Boeckman would do, replacing Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.
How would Boeckman handle his first start on the road against a revitalized Washington team? How would he function in the hostile environment enveloping him when the Buckeyes met an unbeaten Purdue team in a night road game?
Now, with a new week and a fresh opponent, another remix of the same old questions has been thrown out there. How will Boeckman stand up against the Michigan State pass rush, which is second in the Big Ten with 29 sacks, when the top-ranked Buckeyes host the Spartans this afternoon in Ohio Stadium?
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said that entering the season, it was pretty much a given that the Buckeyes would have a very good defense, and that receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline would be solid.
"The big question was quarterback, who was going to be the quarterback throwing to Robiskie and Hartline," Dan
tonio said. "I knew they had a lot of people back who had played on offense but didn't necessarily start."
Boeckman was one of those, doing mostly mop-up work behind Smith, after spending the two previous years in the Ohio State apprenticeship program, with clip board in hand. Ohio State offensive guard Ben Person said he has been confident in Boeckman's ability to lead the Buckeyes since the first snap, and he is confident Boeckman can lead OSU to success today.
"From what I have seen, he has always commanded the huddle," Person said.
Boeckman leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency, a stat formulated by adding up all the good things a quarterback does, subtracting the bad things, and coming up with a strange number separated by a decimal point. Reduced to its lowest common denominator - Boeckman is first because he has completed 65.4 percent of his passes, and thrown for 16 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the Buckeyes' sound rushing attack has helped keep the pressure off Boeckman, and that scenario needs to play out again today against Michigan State.
"The first thing you need to do against a defense like Michigan State's is protect," Tressel said. "And then you need to get the ball out of your quarterback's hand. It's a speed game, and they've got excellent speed, and I don't know that you want to set your quarterback up to be holding the ball, because they put pressure on you."
For his part, Boeckman has been unflappable, and he approaches the challenge of facing Michigan State's pass rush with a growing level of comfort in his ability to pass this test too.
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