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COLUMBUS - For an extended run of mostly laudable performances, Todd Boeckman played the role of the noble warrior as Ohio State's veteran quarterback.
For the past month, he has been relegated to understudy, waiting in the wings off stage while freshman Terrelle Pryor wears the shiny wardrobe and leads the cast of Buckeyes. If Boeckman is Macbeth and this is a Shakespearean tragedy, he is not letting on.
"You always think you're going to do this, this and this in your senior year, but it hasn't worked out the way I wanted it to," Boeckman said this week as Ohio State readied for the next drama today at Michigan State. "But we're still winning, we're getting the job done, and he's 4-0 as a starter and you can't complain about that."
The Buckeyes have won every game since coach Jim Tressel made Pryor the starter, but have been somewhat less than spectacular in doing so. The Spartans, winners of six straight after a season-opening loss to California on the road, are likely to present the stiffest challenge of the recently hatched Pryor era.
Boeckman, ever the team guy, the company man and the loyal foot soldier, wanted the focus to be on the challenge facing the Buckeyes in East Lansing, not the still simmering quarterback quandary.
"I know we gotta get better, because Michigan State's a great football team," Boeckman said. "We gotta play a lot better if we want to keep winning."
Tressel has insisted all along that Boeckman remains an indispensable part of that winning formula, yet the sixth-year player from St. Henry who was named first team all-Big Ten last season has not taken a single snap the past two games. Boeckman made a brief cameo against Troy a month ago, and was five-of-nine passing against Minnesota the following week.
Boeckman said his teammates remain very supportive while he navigates his awkward role as team captain and backup quarterback. He said Tressel has also expressed empathy for Boeckman's situation when the two have spoken privately.
"A couple of weeks ago we sat down and talked for a little bit, and he kind of said that a little, that he felt bad that it hasn't worked out the way I wanted it to," Boeckman said.
About Boeckman, Tressel said this week that he would "love to have him have opportunities."
Boeckman led the Big Ten in passing efficiency last season, when he completed 191-of-299 passes for 2,379 yards and 25 touchdowns.
"I haven't determined that was the right moment [or] situation," Tressel said about Boeckman going two full games without playing.
What situation is he looking for to utilize Boeckman.
"You'll know the moment it happens," Tressel said.
With Michigan State scoring about 30 points per game and the Buckeyes down around 24, the Ohio State offense is under a lot of scrutiny. The Buckeyes rank 10th in the conference in total offense (320.9 yards per game) and last in passing with just 143.6.
Boeckman said he does not know when or if he will play today against the Spartans, who rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in pass defense. He will be prepared, if Tressel waves him in.
"To be honest, I don't know. It's his decision," Boeckman said. "But my teammates are behind me, telling me to keep my head up. You never know what can happen, because I'm always one play away from playing."
Boeckman said he harbors no resentment toward Pryor, and continues to counsel the young quarterback each day. Even while his teammates try and console him, Boeckman said he remains 100 percent behind Pryor.
"Some guys here and there will say maybe this or maybe that, but I just keep on telling them, Terrelle - he's winning, and you can't argue with that. And who wouldn't like that guy. He's one of the best players in the country coming out of high school, and he could do so many things with his arm and his legs. You're crazy if you didn't like what he could bring to the table here."
A big win today would likely wipe Ohio State's quarterback pickle off the front page, and allow the Buckeyes to step out of the particularly tricky minefield it has created.
Even Alex Boone, the loquacious senior lineman who has an opinion on absolutely everything, soft-shoed around this one, not willing to hazard a judgment on how Boeckman should be utilized.
"I can't answer that," Boone said. "That's up to Tress. He's a great quarterback. I think if they want to put him in there, he would do a good job."
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