Jeff Simpson / The Lantern
The Toledo Rockets provided what, on paper, seemed to be a good opportunity for Ohio State to bounce back after the tough loss to USC last week. It also provided the opportunity for a huge letdown game following a tough loss, something the Buckeyes nearly fell victim to last season.
After last year’s loss to USC, OSU struggled early against Troy University in Terrelle Pryor’s first collegiate start. The Buckeyes led only 14-10 going into the fourth quarter before eventually pulling away, 28-10. But thanks to a fast start from the passing game, a dominant defensive performance and some coaching adjustments after last week’s loss, Buckeye fans weren’t left biting their nails late in the game.
Junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher’s 76- and 18-yard touchdown receptions punctuated the first two OSU drives of the game. He now has a team high of three receiving touchdowns this year, and all three have come within the first two drives of a game. In addition, he had a 56-yard catch that set up a Dan Herron touchdown run on the second possession versus USC.
“I feel like that always helps our offense, when we can get on the board first and get a good drive to start off,” said Sanzenbacher. “It feels good to be able to come out there after having to talk about the loss all week and to make a play.”
With his offense struggling in the passing game all season, coach Jim Tressel was especially thankful for Sanzenbacher getting the unit off to a good start.
“Dane made some big plays for us,” he said. “He’s a steady guy, nothing bothers him. He got thrust into the holder’s role today because of [punter] Jonathan Thoma’s illness, and he handled that well also.”
Sanzenbacher, a Toledo native, was bothered about one thing, and that was how his performance might affect his standing back home. Tressel shared what Dane said to him on the way to the locker room.
“I said to him, ‘Man, you kinda took it to your hometown guys,’ and he said, ‘Well, if I didn’t do well I couldn’t go home, but now I’m wondering if I can’t go home because I did so well.'”
Tressel, Pryor attempt to silence critics
Never had the quarterback sneak been as popular with fans as it was this past week with Buckeye fans. With many calling into question Tressel’s decisions to hand the ball off in the backfield rather than plowing ahead with Pryor for short yardage on third and fourth downs against USC, the Toledo game likely came as a relief to many.
The Buckeyes converted a third-and-one early in the game on a quarterback keeper, and then Pryor put it in the end zone on the same play in the third quarter.
Tressel appeared frustrated early in the week when asked about the messages he’d been sent from fans calling into question his play calling. But after a big win on Saturday, he was able to find humor in the situation.
“You guys brought up all that stuff about e-mails, well a lot of those e-mails were from my offensive staff, so they must have gotten their point across” he joked.
As for Terrelle Pryor, he seemed to play more like the dual-threat quarterback that showed so much promise a year ago, as he finished the day with a career-high 262 yards passing and three touchdowns, to go along with his 110 yards and a score on the ground.
But he also had two interceptions on throws that had the stadium groaning before they ever entered a Rocket defender’s hands.
Tressel said it was something Pryor would have to work on, but the mistakes could be largely attributed to an aggressive Toledo defense.
“He knows he has to eliminate turnovers,” Tressel said. “They [Toledo] were a hard team to read. They were blitzing nearly every down from all over the place.”
Although he made a couple poor decisions, Pryor and the rest of the offense stepped up on third downs, which plagued them against USC, converting 11 of 17.
Regardless of success or failure, Pryor insists he and the team haven’t let the fans or media get into their heads.
“We don’t pay attention to the criticism,” he said. “We love you guys, but we don’t listen to you.”
Coming into the game, Toledo was averaging 42.5 points per game to go along with their nearly 560 yards of offense per game. On Saturday, they left Cleveland Brown’s stadium with no points and only 210 total yards.
A big key to containing the Rocket’s explosive offense was the Buckeyes’ pass rush, which pressured and knocked around senior quarterback Aaron Opelt, preventing Toledo from ever finding the rhythm that its no-huddle system relies on.
“We got guys up front that can play, and we roll them in [and out] and keep them fresh” Tressel said.
One of those guys up front is senior captain Doug Worthington.
“It means a lot to our defense to get a shutout,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t get over that loss [to USC] and we were still a little bitter, so we needed to get on the field and play to get over it.”
Tressel says most of the important bounce back performance by OSU on Saturday can be attributed to the stellar defensive performance.
“When you swarm on defense like we do, it gives the offense a few more opportunities as well,” he said.
That trend will need to continue as the Buckeyes enter conference play.
“We all know we have a long way to go and the Big Ten begins now,” said Tressel. “But I thought our kids stepped up today and took a step towards that decision that they’d like to be a good team.”