Buckeyes senior QB goes from all-league to bench

Published 2:53 am Thursday, October 16, 2008

Todd Boeckman is trying hard to take the high road.

The sixth-year senior is clearly heartbroken and humiliated that he no longer has a role other than non-playing captain on the No. 12 Ohio State football team. A star a year ago who was first team All-Big Ten at quarterback, he now stands on the sideline wondering what went wrong.

‘‘I guess this hasn’t worked out the way I planned it,’’ he said on Tuesday night. ‘‘But if we’re still winning, I’m all for it.’’

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Four games into the season, after the offensive line had a sieve-like game in a 35-3 rout at then-No. 1 Southern California and Boeckman had to run for his life all night, coach Jim Tressel benched him and replaced him with true freshman Terrelle Pryor.

Boeckman was not told about the decision. He noticed he was getting fewer snaps in practice leading into the game against Troy, but neither Tressel nor any of the other coaches ever sat down with him and discussed the situation until a week or so later.

The Buckeyes (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) have won four in a row since the switch, against teams with a combined record of 14-10. Pryor has been just OK, passing for less than 100 yards in two of those games and under 150 in the other two.

The gifted freshman has shown an ability to run away from pressure when his protection fails. He has also made some bad decisions in terms of holding onto the ball, which is understandable for a quarterback with almost no experience reading college defenses or blitzes.

He’s been sacked 10 times in his four starts; Boeckman was sacked 13 times during the entire 12-game regular season last year.

Pryor will truly be tested over the next four weeks, when the Buckeyes face teams with a combined record of 21-5, starting with Saturday’s game at No. 20 Michigan State (6-1, 3-0).

Meanwhile, Boeckman watches from the sideline. He hasn’t played in the last two games. When Tressel was asked during his weekly news conference when he planned on getting Boeckman into a game, through clenched teeth he said, ‘‘You’ll know the moment it happens.’’

The Buckeyes didn’t score an offensive touchdown in their most recent game, a 16-3 win against Purdue last Saturday.

That led to speculation that maybe Boeckman might be reinserted into the lineup. But Tressel effectively said that would not be the case.

Boeckman chose not to be a distraction. He is gracious publicly about the move at quarterback and has tried hard to lend a helping hand to Pryor. He refuses to say anything negative about the guy ahead of him on the depth chart, or the guy in the sweater vest who is calling the shots.

‘‘When you’re on the sidelines, you always want to play. You always want to be that guy out there,’’ Boeckman said. ‘‘Terrelle is doing some good things out there. He’s getting better each and every week. I’m doing what I can. If my number’s ever called, I’m going to be there, ready to go.’’

Boeckman said his family is upset by his demotion. He said when he was booed for throwing an incompletion against Troy, it was harder on them than it was on him.

His teammates and fellow seniors recognize that Boeckman is struggling with his lack of playing time.

‘‘He’s definitely in a tough position, a senior captain and he loses his job,’’ tight end Jake Ballard said. ‘‘But we try to stay behind him, keep his head up and tell him to just keep fighting and working hard and everything will work out for itself.’’

Offensive tackle Alex Boone added, ‘‘I think he’s doing a great job in practice. If he were to be thrown into a game, he’d step right back in there. He’s the rock. It’d be great to see him back in there.’’

In the meantime, Boeckman quietly waits for another chance.

‘‘It hasn’t worked out the way I wanted it to, but like I said, we’re still winning and we’re getting the job done and he’s — I think, what is it, 4-0 now? — he’s 4-0 as a starter. I guess you can’t complain about that,’’ he said.