Jim Tressel went with the camouflage cargo pants and military-style cap Saturday at Ohio State’s annual Spring game, which was an interesting sartorial choice but perhaps not the most fitting.
Of course, there was merit in Tressel’s rare departure from his signature sweater vest, chiefly because the results displayed on the scoreboard concealed the truth of what transpired.
That’s a theme to which the head coach is apparently committed.
The offense emerged with a 52-27 victory in the scrimmage-style format, but don’t assume the Buckeyes were so explosive as to have no scoring concerns entering the fall.
That would be inaccurate, as anyone knows who watched the first-team offense go backwards on each of its first two possessions and move only minimally on each of its first four possessions against the starting defense.
Offensive points were awarded not just for trips to the end zone, but for field goals, long plays and first downs. A liberal dose of the possessions started deep in the defense’s territory, which allowed the final score to suggest that OSU is sitting on the second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf.
Instead, the initial touchdown came on the offense’s ninth try, when it finally victimized the second-team defense on a third straight series to start from the defense’s 25-yard line.
If only Ohio State can get the Big Ten to adopt those rules this fall, there will be no consequences for four offensive headliners sitting out the first five games for violating NCAA rules.
What’s more likely is that OSU will struggle to score without suspended quarterback Terrelle Pryor, whether it’s Joe Bauserman, Taylor Graham, Kenny Guiton or Braxton Miller under center.
That was the pecking order Saturday in the hunt for Pryor’s successor, which brings us to the other wardrobe choice Tressel could have made that might have been more appropriate.
Rather than dress like a soldier straight from the battlefields of the Middle East, the embattled OSU head coach could also have opted for the garb favored by a Las Vegas black-jack dealer.
After all, the way Tressel stacked the deck to make his offense look like it could distinguish its rear flank from a foxhole, it’s a wonder the NCAA doesn’t add that to its investigation.
Bauserman, the most experienced of the QB hopefuls, was often stuck behind the second-team offensive line with a walk-on tackle trying to block top pass-rusher John Simon.
That gave Bauserman plenty of chances to work on his scrambling, but few to look downfield without harassment.
He is, after all, a senior who Tressel undoubtedly wants to stay hungry and desperate enough to try to make up for his struggles (4-of-11, 42 yards, 1 TD) by camping in the video room this summer.
Graham, a redshirt freshman, threw the prettiest pass of the day on a 68-yard touchdown to T.Y. Williams. Tressel, though, was quick to humble the son of former Buckeye QB Kent Graham with the reminder that those five sacks the youngster suffered just won’t do.
Guiton was the star of the 2010 spring game and the guy fans clamored for last season when Bauserman relieved an injured Pryor at Illinois and threw an ugly interception.
Now Guiton is the likely odd man out, given that he has a similar skill set as Miller without the Ohio pedigree and mammoth advance billing.
Tressel has already said Pryor, who could not practice this spring because of an injury, will get plenty of snaps in the first 10 of OSU’s 29 fall practices before its season opener.
That leaves 19 workouts to get a quarterback ready for Sept. 3 against Akron, which admittedly is probably 18 more than OSU would need.
But, a fuss-budget like Tressel can’t have Pryor eating up too many practices, and the coach clearly can’t piecemeal the repetitions equally among four possible successors before the Zips hit town.
Somebody has to fall out, or be pushed out, of the competition based on spring ball, and Guiton is the leader in the clubhouse for that dubious honor.
It won’t be Bauserman, because he’s a senior and Tressel loves experience more than he does a good filibuster.
It won’t be Graham, because based upon Saturday he’s the only one of the quarterbacks with the ability to throw the ball downfield.
And is surely won’t be Miller, who early enrolled from Wayne High School in Huber Heights and bears the same hype Pryor brought to OSU four years ago.
Give it up for the kid, because Miller flashed enough foot speed and intermediate passing skills Saturday to make the loyalists salivate about the next four years.
But give it up to the old deck-stacker, too, for Tressel never once allowed his prized recruit to take even one solitary snap behind anything but the starting offensive line.
It’s not often the fourth-teamer gets that privilege, unless, of course, the coach wants to keep him interested over the summer and keep the veterans looking over their shoulder.
Miller showed some nifty awareness and elusiveness in driving his unit 95 yards for a touchdown, but it came against a handful of second-team defenders and some AYOs who won’t see the field this fall.
That‘s surely not to say Miller is overrated, just that it’s too early to tell whether he could stand up to the challenge of a viable Big Ten defense.
Assuming, of course, there is such a thing outside of Columbus.
Miller finished 7-of-12 for 73 yards, with his longest completion going for 20 yards to DeVier Posey. Posey won’t be there the first five games in the fall if Miller is the QB. Neither will the defense Miller faces be playing an entire secondary of guys who haven’t seen the field yet for their first collegiate snap, as was the case on the aforementioned pass to Posey.
Tressel showed one final card trick up his sleeve, calling an immediate halt to the proceedings when Bauserman tossed a 16-yard touchdown to Ross Ryan.
That left every quarterback with one scoring pass and zero interceptions, affording the coach no discernable statistical separation between the quarterbacks for media and fans to obsess over.
That fed perfectly into Tressel’s post-scrimmage assessment that the true heir to Pryor will show himself this summer in how he devotes himself to voluntary workouts.
“I’m not worried about what lies forward,“ Tressel said.
He was, however, talking about his date with NCAA investigators, not the five games OSU must play with a quarterback still to be determined.