Sunday, April 25, 2004

Zwick holds slight advantage as starting QB

Ohio State spring game

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - It was enlightening news to hear that when Ohio State's senior class held a "draft" last week to split the talent for the Buckeyes' annual spring game, Troy Smith was picked before fellow quarterback Justin Zwick.

The order may have been reversed had the Buckeyes been told of the game's format.

Coach Jim Tressel informed the team Saturday morning that plays would be blown dead when the QBs were touched, negating the scrambling ability in which Smith claims an advantage. As a result, Smith was limited in directing the Gray squad during its 13-0 loss to the Scarlet, and Zwick held onto the slim advantage Tressel had given him before spring practice.

"If the (first) game was today, probably Justin would start it and Troy would play significantly," Tressel said.

Smith had more total yards - including 105 yards rushing - the week prior in an intrasquad scrimmage, which was perhaps a more telling event since it pitted the first-team offense against the first-team defense and included no restrictions on tackling the QB.

Saturday, forced to stay in the pocket, Smith was "sacked" six times, finishing 7-of-15 for 53 yards. Zwick was 16-of-26 for 165 yards, and six of his eight drives ended in either a score or missed field goal.

"The (sack) restriction affected things a bit, since I'm a scrambler-type quarterback," Smith said.

Conspiracy theorists may claim Tressel added the restriction Saturday to make Zwick look better and give him a lead in the QB derby. Yet Tressel seemingly values a running presence at that position, like Craig Krenzel and Steve Bellisari gave him the past three years.

"We wanted to let them stand and deliver a bit," Tressel said.

Zwick benefited from an average field position of midfield. Until the last of Smith's six drives, when his squad took over at the Scarlet 1, his average field position was his own 25.

Also, with Maurice Hall rehabilitating after surgery on both knees, Roshawn Parker was the lead back for the Gray, and Parker went out early with a shoulder injury.

Zwick had to adjust to the quick-whistle rules, too, being "sacked" three times and having to throw the ball away on occasion.

The defensive play appeared strong, even with a few expected starters limited or out with injuries. The offenses combined to average just 3.0 yards per play.

The kicking game, though, was dreadful.

Josh Huston (Scarlet) was 2-of-5 on field goals, including misses from 23 and 24 yards - the latter was blocked - and had his only punt attempt blocked. He won't unseat Mike Nugent as kicker, but he was thought to have a slight lead in a wide-open punting competition.

A.J. Trapasso and J.D. Bergman also had punts blocked. That's four blocks on the day.

"When you start diluting a team that's not even a full team (lacking its incoming freshmen), where you're going to have breakdowns is often on special teams," Tressel said. "I feel good about the blocks perspective, not as good about the (protection) perspective."

Five punters combined for a 24.7-yard average on nine punts.



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