Tuesday, November 05, 2013


By Bill Livingston, The Plain Dealer

November 3, 2013

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The missing man not only showed up Saturday, but Jeff Heuerman also jumped over one tackler, rocked another when he landed, and made you wonder how, exactly, Purdue lost track of a 6-6, 252-pound guy with a trackman’s instincts and a bronco-buster’s appetite for contact.

Heuerman caught five passes for more yards (116) than any Ohio State tight end in more than a generation. The last previous time an Ohio State tight end had a 100-yard game was in 1996, when Rickey Dudley, a former Brown, caught 104 yards worth of passes in the Citrus Bowl against Tennessee.

Thirty years ago, tight end John Frank recorded 130 yards against Michigan.

Heuerman’s game was enough to compete as a spectacle with the fall foliage outside Ross-Ade Stadium and to shame both the beleaguered Purdue defense and the Ohio State coaches who had mislaid such a weapon.

It could be argued, however, that the missing man could have been anyone wearing a black helmet for Purdue on defense. If the helmets were supposed to make the Boilermakers look sinister, with the connotation of black-hatted villains and all that, they failed as dismally as everything else the Boilermakers tried. Ohio State beat Purdue like the home team's band beat the world's biggest drum, 56-0.

Tight end is a position that has been neglected for years at OSU. The drought encompassed such players as Ben Hartsock, who, after Michael Jenkins caught the 37-yard "Holy Buckeye" touchdown pass from Craig Krenzel to Michael Jenkins on fourth-and-1 against Purdue during the national championship season of 2002, blurted out: "You mean that was fourth down?"

And it included Ryan Hamby, who bobbled not once, but twice, the short pass in the end zone, which, until Hamby finally dropped it, might have beaten national champion Texas in 2005.

And it included five years of broken game-plan promises to Jake Stoneburner.

There was the occasional flash, such as when Jake Ballard went up among a Nike bad-taste catalogue of bizarrely clad Oregon Ducks and hauled down Terrelle Pryor's third-and-13, "here's-hoping" lob for a 24-yard gain in one of the biggest plays in the 2010 Rose Bowl victory. But Ballard's catch left you wondering what might have been at Ohio State with more involvement of the big, rangy target a tight end presents.

Perhaps that was because Ohio State under Jim Tressel used slot receivers like St. Ignatius' Anthony Gonzalez and Toledo's Dane Sanzenbacher to beat linebackers over the middle.

Perhaps it was because Pryor's floater to Ballard was an anomaly. Customarily, he threw infield practice at the ankles of big receivers on shallow crosses.

"They play too high and forget about the tight end," assessed quarterback Braxton Miller, who burned Purdue for the first of his four touchdown passes with a 40-yard throw to Heuerman, who was as open as Purdue's defense was confused.

One of Heuerman's catches was for no gain. Otherwise, the next-shortest one he caught, for 18 yards on third-and-eight in the second quarter, caused the most commotion. The leaping Heuerman's knee registered a knockdown of cornerback Antoine Lewis as he closed for the tackle.

"I'm going to tell him to cut that out. He's too big," said Miller.

"Coach Mick (strength coach Mickey Marotti) told me I looked athletic," said Heuerman, smiling. "I knew we had to get that third down. I wasn't quite aware of where we were at."

Actually, he had left the first-down sticks in the rear-view mirror long before he went all Peyton Hillis – up, up and away.

"A lot of guys have been coming after my legs so I just gave it a little jump, trying to get a few extra yards," Heuerman said.

Coach Urban Meyer said the game was due to Heuerman's improvement, while being pushed for playing time by backup Nick Vannett, who also caught a Miller touchdown pass.

"When you play with extended receivers, more than one, more than two, the defense dictates where the ball goes," said Meyer. "Push the fast rewind button one year ago against the same team (a 29-22 comeback victory by OSU in overtime). Who are you going to throw the ball to? Now you got five, six targets you actually want to see with the ball in their hands, and they've earned that right."

Heuerman gave due consideration to this upbeat assessment of personal improvement, then declined to go there.

"I don't think its me as much as the other guys. You see Devin Smith running around and me in the flat," he said, mentioning one of the Buckeyes fastest flyers outside freshman Dontre Wilson. "Who are you going to cover?"

Hint: Cover the tight end, too.You'll regret it if you don't.

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