Boeckman, Flynn bring leadership, not star power to QB position
NEW ORLEANS -- If Ohio State and LSU had reached the BCS National Championship Game a year ago, the matchup of quarterbacks would have set a Division I-A record for hype. The Buckeyes' Troy Smith had won the Heisman. The Tigers' JaMarcus Russell had won the hearts of NFL scouts, as the Oakland Raiders would prove with the first pick of the NFL draft.
A year later, the matchup of quarterbacks is between LSU's Matt Flynn, 22, and Ohio State's Todd Boeckman, 23, both of whom waited for four years to get their shot. (Boeckman is a grayshirt junior: He graduated from Ohio's St. Henry High in 2003, but didn't enroll full time until January 2004 and then redshirted.)
Five of the last six Heisman winners have played quarterback in the BCS Championship Game. If Boeckman's or Flynn's name appeared on any Heisman ballots, the voters kept that information to themselves. They are not the stars of their respective offenses. But they are the leaders. The road to the national championship does not always go through the Heisman, especially at Ohio State and LSU.
In 2002, the Buckeyes won the national championship with quarterback Craig Krenzel, a leader and a smart quarterback, but not a star.
In 2003, the Tigers won the national championship with quarterback Matt Mauck, ditto.
In 2007, they will be joined by either Flynn or Boeckman, who will compete in Monday's Allstate BCS National Championship Game. Both players played well, if not spectacularly, and both steered their teams through the upsets and upheaval of the 2007 season to the brink of the national championship.
"Not many teams have won a national championship without a quarterback that plays very well," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Does he have to have spectacular passing numbers? No, but he has to play well. He has got to be a leader. He has got to keep from giving the game away and make plays in big games to win. Usually, somewhere along the line, the quarterback is going to have to make some plays. He's going to have to complete a ball on third-and-13 or a fourth-and-4 situation, or, in the red zone, he's got to make a play running or throwing to score rather than kick a field goal."
Flynn completed 183-of-332 passes for 2,233 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His efficiency rating of 122.5 is average at best. His won-loss record is not. What's remarkable about his season is that, after four years in one system, he had to learn a different one installed by new LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.
Flynn said mastering the new offense has been "a lot of fun. We have so many gifted people on the offensive side of the ball, people that know what to do with the football. Coach Crowton has done such a good job of spreading the football to different guys. He just seems like coach Crowton doesn't have any fear at all. He's always willing to throw it deep, run a reverse or whatever it is. It's just a lot of fun."
The ability to spread the ball around has been beneficial in a couple of ways. One, it allowed Flynn to get his sea legs. Two, depth is underrated as a method of keeping guys out of the training room.
"That's one of the things that has really helped us win a lot of close games in the fourth quarter," Flynn said. "The guys carrying the ball have fresh legs because so many guys are touching the ball."
Flynn threw three interceptions in the second quarter against Alabama. He rebounded in the second half to throw two touchdown passes, the second a 32-yard strike to Early Doucet on fourth down, and lead LSU to a 41-34 comeback victory.
After the third interception, Crowton said he asked Flynn, " 'What are you thinking?'
"He said, 'I wish I had that one back.'
"I said, 'You got to put it behind you. If you can put it behind you, you can finish strong.'
"I said, 'Can you see the defense?'
"Do you know what they're doing?
"In the fourth quarter," Crowton said, "the drive where we went down and made it on fourth down, he was so calm. He wasn't worried."
That air of authority came through in the video studied by Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman.
"He hits his open receivers," Freeman said. "Most important, you see on film, a lot of people talk about [backup quarterback Ryan] Perrilloux is the runner. Matt Flynn makes a lot of plays with his legs, too. He definitely can run and run for the first down. He's a tough kid. You see his leadership when he's in the game. I think he plays with a lot of emotion. He's going to be a huge challenge of this team."
Boeckman made All-Big Ten as selected by the media. The coaches left him unchosen. He completed 175-of-273 passes for 2,164 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In the Buckeyes' 28-21 loss to Illinois, Boeckman threw three picks, two of them in the second half. Other than that stumble, he displayed remarkable poise -- especially for a guy who hadn't really played since 2002.
His goal when the season began sounded simple. "I wanted to be on the field and show I could lead the team," Boeckman said.
Being on the field isn't as easy as it sounds.
"It was tough at first," Boeckman said. "Going through four years of practice doesn't compare to game speed and the defense you're about to face. You never get hit. [Wearing] those different-colored jerseys in practice is definitely nice. There was one hit early in the game against Youngstown State. I threw a ball and just got decleated. I thought, 'Well, this is what college football is all about.'"
Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said Boeckman has been effective at throwing the deep ball, a skill that has paired nicely with the bullish tailbacking of sophomore Beanie Wells.
"Part of the biggest difference [this year] is not our quarterback. It's our receivers," Bollman said. "Everybody forgets we lost two first-round wide receivers [Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez] last year. We didn't use as much four-wide this year. We didn't use as much empty this year. Is that because of the quarterback? It's because of the receivers."
Junior wide receiver Brian Robiskie has been Boeckman's go-to target this season, leading the team with 50 catches, 885 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I felt comfortable with Todd ever since I've been here," Robiskie said. "He's been a guy who has always been able to throw a real catchable ball. He's always going to make the right throw. That's the biggest thing. He will sit back there and make his reads. He has great touch on his ball.
"Some quarterbacks see a guy open and try to fire it in there as fast as they can whether it may be across the middle or a hook route. With Todd, he kind of understands where you are in relation to the defense, as far as does he need to get it there on a rope or does he need to lay it up there and let you make a play. I think he has a real good idea of the kind of ball he should be throwing."
The analysis of both quarterbacks, by their teammates and the opposing defenses, is the same. They make good decisions. They lead. For one of them, that will be enough to make history.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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