December 4, 2012

Ohio State offense final grades

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Two months ago, at what was at the time a 6-0 season for the Ohio State football team, we handed out midterm grades for the Buckeyes' offensive position groups. With six more games- all OSU victories- now in the books, here's a look at the final grades that we've assessed to the Buckeyes' offense at the end of their 12-0 perfect season.


Midterm grade: A-

Final grade: B+

There might not be a tougher position on the Ohio State roster to evaluate. On the one hand, sophomore signal-caller Braxton Miller is the undisputed MVP of the Buckeyes' perfect season, breaking the school's single season record for total offense with 3,310 yards, adding 28 total touchdowns to his season stat line.

On the other, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year admittedly didn't improve as a passer as much as first-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer would have liked him to, completing just 58.3 percent of his pass attempts and throwing for 15 touchdowns- just slight improvements from the 54.1 completion percentage and 13 passing touchdowns that Miller posted in his freshman season. Those numbers may have been good enough to lead the Buckeyes to an undefeated season this year, but if Miller's going to maintain his Heisman Trophy candidacy for an entire season, it'll be imperative for him to improve as a passer in the offseason.

Behind Miller, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton proved his worth to the team in the Buckeyes' eight win of the season, and did so by doing more than holding a clipboard. With Miller on his way to the hospital after suffering an upper body injury in the third quarter of OSU's Oct. 20 matchup with Purdue, Guiton led the Buckeyes to an overtime victory over the Boilermakers, which included a 61-yard drive in the final minute of regulation to tie the game. It was undeniably the shining moment of Guiton's college career, and one that left OSU fans confident that the senior-to-be can help lead the Buckeyes to victory should Miller miss any playing time in 2013.

Cardale Jones took a redshirt in his freshman season.

Running backs

Midterm grade: B-

Final grade: A-

While stellar quarterback play stole the show for the Buckeyes in the first half of the season, it was the running backs that ended the year as the heart, soul, and identity of the OSU offense- particularly running back Carlos Hyde, who posted 970 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns while playing in just 9.5 games of his junior season. Should Hyde return for his senior season as he's expected to, the Buckeyes will likely continue with the ground and pound out of the spread style that they adopted, ending the regular season as college football's 10th best rushing team.

The OSU run game was also aided by the emergence of Rod Smith, who due to injuries, went into the final two games of the season as Hyde's lone backup. Although he still showed a propensity for fumbling the ball, Smith showed plenty of flashes in his sophomore season, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and hauling in a 51-yard touchdown reception against Illinois.

Playing in just three games before suffering a partially torn PCL, Jordan Hall never really got to excel in the role that caused Meyer to name him the team's No. 1 playmaker after spring ball, and is expected to take a medical redshirt and return for his fifth year at Ohio State in 2013.

After not recording a carry for seven consecutive weeks, freshman Bri'onte Dunn was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week in the Buckeyes' Nov. 3 win over Illinois for his 73-yard, one-touchdown effort, but did not play in either of OSU's final two wins over Wisconsin or Michigan due to an injury.

True freshman Warren Ball took a redshirt this year, while recovering from a foot injury.

Wide receivers

Midterm grade: B+

Final grade: B-

A group that was much maligned in 2011 after no player caught more than 14 balls for the Buckeyes, the OSU receivers showed undeniable improvement in 2011, but not enough for it to be considered a strength of the team quite yet.

Corey Brown led the way for the Buckeyes, hauling in 60 receptions for 669 yards and three touchdowns, but didn't always show the ability to break big plays like teammate Devin Smith.

Comparatively, Smith caught 30 balls for 618 yards and six touchdowns, but only once recorded more than two receptions in a game in the second half of the season. Meyer and the OSU coaches would like to see either Brown match his consistency with Smith's explosiveness or vice-versa, but it's hard to deny the the Buckeyes' receivers aren't in a better place than they were a year ago.

Outside of Brown and Smith, Jake Stoneburner, Evan Spencer, Michael Thomas, and Chris Fields all showed flashes of being legitimate third weapons for Miller, but none of them did so on a consistent basis.

Perhaps the one area in the OSU passing game that improved the most was the play of the tight ends, where Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett combined for 17 receptions, 217 yards, and one touchdown.

Offensive line

Midterm grade: B+

Final grade: A

When we last evaluated the Buckeyes' offensive line, it was at a crossroads. The unit had just played two of its best games of the season in wins over Michigan State and Nebraska, but one-sixth of the season wasn't nearly enough to determine whether or not OSU's offensive front five was legit or not.

It turns out, it was.

The Buckeyes' line was arguably its most consistent strength throughout the 2012 season, paving the way to OSU's No. 10 nationally-ranked rushing offense. Guard Andrew Norwell was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, while left tackle Jack Mewhort, center Corey Linsley, and right tackle Reid Fragel all fit in nicely while playing new roles in 2012.

If there was one problem throughout the season with the OSU offensive line, it was its depth- or lack thereof- but none of the Buckeyes' five starters missed any significant time, and Meyer mentioned Taylor Decker and Chase Farris as reserves who were beginning to come into their own.

With only Fragel slated to graduate from this year' bunch, 2013 should be another bright year for the Buckeyes' line, with Decker expected to step into the spot that he was beat out for during OSU's fall camp.


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