October 9, 2012

Midterm grades: The Ohio State offense

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State football team is just six weeks into the Urban Meyer Era, and its offense may just now be scratching its surface. Instead of taking our weekly look at the state of the Buckeyes' offense, this week we'll hand out midterm grades for each OSU position as they head into the second half of what is currently an undefeated season.

Quarterbacks: A-

Between turning Alex Smith into a No. 1 overall pick, Chris Leak into a national championship winner, and Tim Tebow into a Heisman Trophy winner and first round pick, Meyer has a history of transforming quarterbacks under his guidance, and this season hasn't been any different.

In his first six games under Meyer, Braxton Miller has emerged as arguably the No. 2 favorite to win this season's Heisman Trophy, trailing only West Virginia's Geno Smith in most midseason surveys. The sophomore quarterback has gone from an athlete playing quarterback (and arguably, an athlete just taking snaps) to a full-fledged quarterback in Meyer's spread offense, throwing for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns, while completing 61 percent of his passes.

As a runner, Miller has become one of the most dynamic players in the nation, accumulating 763 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, while gaining an average of 7.2 yards per carry. Meyer would still like Miller to find more consistency throwing the ball, but given his dual-threat nature and penchant for making big plays with both his arm and legs, it's hard to imagine that he would trade him for any other play in the nation.

As a backup, Kenny Guiton has filled in admirably in limited action for Miller, helping complete scoring drives against both Michigan State and Nebraska in the past two weeks.

Running backs: B-

Ohio State's running back position hasn't been an easy one to figure out this season, mostly because injuries have prevented the unit from being at full strength for an entire game all year.

Playing in just half of the Buckeyes' games this season, Jordan Hall has rushed for 218 yards and a touchdown, but he's currently week-to-week after suffering a partial tear to his PCL against Michigan State. After being named by Meyer as the team's No. 1 playmaker exiting spring practice, one has to wonder if the senior running back will be fully healthy at any point this season.

Fortunately for Meyer, Carlos Hyde has stepped up in his junior season, but like Hall, he's dealt with injuries of his own. Due to a sprained MCL, Hyde missed the Buckeyes' battles with California and UAB, but he's rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns- including 140 yards and four scores agains Nebraska- in the Buckeyes' other four games.

Behind Hyde and Hall, Rod Smith has emerged as the Buckeyes' clear-cut No. 3 running back, rushing for 88 yards and two touchdowns in limited action. The redshirt sophomore running back has received high praise from Meyer for his maturity throughout the season, and figures to remain a factor in the Buckeyes' plans moving forward.

Meyer would like to see similar growth from true freshman Bri'onte Dunn, who has gained 60 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries, but has not received a carry since OSU's second game of the season.

Wide receivers: B+

After receiving almost nothing but criticism from Meyer throughout the offseason, at least two Ohio State wide receivers have stepped their games up this season, but the position is still lacking depth.

Corey Brown has emerged as Miller's go-to guy, hauling in 35 catches after recording just 14 receptions in all of 2011. Meyer would like Brown to become more of a threat to make plays in the open field, and his 76-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Huskers last Saturday proved that he's certainly capable of providing just that.

Although he's caught 16 fewer passes than Brown, Devin Smith has emerged as the Buckeyes' deep threat, as seen evident by the fact that he's gained just one receiving yard less than Brown, accumulating 351 yards on 19 catches. Smith has also caught two game-winning scores this season, catching long touchdown passes to help beat both California and Michigan State.

Other receivers on the OSU roster, however, have not enjoyed the same success as Brown and Smith. Jake Stoneburner has caught seven passes for three touchdowns on the year, but hasn't caught a ball in the team's last three games. Evan Spencer has caught just five balls on the year, and Verlon Reed and Michael Thomas each have one catch to their credit.

The OSU offense would benefit greatly from the emergence of a third receiver, but if they don't tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett could find themselves becoming bigger parts of the Buckeyes' game plan moving forward.

Offensive line: B+

Aside from Miller, there hasn't been a bigger star for the Buckeyes in the past three weeks than the offensive line.

After allowing just one sack to Michigan State in an effort that earned it OSU's offensive player of the week award, the Buckeyes' offensive line led the way for a 371-yard rushing attack against Nebraska, and again received praise from Meyer for accelerating the growth of the OSU offense.

With four players playing positions that they weren't playing a season ago, this unit has gelled faster than anybody could have expected, especially at right tackle where former tight end Reid Fragel is emerging as one of the Buckeyes' top lineman. Meyer would still like to see more consistency from center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall, but it's hard to view the play of the OSU offensive line as anything but a positive at this point in the year.


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