As the regular season wraps up and the No.2-ranked Ohio State football team (12-0, 8-0) prepares for the postseason along with a potential shot at the national title, here are The Lantern’s grades for the offensive units during the regular season.
It is hard to grade the quarterbacks too harshly when they have led the Buckeyes to their second straight undefeated regular season and a spot in the Big Ten Championship. But in the final half of the season, the passing game has taken a step back. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller was hot heading into the second half of the year, and managed to throw for more than 200 yards for four straight games in the middle of the year, but since his 233-yard performance against Purdue Nov. 2, Miller’s highest total is 160 yards through the air. As his passing game has slipped, he has also seen his numbers rushing sky rocket, tallying an average of 160.3 yards per game over the last three games of the year. With a big test in No. 10 Michigan State looming, pressure will be on Miller to keep up his great rushing numbers and pick his game up through the air to keep the undefeated season alive. Backup redshirt-senior Kenny Guiton did not see the field much in the second half of the season, but if his play in place of Miller when he was out with an injury is any indication of his ability, OSU fan’s shouldn’t worry when he comes on the field.
Running backs: A+
Academically, OSU doesn’t hand out an A+ grade, but it is hard to argue that the Buckeye running backs don’t deserve the highest grade possible. Since returning from a three-game suspension that was the result of an incident at a Columbus bar in July, senior running back Carlos Hyde has been stellar and invaluable to the Buckeyes undefeated regular season. Since Big Ten play began, Hyde has averaged 156.1 yards per game on the ground, including 14 touchdowns. Hyde also tallied two games of more than 225 yards in OSU’s final three games, running for the third best total in school history, 246 yards, against Illinois and going for 226 against Michigan. Hyde is averaging the sixth most rushing yards per game and is 16th in the nation with 1290 total yards, and he is the first running back under coach Urban Meyer to run for more than 1,000 yards in a single season. Freshman running back Dontre Wilson also made an impact this season, scoring three total touchdowns, one rushing and two receiving, and returning kicks for the Buckeyes. Redshirt-senior Jordan Hall started the year as the feature back for OSU but took a backseat after a knee injury sidelined him and Hyde made his return. Hyde a faces his toughest test of the year Saturday against the Spartans, who sport the nation’s leading rush defense, but will look to extend his run of seven straight games with more than 100 yards.
Wide receivers and tight ends: C+
After a good start to the season, the receiving corp has had a rough go of it in recent weeks, partially because of Miller’s struggles through the air. After recording three or more catches in each of the first nine games, junior wide receiver Devin Smith has only managed one catch a game over the last three weeks. Although it helps that in each of the last two games that one catch has been for a long touchdown, Smith will need to find his midseason form against the Spartans to help the Buckeyes. Senior Corey “Philly” Brown has also struggled in recent weeks, only tallying two catches for six yards over the last two games. The lone bright spot for the Buckeyes recently has been the emergence of junior tight end Jeff Heuerman. With the exception of a no catch game against Illinois Nov. 16, Heuerman has been playing well lately, catching nine passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns in OSU’s last four games. Although Miller hasn’t been at his best as of late, the wide receivers will also need to step up their games for the Buckeyes to be successful against Michigan State Saturday.
Offensive line: A
This should be an A+, it should, but I couldn’t justify giving a perfect grade to the offensive line when it seems that without redshirt-senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, the Buckeyes are a different team. When Mewhort went down with an injury against Illinois, the Illini defense, which ranks 112th in the country in total yards allowed per game, began to bottle up a potent Buckeye rushing attack. Even with Hyde and Miller in the game, the departure of Mewhort hurt significantly for OSU, and it is never good to be heavily reliant on just one player. Still, this season, the offensive line has been perhaps the strongest unit on the team all season. With Mewhort in the game, senior left guard Andrew Norwell, redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley and sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker, OSU is in good hands. Even when redshirt-senior right guard Marcus Hall was ejected from the victory against Michigan, redshirt-freshman Pat Elflein came in and played well in the trenches. The ability of the offensive line is one of the Buckeyes’ top assets this year and could be the difference against a powerful Michigan State front seven.