COLUMBUS – No. 8 Ohio State’s game at Indiana on Saturday is not expected to be one of the tougher tests on the Buckeyes’ football schedule.
But it is a required test and it will count in the Buckeyes’ final grade at the end of the season.
Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) has exceeded expectations in some areas and disappointed in others so far in Urban Meyer’s first season as coach.
It’s only mid-term, but here’s a look at how OSU has graded out so far this season:
[subhead or bf]Quarterback
Braxton Miller was on almost no one’s preseason list of Heisman Trophy candidates. Now try to find one without him.
Miller is that rare mega-recruit who turns out to be as good as advertised and does it early in his career. He is a playmaker so talented that even though opposing defenses are set up to stop him, he still frustrates them. He has four games of more than 100 yards rushing already this season.
His passing has improved since last season, but it is still his feet which make him outstanding.
[bf] Grade: A
[subhead or bf]Running Backs
Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall, when healthy, are capable backs. Hyde runs with power and gets yards after contact. Hall has some speed and can catch a pass. Both have missed time with injuries and the timing of Hall’s return from his latest problem, a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament, is uncertain.
However, neither is the kind of dynamic back you would think Ohio State would recruit, but hasn’t for the last 10 or 15 years. Sophomore Rod Smith has worked his way up to getting occasional carries and true freshman Bri’onte Dunn apparently has not impressed the coaches enough to get onto the field.
[bf] Grade: B-
[subhead or bf]Wide Receiver
Corey Brown (35 catches) and Devin Smith (19 catches) have combined for 79 percent of the catches and yards by OSU’s wide receivers in the first half of the season. No other wide receiver has caught a pass in the last two games. So, like at running back, there is not great depth when it comes to playmakers.
Smith is a threat to appear on ESPN’s highlights any game, but still needs to cut down on the number of games where he disappears. Brown, whose 10.1 yards per catch doesn’t quite match up with his speed, has been prodded by Meyer to look for more yards after the catch.
Jake Stoneburner seems to be caught in between being a tight end and a wide receiver and has gone three games without a catch.
[subhead or bf]Offensive Line
Lindsay Lohan would pay a public relations firm big money to repair her reputation as fast as OSU’s offensive line has changed the perceptions surrounding it.
Six games into the season, they’re hearing Meyer say they’re playing about as well as any line he has been around. Back in the spring, he referred to them as “non-functional.”
Returning starters left tackle Jack Mewhort and left guard Andrew Norwell, along with center Corey Linsley, have been solid. Reid Fragel has made the transition to offensive tackle from tight end quickly and right guard Marcus Hall is noticeably improved.
Keeping the starters healthy is a concern because the back-ups are freshmen.
[bf] Grade: B+
[subhead or bf]Defensive Line
Ohio State’s defensive line was expected to be one of the strengths of the team but it has not turned out that way so far.
Injuries have played a role in that. End John Simon has battled several injuries and Michael Bennett, expected to start at the other end, missed the first four games with a groin injury. Also, Adam Bellamy’s decision to give up football subtracted a returning starter.
Johnathan Hankins has played at a level that validates projections he could be a first-round NFL draft choice. Simon was the healthiest he has been all season in a 63-38 win over Nebraska last week and it showed when he had two quarterback sacks and five tackles for losses.
[bf] Grade: B
[subhead or bf]Linebackers
Ryan Shazier’s sophomore season is a lot like his freshman year. Even though he is a bit undersized, he stands out by getting to the ball and making plays. Unfortunately, that makes him unique among OSU’s linebackers. At least when it comes to the play making part.
Etienne Sabino, who was steady but not spectacular, will be out at least three weeks with a broken bone is his leg. Storm Klein has become a starter because of Sabino’s injury and because he is outplaying recruiting service favorite Curtis Grant, who was expected to emerge this year but hasn’t. Behind them, it’s freshmen.
[bf] Grade: C
[subhead or bf]Defensive Backs
The good news is that Ohio State leads the Big Ten with 10 interceptions and the six passing touchdowns it has allowed is fewer than all but three Big Ten defenses have given up.
The bad news is that the defensive backfield has been vulnerable to big plays and has had problems with tackling at times. Cornerbacks Bradley Roby (2 interceptions) and Thomas Howard (3 interceptions) and safety Christian Bryant have been the best of this group.
[subhead or bf]Special Teams
Statistically, the number that stands out is that OSU has attempted only two field goals. Over the previous 10 years, Buckeyes kickers have averaged 24 field goal attempts per season.
Ohio State has blocked a punt and had a punt blocked. Corey Brown returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown against Nebraska and OSU has not allowed a kick return for a score.
Overall, the Buckeyes have more pluses than minuses. But special teams are a point of emphasis with Meyer, so he is looking for more.
[subhead or bf]Coaching
Any complaints about Urban Meyer? Anyone? I didn’t think so.
Meyer’s first six games as Ohio State’s coach have been everything OSU could have hoped for when it hired him. Smartest guy in the room, coolest guy in the room. Already owns the career record for the use of the word “dude” by a Buckeyes football coach.
He has also made some great hires on his staff who have brought in a much-needed new approach. There have been big improvements in the offensive line and in Miller’s passing. And there have been several nice mid-game adjustments when something wasn’t working.