Well Buckeye fans, we are halfway home to the end of the 2011 season. Standing at 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the B1G, this year has been some dizzying highs (winning the Sugar Bowl) and far too many lowest of lows. The real question is where the Ohio State Buckeyes grade out for the first half of the season and keys to improvement. Players and coaches will be broken down and evaluated on their performance so far. So, listen up scarlet and gray clad coaches and players. Professor Schmidbauer is here to hand out some first half grades.
Breakdown: Anyone wondering what kind of faith the offensive coaches had in Braxton
Miller got a pretty good idea as to how much last Saturday in Champaign. The play as a whole has been pretty poor sans two games for the Buckeye signal callers. Joe Bauserman’s initial start against Akron was a solid debut for the resident geriatric of Ohio State. Braxton Miller’s first start against the Colorado Buffaloes was a nice debut as well. The rest of the performances have been lackluster, and I think we would all agree that is putting it kindly. Now the team is officially Miller’s and it seems like the Buckeyes can ride him as far as the freshman can carry them, well assuming there is not a strong wind anyway.
Area to Improve: If there is one key to the Buckeye season reaching eight or, dare I say, nine wins, it has to be the passing game. Ohio State proved you can win a game by only completing one pass, but it goes without saying we don’t want to see if the team can accomplish that feat again. Braxton Miller has not been able to consistently make throws in big spots in games yet, and opponents know that. You can believe that a serviceable passing will be a necessity to reach a New Year’s Day bowl game.
A “C-” may seem generous but really Miller’s game against Nebraska, Colorado, and Illinois (he didn’t turn the ball over) make this a step below a middle of the road game.
Breakdown: The Buckeyes have already used four different running backs this season,
and all have had some varying degree of success. The addition of Boom Herron back after suspension means this team might have one of the deepest stable of backs in the B1G. While the Buckeyes haven’t run over the opposition this season in every game, the group has been fairly effective. Only two moments stand out that this group has made a costly mistake or not played well (fumble against Toledo by Rod Smith and MSU game).
Area to Improve: Depth is going to be the biggest key. Herron’s rested legs should be a big boost the remaining portion of the season, but guys like Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall can’t become complacent throughout the remainder of the season. With a young quarterback, the remaining five (hopefully six) ball games will hinge in large part to the degree of success the running backs have in those ball games.
I think anything less than this grade is a crime to the group. Ohio State has been known as “Tailback U” for some time now, and we can see why in 2011.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Breakdown: Arguably the most inexperienced position on this team, the receivers have shown flashes of what is to come. No matter how bright the future may be with this group, the present has been nearly as pretty. Losing Posey has shown how crucial of a role he played on the offense. Evan Spencer and Devin Smith have played well for freshman just getting their first taste of college gridiron action, but neither has been consistent yet. Verlon Reed was an early favorite target but his knee injury has sidelined the former high school QB for the remainder of 2011. Jake Stoneburner has seemed to be the only saving grace in the receiving core. He seems to be the only Buckeye who can score consistently, and the junior has been an early nominee for the Mackey Award due to his play.
Area to Improve: Consistency will need to get better as the season wears on. There is plenty of raw talent on this team, but Devin Smith catches a couple of touchdowns against the Buffaloes and hasn’t been heard from since. Stoney has not been lights out week in and week out. The Buckeyes have gotten Corey “Philly” Brown back from a high ankle sprain, and he may be the go to receiver the Buckeyes have been lacking.
While they haven’t been great, they have been serviceable. Spencer’s one handed catch against the Zips will be a highlight for years to come. Their inability to get open in crucial passing situations will need to get better.
Breakdown: The offensive line was supposed to be the strength of this team.
Unfortunately it hasn’t been a strength consistently. Things seem to be looking up after the past two games. The line looked much better against Nebraska and Illinois after getting their butt kicked by Sparty. The line seems to be lacking a true star, but Brewster and Shugarts held their own until Adams returned from suspension. Adams has seemed to have added some stability to the left side of the line, and the Buckeyes will have a consistent look the rest of the season barring any kind of injury.
Area to Improve: This unit needs to be more fundamentally sound. It is imperative to make sure that the line continues to play sound football. With an inexperienced core of receiver needing extra time to get open and an inexperienced quarterback that needs extra time to make a decision, the offensive line can’t get beat on the pass rush.
It is hard to excuse what happened against the Spartans, but maybe it was the motivation this unit needed to have a strong finish this year.
Breakdown: For my money, this is best unit on the team. All during camp we heard how talented and deep this defensive line is, and for the most part we have seen it every game. John Simon is still a beast and Johnathan Hankins is a future star. The unit has made big plays all season long, and without them, it would be hard to see this football team over the .500 mark right now. This line does miss Nathan Williams who had micro fracture surgery and is done for 2011. It will be interesting to see if the staff considers a medical redshirt for Williams this season. He would be beast off the edge next year after Simon graduates.
Area to Improve: As with any young unit, consistency is always an area of concern. The unit hasn’t garnered a ton of sacks, and they have disappeared late in ballgames due to fatigue. Games against running quarterbacks are upcoming, and the Buckeye defensive line will need to play big in those games.
The best unit on the team has been the heart of the defense.
Breakdown: Coming into the season, the linebacking core was supposed to be the
seasoned on the defense. While this may be true, it is clear that this group may not be as talented as other groups we have seen in previous seasons in Columbus. Andrew Sweat and Storm Klein are hardworking and hard hitting, but they just aren’t as athletic as guys like James Laurinaitis and Brian Rolle. Etienne Sabino seems to have lost a step after his redshirt season. A young stud in the group has been Ryan Shazier, but it hard to see him becoming an every down player the rest of the season.
Area to Improve: Pass coverage has been this unit’s Achilles heel. Game against Miami, Nebraska, and Toledo showed that this unit does not have a lockdown cover linebacker. Sweat and Klein are not fleet of foot. Sabino would be the logical choice to fulfill this role, but he has not been able to step up and oblige this unit.
Maybe a little generous here, but the linebackers have played well in stretches this season.
Breakdown: This group reminds me a lot of the Buckeye receivers. There is so much raw talent, but there isn’t much experience. There is only one senior in the two deep in the secondary, and experience wise Tyler Moeller doesn’t have a great deal of playing time due to injuries. This unit has played well, and their best game was last weekend against Illinois. Bradley Roby and Travis Howard could be a corner tandem that will be next season. CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant love to the lay the wood too. They have made their mistakes but this group should get better as the season winds down.
Area to Improve: Wrapping up when tackling. MaliBuckeye will tell you that it is clear the safeties can hit with the best of them, but a lack of wrapping the ball carrier has allowed extra yards and big plays. This unit can’t give up extra yardage.
This group has been good but not great.
Breakdown: The 2011 Buckeyes have learned from the mistake of last season and have done a great job on special teams. Drew Basil had a tough start to the year but has been solid as of late. Ben Buchanan might be the best punter Ohio State has had since BJ Sander. The return and coverage units have been great too. There hasn’t been on specialty touchdown given up, and the Buckeyes have had some big returns.
Area to Improve: This group needs to produce more big plays. I know there have been quite a few, but with a sputtering offense, a big return can change the momentum of a ball game.
Basil’s inconsistency early on is the main reason this is not an “A”.
Breakdown: This is a matter of opinion when it comes to evaluating the coaching staff. Coming into this season, 4-3 would have been seen as disappointment at the official midway point of the college football season. After watching this team, 4-3 seemed a bit more realistic. You can argue why the team struggled, but many will point to the stubbornness at the quarterback spot. Bauserman’s play warranted Braxton Miller starting a game way before the fourth week of the season, and his play against the Cornhusker had a large hand in the collapse in the second half. The total lack of adjustment in losses to Michigan State, Miami, and Nebraska is inexcusable. On the other side of the ball, the defense has been alright. They aren’t as stellar of a unit as in years past, but they kept the team in the Michigan State game and won the Illinois game. The defensive unit was porous against Nebraska and Miami, but one can argue it wasn’t all coaching.
Area to Improve: Creativity in the game plan is lacking. This staff has tried to do everything by the book, and it is clear how important Jim Tressel was to this coaching staff. Fickell needs to challenge his assistants to get creative. The young head coach needs to assert himself much more too. Fickell seems to be learning to be a head coach, and he looked like the better coach last weekend. The improvement needs to continue.
The poor offensive game play makes this a necessary grade. The defensive coaching hasn’t been good enough to warrant a higher grade.