Here we are, midway through the 2013 season. That means it’s time for an evaluation of this year’s performance — a mid-term report, if you will. You’d think that with the Buckeyes undefeated, this should be a fairly simple matter, but not so fast my friends.
I’ve asked our tBBC staff of football experts (there might be one or two, really) to evaluate five areas of team performance with a grade and commentary.
The five areas are: offensive line, offensive skill positions, defensive front seven, defensive secondary and coaching. Two areas where I could have broken the evaluation into “subgroups” were offensive skill positions and defensive front seven. Fortunately, several staffers broke these down in their evaluations, which you’ll see below.
We concluded there have been some pleasant surprises, some “OK, not bad” performances, and some disappointments. One thing I noticed in putting this together is the influence of preseason expectations upon our evaluation of a unit’s performance. Many years ago, a former co-worker advised me that “Expectation is the enemy of acceptance”. He’s probably right.
1. Offensive Line: Grade A-
The Staff was fairly consistent with this unit, with grades ranging from A to B-. We’re overall pleased with their improvement and performance.
Patrick: Other than Taylor Decker in week one, this unit has probably been the most consistent and obviously the strength of the team. Decker has made strides to improve and the running game is in high octane mode. Grade A
Scott: Not thrilled with false starts. Could have done better job pass blocking against Northwestern. Grade B+
WVa: This line has outperformed its opponents several times this season and Coach Meyer has put his faith in them as well. He’s made it clear he wanted an O-Line that could get a yard on fourth and one and this line has done that consistently save for a couple. They have worn out every front seven so far. Grade B+
Eric: Solid job so far. Both the run blocking and pass blocking have been superb this season. But there’s still significant room for improvement – particularly in blocking when the offense starts getting cute. Grade A-
Joe: Overall, I think it’s safe to say we’ve gotten what we’ve expected from this unit so far this season. There have been some points where it’s obvious there needs to be improvement, but overall this veteran unit is starting to come together. Especially on up the middle runs, where Carlos Hyde has also come into his own. Grade B
Mali: I’ve been really impressed with the work that the front has put in, a few false starts notwithstanding. Our offense works because they do- it was picked to be a strength for the season, and that’s certainly shown itself to be true. Grade A-
Ken: This unit has held up its end of the bargain. Once Taylor Decker got settled in, the line has been impressive. Their performance is really an enabler for the entire offense. Grade A
Charles: So far this group has done a good job, opening up some nice holes for the RBs and doing a pretty good job in pass protection. Not an elite level line yet but very solid. Grade A-
Jason: I give the offensive line a B- because of it’s slow start. And I’m tired of hearing how what’s his name from Buffalo is the next Lawrence Taylor. They have as of late been road grating and making holes for Carlos Hyde, so their on the way up. Grade B-
2. Offensive Skill positions: Grade B+
The Staff was pretty consistent on how we viewed the QB/RB/WR play so far this season. Since there are really three subgroups that were evaluated, the “expectation<>acceptance” influence may be in play here. As it probably should be.
Patrick: Had it not been for Kenny Guiton, this grade may have been lower. I’ve loved what I’ve seen from Hall, Hyde, Wilson, and Elliot. Hyde is paving his way for a early draft position and the play-making ability that Wilson and Elliot bring is incredible. The WR’s have been inconstant IMO. Philly has become a lot more constant as of late, but as a unit, I need more. Grade B-
Scott: I think they have done what’s expected. Grade A
WVa: Not entirely sure where we stand as far as the RBs go. All of a sudden we became a one horse show there and I am sure they know something we don’t. WRs have been a huge step up and the reason this isn’t a B- is because Braxton alone makes it an A. Grade A
Eric: They’re doing a much better job than they did last season, but with the weapons we have, we’re not executing as well as I expected preseason. The consistency is lacking. Grade B+
Joe: If you were to ask any fan this off-season about which position would be the weakest on the field out of this group, I imagine 98% of them wouldn’t have said wide receiver. Due to the emergence though of Philly Brown and Co. — It seems like this offense has more balance to it. Braxton Miller is still getting his feet wet since returning from injury, and the running back corps has been led by Carlos Hyde late. Besides the quarterback position, depth is still a concern — when it comes to on the field experience. Grade B+
Mali: Running Backs- B. Still room to grow, but the multiheaded attack has certainly created some long nights in the prep room for opposing defensive coordinators.
WR/TE- A. Not just in their increased productivity, but it’s been great to watch the “unrecognized” work they do as well- running routes cleanly, blocking downfield. Again, too many weapons is a good problem to have.
QB- B. This is a tough one, and is a problem that most teams in the country would love to have. I’m of the mindset that Guiton runs the offense better, but Braxton is the better “weapon”. That being said, Braxton’s continual mental mistakes on option reads (his first fumble should have been handed to Hyde), as well as his seeming tentativeness in running the football (compare Northwestern and Wisconsin game film from his freshman and sophomore years) keep the offense from running in its highest gear. His passing has improved dramatically, though… like I said, it’s a problem most teams would love to have. Grade B+
Ken: Despite Braxton’s injuries, the offense has performed, overall, up to my expectations and not quite up to their likely capabilities. The WR’s have emerged as a true strength of this offense, the RB’s about what I expected (very good) but the QB play has been spotty, although quite functional. Grade B+
Charles: Good performances so far from the running backs though a certain player still has fumble issues. Receivers have done a solid job and I love that they are getting involved in blocking down field; my favorite NFL receiver ever is Hines Ward because of how much I love receivers who block. The quarterbacks have been any interesting case. Kenny has certainly exceeded expectations and has shown that he can run the offense and make the proper reads. Braxton has been a bit of a disappointment; while he has gotten better at throwing the ball, he still needs to get better at making proper reads and he has looked hesitant the past two games. Grade B+
Jason: When Braxton Miller went down they didn’t miss a beat. Without Hyde for three weeks, they didn’t miss a beat. Grade B+
3. Defensive Front Seven: Grade B+
This is another group that was graded pretty well and within a narrow range by our Staff. The grading ranged from A- to B-. This unit was recognized for it’s inexperience, Shazier only returning starter, yet fairly high level of performance. The Staff also acknowledged the development of many talented linemen and the need for emergence of other playmakers at linebacker.
Patrick: Welcome to the show, Michael Bennett. The last two weeks, he and Joey Bosa have been men amongst boys. The rest of the group hasn’t exactly played bad, but can improve. Getting Schutt back in 2 weeks should help. Perry and Grant have to step up.
Scott: Youth is being served. Grade A-
WVa: I’m convinced the rotation of the front line on D is slowly becoming one of the better ones in the Nation. The not-so-much-of-a airports here is the emergence of a possible multiple AA in Joey Bosa. I knew he’d be a great addition and almost made us forget about Washington. Bennett Spence Hale Carter all are giving lines fits. The LB position brings this unit down for the time being. No depth and Shazier currently is the lone star. Grade B-
Eric: It’s too bad we’re lumping the D-Line with the Linebackers. The D-Line grades to an A-, Linebackers to a C+. In all this is the unit of strength for the defense, and that is a pleasant surprise. Grade B
Joe: Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence and the rest of the very young front line have certainly been impressive this season. Despite not being able to get a ton of pressure in the backfield, they have stepped up in terms of executing the game plan every week.
Same goes for the linebackers. I personally believe that Buckeye fans are watching a top three linebacker in the country every single Saturday in Ryan Shazier. The way the front seven has played is clearly the identity of their coaching staff. This group has some work to do, but has a bright future. There is no way I expected them to be this good this soon. Grade A-
Mali: Gonna cheat here too, and break this out.
The front is coming along amazingly… great pressure, and has become incredibly stout against the run. The only thing that keeps them from getting an “A” is the inconsistency of pressure without an additional linebacker. Granted, that’s a tough thing to do for a 3/4 man rush, but I’m confident that Vrabel will get his players there soon. B+
Linebackers…. wow. Shazier is fantastic, and I’ve seen great things from Grant. But the lack of depth and some of the mental mistakes in the passing game make this unit only average. Against the run, though, they’re spectacular. Grade B-
Ken: I’m very impressed with how well the “youngsters” on the line are playing. The LB’s are playing pretty well against the run, which is probably more instinctive, than against the pass. Overall, this group is performing much, much better than I expected. Grade A-
Charles: The fact that they managed to shutdown the powerful Wisconsin rushing attack says a lot about this unit. I would like to see them get more pressure on the quarterback with the defensive line and I would like to see them consistently maintain the intensity that they open games with. Grade B+
Jason: To Buckeye Nation this has been the surprise of the season but not to us here at The BBC. We’ve been talking all winter and spring about how people shouldn’t be deceived by the lack of official starters and instead take into consider the playing experience a lot of these got as freshman and sophomores. That said, Joey Bosa is an animal and Michael Bennett will be a first round draft pick in 2015. Grade A-
4. Defensive Backfield: Grade D+
This unit really took a hit in our evaluations. As you see, below, the individual Staff grading ranged from a B- to an off the chart G. I think this is a combination of actual performance and pre-season expectations. Although to be projected to be the strength of the team, it’s clear that it may be the weak link.
Patrick: Missed tackles, missed assignments, and too many big plays. Period. Bradley Roby has played nowhere close to an All American and at this point should seriously consider one more year in Columbus. I think Doran Grant has stepped in and played better than Travis Howard did last season. They’ve gotten virtually nothing out of Pitt Brown or Tyvis Powell. This is a group that MUST get it together in order to win a national championship. Not having Christian Bryant won’t make that task any easier. I still to this day have no clue why our corners don’t play bump and run. No jam at the line give receivers a clean release and teams have torched us in the passing game this year. Grade F
Scott: A grade of F is too kind. Man, I thought Vinnie Clark was bad. Bradley Roby is the new Toast. Grade G
WVa: B- Despite being picked on the past two weeks in a ridiculous amount of passing yardage. There are other secondary members stepping up to make it harder to go anywhere but at Roby which is who gets the other team’s best player. Staying in Zone most of the night Saturday night wasn’t their fault and they performed their duties because they didn’t give up huge chunks of yardage. Just kept them in front until it was time to turn the tables. It was no mistake they were in man when Doran Grant got his great read INT. Loss of CB will cost the team but maybe not down the stretch. Grade B-
Eric: The defensive backs are not getting the job done this year. Granted, the coverages have been difficult, since we’ve been helping the D-line out and putting pressure on the DBs to get the job done. Our zone coverages have been too soft, and our man coverage has been terrifying. Grade C+
Joe: The secondary is a tricky subject. While we have seen Brad Roby struggle in coverage, we have really witnessed some great play from Tyvis Powell and C.J. Barnett. #4 was all over the field the last two weeks, and leaves it on the field every single play. With the loss of Christian Bryant, it will be key for those two guys to play up to their potential. A bye week might be good for Roby as well to clear his mind and get back to covering top notch receivers like a blanket. Grade B-
Mali: What was supposed to be a strength has become an area of concern, particularly with more passing teams coming up on the schedule. It could be scheme (see below), but I also think that an area that’s been tested as much as OSU’s secondary has should have reached a rhythm and sense of itself by now. With Bryant down, this position’s ceiling just got a lot closer. Grade C
Ken: Here’s an example of “expectation vs. acceptance”. Although statistically the secondary isn’t that bad, it is playing way below what I believe its capabilities are. I don’t know if this is a reflection of a coaching decision to lock down on running game. The two issues that irk me are the soft coverage and poor tackling form. Grade C-
Charles: Christian Bryant being injured really hurts this unit and Roby has not looked like the All American he should be. This unit will only get challenged more going forward and they need to step up if OSU is to run the table. Grade C
Jason: I’m so disappointed in this unit. Doran Grant has proven he can play, but Roby has looked average and the safeties have been missing tackle after tackle. I realize every game CJ Barnett comes up and sticks a running back in the hole or the backfield… once. Doesn’t make up for the misses the rest of the game. Grade F
5. Coaching Staff: Grade B-
Although the Buckeyes are undefeated, we were quite opinionated about the performance of the coaching staff. The individual marks ranged from an A to a C, averaging out at a B-. You’ll see a lot of good evaluations, below.
Patrick: Hard to grade a 6-0 team a B. That being said. I haven’t been a fan of the game plans at time this year but I will say this. The adjustments that Urban makes is better than any coach I have seen. They seem to be able to come out in the second half and stop whatever the opposing team was successfully doing in the first half. Grade B
Scott: Luke Fickell needs to tighten the coverage. Urban needs to start using these athletic dudes like he should. Grade C
WVa: Every coaching staff in the world wants to get a lead and then keep it in whatever way is necessary. Coach Tressel took a beating for his style of play but it worked almost too perfectly at times with the conservative nature of it. With this staff they want to put the pedal down, score as many points as possible, and then go on cruise control. In the Whiskey game it became dangerous and Coach Meyer admitted he admired JT and his style of play. His admission of that doesn’t mean we ever have to worry about him becoming conservative over all. It just means there will be times, just like any other coach, he will pull out the JT play book. Grade A-
Eric: That’s pretty much true across the board. The offense operates well, and then Herman gets cute. Or we get a lead, and then button up and ride the game out with the power run. As for the defense, they’re playing incredibly soft coverage, and are forced to stack the box against the run to help out the weak linebackers, which in turn puts the coverage guys on an island. Grade B-
Joe: I would be willing to argue with any college football fan in the country that Ohio State’s staff is the best in the country. Call me a homer, but there isn’t a group in the game right now that has gotten more from less. That’s not a rip on anybody on this team, but it’s the truth. In the first year, Meyer and Co. mustered 12 wins. This year, they continue to get the best out of every single player. There are four coaches on this staff that could be head coaches at the Division 1 level. If they continue to their hard work week in and week out, we could be celebrating a national championship at the end of the year. Grade A
Mali: Offensively, no major complaints other than the ability to truly stress defenses with constraint plays. However, I also admit that this could be due to some limitations with the quarterbacks (see my comments above).
Defensively, I’m not sure what the issue is with pass coverage. Is the staff concerned about getting beat deep, or helping the linebackers out by playing “bend but don’t break”? Northwestern was a perfect example- Press coverage highlighted the athletic difference between the Buckeyes and the Wildcats, but we would only do it on occasion.
That being said, there’s a reason why they make the huge novelty checks and I get to bang my head on a keyboard. Grade B
Ken: It’s hard to be too critical of the coaching staff of an undefeated team, but there are a few cracks in the patina. I’m not impressed with Herman’s play-calling; as Eric said above, I think that Herman tries to get too cute with play calling rather than staying with what has worked. On defense, although the front seven is playing fairly well and above my expectations, Fickell/Withers/Coombs need to really figure out what the hell they are doing with the secondary. Coach Coombs needs to spend a little less time being jacked up and a little more time tutoring his corners. Grade C
Charles: The coaching staff has drawn up some good game plans to open games and the hot start that the team has gotten off to in several games has been nice. However lately the coaches seem to have gotten a bit conservative for some reason and it almost cost us against Wisconsin. Hopefully they are just saving some things for later in the season. Grade B
Jason: The staff weathered the moronic cry of some to have Guiton replace Braxton permanently and they did it well, they simply played the better quarterback and didn’t care who didn’t like it. Wisconsin in the 4th quarter was a completely out of character missed opportunity by Urban Meyer to make a statement on national television. Grade C