A bye week grade card on Ohio State’s football team, which could turn into a mid-season grade card if the Buckeyes get to the national championship game for the second season in a row.
The transition from 2014 to 2015 was a little bumpier than expected to Ohio State’s offense until quarterback J.T. Barrett returned to a leading role at that position.
Barrett’s ability to run sweeps and the option, something Cardale Jones, the starter in the first seven games, does not do well, has brought a new energy to the offense. With a mobile quarterback, OSU’s entire offense has looked better than it has all season.
One Buckeye on offense who has had no trouble looking good is running back Ezekiel Elliott (1,130 yards). He has rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 consecutive games, the longest streak of that kind by an Ohio State running back since Archie Griffin set the school record with 31 consecutive games over 100 yards in the 1970s.
The offensive line has been inconsistent, with several games where it has started slowly and then come on strong late in the game. But back-to-back games of 315 yards rushing and 281 yards rushing in wins over Penn State and Rutgers could mean the line is beginning to hit its stride.
Michael Thomas (35 catches, 536 yards, 6 TDs) leads a receivers group that is still looking for a No. 2 receiver. Braxton Miller could be that player down the stretch.
Ohio State ranks third in the Big Ten in points allowed (15.1 points a game) but is a a disturbing tenth in rushing yards allowed (151.9 yards a game). Only Penn State, Indiana, Maryland and Purdue are behind OSU. The Buckeyes are tied for first in the Big Ten in interceptions (nine) and their 26 sacks trail only Penn State in the conference.
So, much the like offense, the defense has been inconsistent this season. In its four best games against Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Rutgers, OSU has given up an average of 105.5 yards a game rushing. But in the other four games against Western Michigan, Indiana, Maryland and Penn State, it has allowed 198 yards rushing per game.
Individually, the defensive line and linebackers have played well, but they have not locked down on the run. Safety Vonn Bell has been the standout in the defensive backfield.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston (45.8 yards per punt) has had 14 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and has has only one or two sub-par kicks all season. Kicker Jack Willoughby is 7 of 10 on field goals but has not kicked under pressure or made a kick of longer than 39 yards. OSU’s kick coverage has been very strong.
Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in the polls. Its 21-game winning streak is the longest in the country. It is averaging 38.5 points a game, which is fifteenth nationally. Elliott’s 1,130 yards is third in the country.
So maybe all the doubt and questioning is a little overdone. After last season’s national championship, the expectations are sky high. The season hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t been bad, either.