The Buckeyes resume conference play at home against Maryland at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Here’s a look at how each Ohio State position group grades out a third of the way through the regular season.
Quarterback Kyle McCord didn’t know going into week two whether he would be the full-time starter. Two weeks later, he led the Buckeyes to one of their most historic drives to beat Notre Dame 17-14 in South Bend, Indiana.
McCord’s resiliency in that game is what impressed the most. On third down, he went 10-of-13 passing for 155 yards, and that’s not counting his pivotal fourth-down completion to Julian Fleming on the final drive.
The “B” grade comes from not throwing touchdown passes against Notre Dame and Indiana, as well as a handful of incompletions. He’s only made two major errors: an interception against the Hoosiers and an intentional grounding penalty against the Irish, which he made up for with a 21-yard pass to Emeka Egbuka on third-and-19 to set up Chip Trayanum’s winning score.
Running back: A-
The injuries to Ohio State’s running back room last season required a major adjustment. Trayanum switched from linebacker to running back, which he played at Arizona State, and has shown real promise through four games. He led the Buckeyes in rushing yards against Indiana and was called on to score the winning touchdown at Notre Dame.
Ohio State’s ability to use three backs proves how deep it is at the position. Miyan Williams rushed for two touchdowns against Indiana, and TreVeyon Henderson, back from an injury-riddled sophomore year, broke the floodgates open with his 61-yard touchdown run against the Irish. He finished that game with 104 yards on 14 carries and leads the team in rush yards (295) and touchdowns (5).
As a unit, the Buckeyes average 5.1 yards per rush and 118 yards per game. Coach Ryan Day would like the total yards to be higher, but half a first down per carry is good enough in the physical Big Ten.
Wide receiver: B+
Make no mistake, this is the best receiver room in the country. Opponents double-teaming Marvin Harrison Jr. is opening up plenty of opportunities for Egbuka as the junior wideouts have three touchdowns apiece and have combined for 36 catches.
There have been a few uncharacteristic drops, most notably Egbuka’s against Notre Dame in the first half that led to Ohio State settling for a field goal. That alone could have cost OSU the game, but Egbuka responded by snagging two catches for 42 yards on the winning drive.
The best game for Ohio State’s receivers came against Western Kentucky. Harrison caught seven passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns, and Egbuka took down five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Tight end: A
Cade Stover has been nothing short of sensational. He set the tone right out of the gates with seven targets, five receptions and 98 yards in the season opener. Three weeks later, Ohio State created an offensive plan around Stover, who was targeted 10 times and caught seven passes for 52 yards.
The captain’s blocking has always been his strong suit, and he’s showing that once again this season, creating huge opportunities for the Buckeyes’ ground game.
Offensive line: B-
One of the biggest question marks for the offense coming into the season was the offensive line after losing three starters, including both offensive tackles.
The good news is McCord, and at the beginning of the season Devin Brown, have been well-protected in the pocket. The offensive line has only allowed four sacks this year. That’s one per game and good enough to rank in the top 20 nationally.
Run-blocking has been an issue. Ohio State failed to gain a yard on four occasions nearly costing the Buckeyes the win at Notre Dame. OSU couldn’t convert on third-and-goal or fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and also failed to gain a yard in their second-to-last drive. The Buckeyes did gain a yard when it mattered most on the winning play, but that happened with only 10 defenders on the field for Notre Dame.
Short-yardage situations have been the offensive line’s kryptonite and that needs to improve when it plays stout defensive lines like Penn State and Michigan. Moving forward, this is a unit that needs to improve for the offense to be elite.
Defensive line: A
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has said sacks are only one part of the equation when it comes to evaluating a defensive line. The other key elements include forcing the quarterback to get the ball out “on schedule” and limiting an opponent’s rushing game to around three yards per carry.
The Buckeyes only have five sacks, but they have 53 quarterback pressures from the defensive line, which ranks in the top 20 nationally. Teams have also tried to find ways to throw the ball in less than three seconds out of respect for how daunting line coach Larry Johnson’s unit truly is.
Edge rushers Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau had four pressures apiece against Notre Dame’s offensive tackles. Tuimoloau’s tackle for a loss and pass breakup on a screen pass late turned the tide for the Buckeyes and gave the offense a chance to win. The duo also combined for 13 pressures against Western Kentucky.
As far as the rush defense, the Buckeyes allow 105 yards per game, but that’s skewed in part by Indiana’s triple-option offense and a run-aggressive Notre Dame. A closer look shows Ohio State only allows three yards per carry, and they stopped the Irish twice on fourth-and-1.
Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg have taken the lion’s share of snaps in their second seasons as starters. They lead the Buckeyes in tackles with 25 apiece and have forced two turnovers: an interception by Chambers and a forced fumble by Eichenberg. They anchor a defense that’s only allowing 8.5 points a game, tied for second-best in the country.
Neither player has committed a mistake that could cost the Buckeyes a win, but they also haven’t completely taken over a game. Orchestrating a defense that’s playing as well as it is counts for something, and in this case, it counts for a B+.
Can Ohio State prevent explosive plays? That was the question after performances against Michigan and Georgia to end last season. So far, so good.
The unit has combined for 13 pass breakups, with junior Denzel Burke leading that charge. He has four, as well as an interception and looks to have returned to being the lockdown corner he was as a freshman.
Removing Indiana’s triple-option offense and FCS opponent Youngstown State from the equation, the Buckeyes’ secondary proved its mettle against a solid Western Kentucky passing game that ranks 26th in the country.
Notre Dame quarterback Hartman entered the game with the Buckeyes having thrown more than 1,000 yards, 13 touchdowns, and a completion percentage above 70%. The Buckeyes held him in check, with 17 completions for 175 yards and one touchdown. A majority of his passes went to an open tight end, which doesn’t fall squarely on the secondary. More importantly, this unit has yet to give up any explosive plays that had a true impact on the outcome of a game