BSB Gradebook: Special Teams

With seven games played for the Ohio State football team and five remaining, the open week seems like a good point to look back at what we've seen so far. With that in mind, BSB is handing out grades for the OSU position groups. The special teams is the final unit to go under the microscope. Get the details inside.

Luke Fickell likely couldn't have made a more appropriate move in one of his first changes as Ohio State head coach than when he named Dick Tressel the team's special teams coordinator.

Given the extent to which former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel emphasized the importance of special teams, the elder brother of Tressel was immediately given the duties to carry on that tradition at Ohio State.

As if Tressel's decision to remain on staff in the year after the resignation of his brother wasn't hard enough, he not only kept his duties as the running backs coach but was also given the responsibility to oversee a team's special units that left a lot to be desired a year ago.

But through seven games in his first season with the newfound responsibility, Tressel said he was proud with the enormous strides the Buckeyes have made across the board in special teams after what many considered to be a disastrous year in 2010.

"I think they have got a lot of pride in themselves now," Tressel told BSB. "I think they're working hard at it and they care and they realize how important it is. I can't tell you how pleased we've been with how we've done things so far this year.

"I think they believe that what they're doing is critical and I think that has really set in with our guys. So I think it is easy to see these guys are playing hard on special teams and they have been doing it well this year."

So how did the Buckeyes fare in each phase of the special teams units in the eyes of Buckeye Sports Bulletin? Read on for each staff writer's grades.


Ohio State's kicking game was a question mark heading into the season with Drew Basil entering his sophomore year having never made a field goal. Primarily handling kickoff duties last season, Basil was the guy the Buckeyes turned to for help in all areas of the team's kicking game.

Both of his attempts as a freshman were blocked – one of which was returned for a touchdown – and his first two attempts in Ohio State's season-opener against Akron were missed (even though only one officially counted in the stat book because of an offside penalty on the zips).

But After a slow start to the season, Basil rebounded with two big makes on the road at Miami (Fla.) and that led to what is currently a streak where he's made eight consecutive field goals, most recently nailing a clutch attempt in Ohio State's 17-7 win over Illinois into the wind. Averaging 1.14 made field goals per game, Basil is ranked No. 54 nationally in that category.

Ari Wasserman Grade: B Things could have been a disaster for Basil in his first year as the team's kicker, particularly given the way things went in his freshman season and the slow start to this year. However, after gaining confidence on the road at Miami he has enjoyed a lot of success that has ranged on a variety of different kicks. Though at times it seems as if the coaching staff is reluctant to trust him on longer attempts – see the Nebraska game – Basil has done a good job of becoming consistent after a rough start.

Jeff Svoboda Grade: B+ Fans were worried about Basil at the start of the season, but once he got off the schneid, he's been excellent. He was billed as having a cannon for a leg and showed it with a beastly kick into the wind at Illinois, and his long field goals have been rounding into form after that was a point of contention early in his career. His kickoff average of 61.5 yards leaves something to still be desired but that should come along as he goes, and teams haven't really been able to earn much in the kick return game because of his kicks.

Mathew Hager Grade: B- The fact that Basil has rebounded from his 2010 struggles isn't a huge shock. The sophomore looked capable in practices/scrimmages the media has attended since Basil came to Ohio State. It really looked like all he needed to get a make under his belt. That proved to be the case. After missing his first two attempts of the season, Basil has been a perfect 8-for-8, including three makes of 40 yards or more.

Marcus Hartman Grade: A- Both kicker Drew Basil and the kickoff coverage unit deserve praise for a nice first half of the season after scuffling through 2010. Basil still has not quite shown the powerful leg he was expected to bring from Chilicothe, but he has more consistently hit a high, deep ball, and the Buckeyes have run under it and covered it with better discipline for the most part. Basil also deserves props for bouncing back from a tough start to become a reliable option on place kicking.

Before the season, Buchanan wanted to build off his marginal sophomore season by being more than just one of the nation's most prolific punters.

"I wanted my punting to be a weapon for this team and something we could count on," Buchanan told BSB. "I didn't just want to be good at it, I wanted the coaching staff to feel that we could use me as more than just the punter. I wanted them to think of me as someone that could make the opposing teams team pay."

Thus far this season, Buchanan showed his goal has been more than reasonable for the Buckeyes, particularly because the team with a freshman quarterback often finds itself engaged in field position battles.

Though Buchanan's 41.39 yards per attempt average is far from overwhelming, the punter has shown incredible control thus far this season. With the Buckeyes finding themselves in in field position battles every week, Buchanan was the most effective punter in the Big Ten through six games in pinning opponents inside the 20 yardline. He did that 15 times and had only one touchback, which was also the fourth-best mark nationally.

Ari Wasserman Grade: A Buchanan left a lot to be desired a year ago, but he has really been effective virtually all year. Through seven games he's only had one touchback and has pinned opponents deep in their territory in tough situations all year. Though Buchanan will draw flack for not having the strongest leg in the world, it is hard to imagine a way where he could have been more effective than he's been. And with Ohio State needing every yard of field position it can get this year, he gets a solid grade from me.

Jeff Svoboda Grade: B+ Buchanan looked improved during the spring and preseason and hasn't disappointed. His average of 41.3 yards is solid but somewhat dulled by the fact he's had to pin teams inside the 20 more than a few times, and the fact that 17 of his 42 kicks have been inside the 20 shows his progress after Buchanan struggled in that arena last season. Many of those kicks have died even inside the 10, providing the OSU defense with long fields to defend. The blocked kick against Toledo was damaging but Buchanan has appeared to step up his timing since then.

Matt Hager Grade: B+ Ohio State has done well in the field possession game in recent weeks and Buchanan is a big reason why. Buchanan had 17 of his boots downed inside opponents' 20-yard line. His net punting average is not that impressive, but the field-position victories OSU has gotten from Buchanan make up for that. Buchanan did have a punt blocked against Toledo, which is what kept this from being an A-.

Marcus Hartman Grade: A Ben Buchanan's contributions to the team should not be overlooked as he has put together a good year so far with a high, coverable kick on a consistent basis. He has also had an uncanny knack for dropping the ball inside the 20 or better when the situation calls for it. Coverage has been strong, too, led by Ryan Shazier, Zach Domicone and Nate Oliver.

Return Game

Though Jordan Hall missed the first two games of the season while serving a suspension, the junior has been terrific in limited time on both kickoff and punt return teams.

Though he hasn't fielded enough returns to be recognized on the national statistics lists, he averaged 33.7 yards per kickoff return after getting 303 yards and nine returns through six games.

Against Colorado is where Hall made his biggest return, taking a kickoff back 90 yards before being tackled inside the Buffalos 10 yard line. Had his statistics been recognized on the national leaderboards, Hall would have been the second-most prolific kickoff return man in the nation.

The same situation exists for Hall on punt returns, who fielded four for 59 yards, equating to a 14.8 yard per return average. Though there wasn't one specific punt that bolstered his average, Hall would have been No. 16 on the punt return national list for his consistent ability to make plays in the punt return game.

Ari Wasserman Grade: A Ohio State has been the recipient of big plays all year in the return game, and that's highlighted by Chris Fields' 69-yard return for a touchdown against Toledo to help Ohio State escape with the victory. That, along with Hall's 90-yard return against Colorado on a kickoff return, are the only two big returns of the year but Ohio State has consistently gotten productive attempts out of everyone fielding returns all year.

Jeff Svoboda Grade: A- Hall has once again been an excellent kick returner, averaging 32.5 yards per return including a 90-yarder. He provides OSU with the chance to go all the way every time he touches the ball. Jaamal Berry has been average at best, though, in what is turning into a lost season for the sophomore. Fields' punt return TD highlighted that unit, one that sits 15th in the country, as Hall has also provided a spark.

Matthew Hager Grade: B Hall returned from a two-game suspension to start the season and helped the return game in a big way. Hall boosted both the punt and return game. His averages in punt (11.8 yards) and kick return (32.5) are higher than the team average last season (9.6 yards in punt returns and 26.4 in kick returns). Sophomore Chris Fields has also impressed, scoring a touchdown on a 69-yard punt return against Toledo.

Marcus Hartman Grade: B Both return teams have been good, but I can't shake the feeling it could be better with the likes of Hall and Berry often fielding the chances. Fields provided an early highlight with his 69-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Hall gave the offense a much-needed boost with a 90-yard return against Colorado.

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