BSB's Take: Ohio State's Progress

With Ohio State facing an open week and nearing the midway pole for the 2014 season, BSB thought it was a good time to break down the team's performance so far in a roundtable format.

With Ohio State at open week No. 2 in the schedule, we decided it was a good time to revisit the BSB's Take roundtable to take the Buckeyes' temperature at 4-1 and 1-0 in the Big Ten.

Taking part are BSB's Ryan Ginn, Marcus Hartman, Blake Williams and Jeff Svoboda.

1. We'll start with an interesting one -- J.T. Barrett has been filling up the stat sheets the last few weeks, but just how good do you feel like he's been so far and can be?
Ryan: He hasn’t been as good as his numbers, but he’s still been really good. One thing helping his completion percentage and yardage totals is the fact that they toss the ball on jet sweeps so that would-be fumbles become incompletions. Well, rushes become passes. Even disregarding that, he’s been better than I think many could have hoped for. Aside from one quarter when he was completely mauled, he’s given Ohio State’s coaches everything they could have hoped for out of a redshirt freshman QB. I do think you’ll still see him continue to improve as the season goes on. Scary thought.

Marcus: Overall, he’s having a great year, but I felt like the Maryland game was not nearly as good as the numbers looked. It’s ironic because he made a couple of great open-field runs to make people feel like he can do some of the things Braxton Miller can running the ball, but I felt like he wasn’t all that accurate throwing the ball and he made a few questionable throws. Nitpicking perhaps, but these are noticeable when you have a guy whose top two strengths are supposed to be accuracy and decision making.

Blake: Barrett has definitely surprised me with how quickly he has taken command of the offense. Since the Virginia Tech loss he has put up gaudy numbers, but more importantly he has seemed in control while under center. Granted, the Buckeyes are playing inferior opponents, but Barrett has been dissecting plays at the line of scrimmage and piloting a very high-powered attack. His leadership and command over the offense have been even more impressive than his numbers to me. And he can get better. While it hasn’t happened often, he has missed some open guys in recent weeks and his accuracy can continue to get more precise. As he gets even more comfortable with the offense and its playmakers he will put up scary good numbers.

Jeff: I realize this might sound silly in a world in which Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel just won Heismans, but I think Barrett is doing as well as a redshirt freshman reasonably could be. I don't think he's perfect -- as Marcus has pointed out, he's still not the most accurate QB in the world though he's good enough -- but he has a great command of the offense, he makes good decisions, he takes hits, he fights for the extra yard and he carries himself like a leader. He's everything he was sold to be so far, and it's certainly enough to win games with at the Big Ten level. If he continues to progress, future seasons could result in even bigger numbers and even some trips to New York City.

2. It's too early to worry about a 2015 quarterback controversy, right?
Ryan: There is no controversy. I really don’t get it. This thing will play out one of two ways: either Braxton Miller will do the smart thing given his injury history and never play football for free again, or he’ll come back healthy (shoutout to James Andrews) and immediately be the best player on the team by far. I don’t think J.T. Barrett is the best player on his own team at this point (and that’s OK – he’s a redshirt freshman). Braxton Miller was the best player in his conference. Twice. This is not a debate.

Marcus: Without a doubt, although worry seems to be something we Ohioans do better than anyone. I guess that’s kind of ironic considering how awesome we are, isn’t it? But at any rate, this should be a time people sit back and enjoy how well the offense is executing under Barrett rather than look too far ahead. Lots of football to be played and healing to be done before next year’s two-deep is determined.

Blake: Absolutely. That conversation involves way too many ifs. What happens if Braxton comes back completely healthy? I hope for his sake he does, but it’s far from a guarantee. What if Barrett continues on this tear? Again, impossible to say for sure. Controversies can be fun, but this one isn’t doing it for me. There’s still plenty of football to play this season, why worry about 2015?

Jeff: Yes, absolutely it is. Look, I really like Barrett. He's already a good quarterback and getting better, but there's a couple of reasons why Braxton is the man next year if he's healthy. One, he's the two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Year. The man can play football, and I think he'd have pretty similar if not better numbers to Barrett this year if he was playing. Secondly, he's Braxton Miller. He's a program guy down to the Block "O" tattoo on his arm, and he has represented the program well since he got here, plus he's a leader. He deserves the chance to play as a senior. And lastly, he's more dynamic than Barrett, and it's not close. So often, in college football, the ability to make something out of nothing is the difference in a close game, and Miller has that. Time will tell if Barrett does, but we know Miller brings it to the table. It's a long time between now and 2015, but I'm sticking with this thought.

3. I think we've asked this every time we've done one of these lately, but are we starting to see development at the skill positions?
Ryan: I think so, even though I’m slightly discouraged by the wide receiver play. The good news for Ohio State is that most of the people I’m underwhelmed with are seniors. The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of talent at those spots – especially with the underclassmen – and it’s seemingly getting better each week. That makes sense.

Marcus: Without a doubt. Ezekiel Elliott is really gaining steam as a quick back with power, and Mike Thomas continues to be a handful on the outside at receiver. We got another peak at Corey Smith on top of the usual contributions from Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, and I am curious to see who ends up getting the most snaps by the end of the year between Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall.

Blake: Yes. Though it’s been against sub-par competition, we’ve seen some development out of the skill guys in the last few games. Thomas has been a consistent target and has shown his ability to make something happen after the catch. Wilson and Marshall have both shown flashes, and I think Marshall especially will be an player before he hangs up the scarlet and gray. The issue is that aside from Ezekiel Elliott, who has proven he deserves 20-plus touches a game, all we are going to see is flashes. This offense with Barrett leading it spreads the ball out so well it’s hard to get a gage on the degree of improvement with the skill guys. Though I do think they are progressing.

Jeff: The wideouts have caught their fair share of guff over the past few seasons, and that continued after the Virginia Tech fiasco, but I think you're starting to see something in this group: confidence. That catch Thomas made over Maryland's best corner Saturday? He's done that in practice before, but now he has the belief to do it in games. Devin Smith catching a TD and then standing over his beaten foe? Confidence. These guys are starting to believe they're going to make plays, and sometimes that's all you need. So yes, I think you're starting to see development, one reason OSU has had such an effective offense over the past three games. They're not where they need to be, but there has certainly been progress.

4. Are we starting to see the style of offense this staff really wants to run?
Ryan: Yes. I’m stealing someone’s answer (Jeff’s, I think) because this came up in discussion at BSB Headquarters this week, but I think this is truer to the staff’s mind-set than last year. When you have a guy like Carlos Hyde who can flat-out maul people behind that offensive line, only an idiot would turn away from that. But I believe this year’s offense is closer to the core of what they want to do than last year’s offense.

Marcus: They love the big plays of the past and the power style brought by Carlos Hyde, but deep down they love throwing the ball around the yard and seeing playmakers leave defenders in the dust, so yes. I think the offensive line is coming along as a power unit as well.

Blake: I think so. The tempo is up and the ball is being distributed to playmakers in space, as we’ve often heard the coaching staff calling for. At least nine receivers have caught balls in each of the last three games while the Buckeyes have averaged more than 88 plays a game in that stretch. They’ve done all of that without sacrificing the running game. I would have to think this is what the staff was envisioning. The only major hiccup, at least in recent weeks, has been the offense’s tendency to stall in the red zone and Tom Herman put the blame for that on his play calling against Maryland. I think the Buckeyes are close to what they want offensively, but until they get more productive in the red zone they aren’t all the way there.

Jeff: I don't think there's any question. It worked out nicely for Meyer, who does love him some power football, that he had the pieces to make that the identity of the offense the past few years. But at the end of the day, I think the head coach wants to distribute (this is one buzzword that's not going away) to a variety of playmakers, one reason he, for example, didn't have a 1,000-yard RB before this past year. I don't think you'll see power go away -- this is a team that is still gonna run inside when it can, and Meyer just called it an offensive line-driven team -- but what you're seeing now is more like the ideal, especially now that Tom Herman's expertise with the hurry-up is shining through.

5. Has the pass rush been at the level people expected before the season?
Ryan: Of course not. People expected an All-American to be lining up opposite Joey Bosa by this point and got Steve Miller instead.

Marcus: Not really, although the last game was by far the best. I would imagine they had to adjust their plans after it was determined Noah Spence would not be back, and we saw that in Maryland with more types of pressure packages. I’m sure they would still love to find someone who can bend the corner, though.

Blake: No, but people expected this defensive line to get about 30 sacks a game, so I can’t say that’s surprising. Realistically, the pass rush hasn’t been as good as I thought it would be and obviously the loss of Spence is a huge factor there. The Buckeyes are actually behind last year’s team in the pass rush as they notched three sacks a game a year ago compared to 2.4 per contest this season. Games against Navy’s triple option and Maryland’s quick passing attack have dulled that number some, but the Buckeyes are underperforming in that department. It seems like guys have been in the backfield, most notably Joey Bosa and to a lesser extent Michael Bennett, and I expect the rush to continue to improve. By the end of the season I think it will be clearly the best in the Big Ten.

Jeff: I'd say no. Maybe I expected too high a standard but I just feel like the potential of guys like Bennett, Bosa and Adolphus Washington still outpaces the actual production. They've been very good, don't get me wrong, but I feel those could be elite guys, so placing 29th in the nation in sack percentage is not quite where I think they can be. Missing Spence hurts, obviously, as both Miller and Rashad Frazier have been steady but not elite pass-rush guys. The Maryland game was encouraging as the pass rush keyed the Buckeyes' first-half defensive dominance; now the key becomes doing that on a consistent basis for the line.

6. Does Raekwon McMillan leave here as an All-American?
Ryan: I’m betting a lot of people will say yes, and I can see why. His first snap at Ohio State was a tackle for loss. He’s looked lights out for a true freshman so far. Based on what he’s shown thus far, it stands to reason that he’ll be on another level two or three years from now. With that being said, he’s played five games – too small to make conclusions in either direction. In his first five games as a true freshman, Joey Bosa made zero sacks. He ended up with 7.5 in his last nine games and now looks like a surefire bet to be an All-American. If I had more information (if he had been here for a year or two), it would be a lot easier to say yes. But for now, I’m saying no.

Marcus: All signs point to yes.

Blake: Assuming he stays healthy, yes. Obviously it’s impossibly early to say, but McMillan has been impressive and extremely instinctual early in his career and it seems like all the recruiting services were 100 percent right about this kid. It seems like he’s special. To make one of the three All-American teams he has to be considered one of the nine best linebackers in the country during his time at Ohio State, and while that’s a lofty height I think he can reach it.

Jeff: I know it's pretty easy to say yes here, and I'm going to, but I'll also point out how difficult it is to be an All-American. He has a couple things on his side, including the fact that OSU is factory of linebacker All-Americans (he won't have any trouble finding hype if his play is deserving) plus he's getting an early start on his time here, but remember, All-Americans are the very best of the best. I picked Jeff Heuerman and Michael Bennett as future All-Americans early in their careers, and while both have been well above average, they likely won't quite reach that tall summit, unfortunately. But let's be honest, McMillan looks like the best of the best in this early stage of his career.

7. Ohio State is 16th in the nation in passing yards allowed and 32nd in passing efficiency defense. Does that seem like a fair rating?
Ryan:I’d say it’s a slightly generous number aided by the Navy and Kent State games. With that being said, I think it’s pretty obvious that while big plays have been allowed this season, they haven’t happened at the same rate as last year. Finishing in the top 30 of either category seems attainable, and it would be a reasonable improvement over last year’s dumpster fire.

Marcus: Probably not considering how much big plays have hurt them. The number is skewed by Navy, but overall the pass defense is much better. That’s especially true on a play-by-play basis but not so much as far as explosive plays go.

Blake: No. Overall I am pretty positive about the pass defense. I like the scheme and I think we’ve seen clear improvement on a week-to-week basis. The mistakes can yield big plays, but it seems as though they are things that can be corrected relatively easily through film study, something the Buckeyes will surely get plenty of this open week. Still though, 16th and 32nd is misleading. Take out the Navy game (when the Midshipmen completed two passes for 20 yards) and the Buckeyes fall into the 40s in the nation in passing yards allowed per game. That number feels more accurate for now as Ohio State still works out some kinks.

Jeff: I think so. The stats have been a bit skewed by playing Navy and Kent State, two teams with dreadful aerial attacks, but I predicted before the season that OSU would finish in the top 30 in the nation in these stats and they're on pace. Of course, I'm also the guy that wrote "Five Reasons Not To be Worried By The Pass D" last week, so I'm a bit biased, but I believe in what I wrote then. I think the Buckeyes will just keep getting better and better here. A new scheme with a young defense takes time, but OSU looks to me like it's getting more comfortable each week.

8. All right, we've seen five games. Can this team go undefeated from here and can it make the College Football Playoff?
Ryan: I won’t say it’s not possible, because it is – but it won’t happen. Ohio State will be favored in at least six of its seven remaining regular-season games, but I would hope that after this most recent weekend (and maybe after the second game Ohio State played this season) that people would realize a lot of crazy things happen in college football. This team is really good and will likely be playing its best football by November, but I would need to see greatness before betting on it to run the table.

Marcus: If the Buckeyes win out, I believe they will get a spot in the playoff. Will they win out? They have a good chance, thanks in no small part to the schedule. It is looking these days like the OSU unit that will be more under the microscope in East Lansing for the de facto Big Ten East title game could be the defense. The offenses of Ohio State and Michigan State have looked very dangerous, albeit against some suspect competition, while the defenses have been susceptible to the big play. I doubt either team controls the pace of this one and it comes down to big plays and turnovers. No one else on the schedule is going to be able to slow down the OSU offense as long as it has this many playmakers and the line continues to progress, but the OSU defense still has to get the explosive gains under control before it will be championship-caliber.

Blake: Yes. I’m not saying they will, but it is certainly plausible. Obviously their most difficult remaining game is the Nov. 8 game in East Lansing. I think Michigan State, at this moment, is a better team than Ohio State but the Buckeyes have more talent. Sometimes talent wins out. The Spartans have also struggled to close games, letting their game against Oregon slip away after controlling the first three quarters and letting Nebraska within striking distance in the second half after dominating early. That game could be a play-in for the Big Ten Championship Game where I expect Nebraska to be waiting. At that point anything could happen and I think a one-loss OSU (or MSU) team will make the final four. Then again, this team lost to a less-talented Virginia Tech team and a loss at East Lansing, or at Minnesota for that matter, is a very real possibility.

Jeff: I am having a hard time with this question. Before the season, I picked the team to lose to Virginia Tech, then win out through the Illinois game before losing to Michigan State and Minnesota. So they're right on pace for that, but I must admit that the Buckeyes look much better than I expected by game five. I didn't see the offense basically averaging more than 55 points and 600 yards from weeks three to five even with the less-than-stellar opposition. So if the offense stays this good -- and they're in a pretty good groove right now -- then it stands to reason the Buckeyes can beat anyone on the schedule. I still think MSU is gonna be a tough one, though, and Minnesota screams trap game. So we'll see. I'm not picking the team to make the playoff right now (there's just too many hurdles to clear) but I do like its chances to win the rest of its games.

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