Fortunately for the Ohio State football team, that has been the case this fall. The Buckeyes have plenty of young players on the field and heading into the halfway point of the season, most of them have played well. Among the 23 positions listed on Ohio State’s depth chart – 11 on offense and 12 on defense, including the nickel position – 11 of the starters are freshmen or sophomores.
“We’re a young team that’s getting older,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer said. “You’d expect that, you’d anticipate that, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I think you see a lot of maturity starting to occur.
“Someone told me in the last five interceptions four have been by freshmen. You see a freshman quarterback that is playing very well. You see young receivers starting to develop, an offensive line that’s starting to solidify themselves.”
On offense, the following starters are either freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores: left guard Billy Price (redshirt freshman), right guard Pat Elflein (sophomore), quarterback J.T. Barrett (redshirt freshman), tailback Ezekiel Elliott (sophomore), H-back Dontre Wilson (sophomore) and wide receiver Michael Thomas (sophomore). On defense, that group includes: defensive end Joey Bosa (sophomore), strongside linebacker Darron Lee (redshirt freshman), cornerback Eli Apple (redshirt freshman), safety Tyvis Powell (sophomore) and safety Vonn Bell (sophomore).
“That’s a good sign for the future here,” said Meyer, when he was told about his youthful depth chart. “I know we were young, but I hadn’t looked at that number before.”
Led by Barrett, Elliott and Thomas – who are Ohio State’s leading passer, rusher and receiver – the Buckeyes have averaged 523.6 yards per game and 44.6 points per contest. While some outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center might be surprised at the success the Buckeyes have found on offense without 2013 stalwarts Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, those closest to the program are not.
“I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made with a lot of the inexperienced guys we do have and happy with the trajectory that we’re on,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said. “I think the expectation is to always do well.”
Starting tight end Jeff Heuerman, a senior, said he expected the offense to do well and progress as the season continued.
“We kind of knew coming into the year that we would have a lot of things to work with on offense and I think you’ve seen that so far,” Heuerman said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys playing and even with Braxton being out we’ve had other guys step up and account for those yards that we’re missing out on not having Braxton out there.”
The offensive line replaced four starts this season, and while one of the new starters is fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin, he had limited playing time before this season. Much like the Buckeyes as a whole, the young players on the line have come into their own in recent weeks.
“I think it’s definitely good for the future, but it doesn’t surprise me because we’re always bringing in good players,” said the line’s lone returning starter, senior left tackle Taylor Decker. “Some kids maybe don’t realize they shouldn’t be in the position they’re in, but ignorance is bliss. They’re just out there playing hard. They’re extremely talented. They might not be as experienced, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play football.”
Not to be overlooked is the progress from the young players on the defensive side of the football. Bosa has forced three turnovers that each led to points for Ohio State. Lee has an interception and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Apple, Powell and Bell are each key members of a secondary that is looking to master Ohio State’s new, aggressive defense.