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Grading Ohio State's 2016 Season: Special Teams

The Buckeye Sports staff takes a look back at Ohio State's 2016 season and gives each Buckeye position group a final grade for the year. For this particular edition in the series, each group within the OSU special teams will be graded.

Kicking Game

Through the first six games of the season, senior placekicker Tyler Durbin was a perfect 8 for 8 on field-goal attempts and missed only 1 of 39 extra-point tries. The former collegiate soccer player even connected on all three field goals in the win vs. Wisconsin, with the third kick sending the contest to overtime.

Though the first half of the season finished in exciting fashion for the James Madison transfer, the second half got off to a rough start. 

Durbin sandwiched two successful field goals around a missed extra-point attempt against Penn State. His third field-goal try became one of the defining moments of Ohio State’s season. Durbin’s 45-yarder with less than five minutes left in the game was blocked and returned for the game-winning touchdown. 

Despite the fateful blunder vs. the Nittany Lions, Durbin was reliable in the next four games, converting all six field goals, which included his career-long of 45 yards at Maryland. The pair of games to end the season, on the other hand, were not the senior’s brightest moments. 

He failed his first two attempts against Michigan before knocking through his third try with one second left in regulation to push the game to overtime. 

“I remember there was a picture after the game of me after I made the last field goal,” Durbin said Dec. 29, “and the entire field goal team’s around me, they’re all smiling and there’s this kind of look on my face like, ‘Thank God I just made that kick.’”

He concluded his one season as the Buckeye kicker by missing two 47-yard field goals in the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Clemson. For the season, Durbin was 17 of 22 on field goals and 63 of 65 on extra points. 

Though his placekicking was shaky at times during the second half of the campaign, he was a steady force in Ohio State’s kickoff game. 

The Buckeyes finished the year allowing an average of 18.9 yards per kick return by the opposition. Unlike the first half of the campaign, OSU did not allow a kickoff to be taken back for a touchdown. Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon took one 97 yards to the house in the third game of the year.

Out of 93 kickoffs by Durbin, 36 went for touchbacks while four were sent out of bounds.

BSB Midterm Grade: B+

BSB Second-Half Grade: D

BSB Final Grade: C-

Punting Game

One absolute constant for the Ohio State special teams unit in 2016 was the punting game. Senior punter Cameron Johnston, who was the Buckeyes’ punter the last four seasons, capped his career at Ohio State in resounding fashion. 

The Australian punted the ball 56 times in 2016, and 19 of them traveled at least 50 yards while 26 landed inside the 20-yard line. Johnston’s season-long boot against Wisconsin went 70 yards.

For the year, he averaged a career-best 46.7 yards per punt, which was fifth-highest in the nation. His rugby-style approach to punting aided in holding the opposition to a measly 3.9-yard average per return, with the longest runback being just 16 yards.  

Johnston’s performance this past season placed him as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s top punter. Mitch Wishnowsky, a fellow Australian, took home the honor, however, as he averaged 47.7 yards per boot for Utah.

Though Johnston had a marvelous finish to his OSU career, he was a part of two notable slipups during the second half of the season. He had a punt blocked vs. Penn State, which led to a field goal for the Nittany Lions. Then against Michigan, Johnston was the ball carrier on a failed fake-punt attempt deep inside Ohio State’s territory. That gaffe resulted in a touchdown for the Wolverines, though it could hardly be blamed on the punter.

The pair of mistakes certainly didn’t diminish Johnston’s legacy, though. Ohio State enjoyed a wonderful four-year run in the punting game thanks to him. His career punting average of 44.9 yards was a tick shy of tying Andy Groom’s program-record mark of 45.0 set from 2001-02.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into really,” Johnston said Dec. 15 of coming to Ohio State four years ago. “I mean the punting side of things, I knew what I was going to do, but everything else has exceeded expectations really.”

BSB Midterm Grade: A

BSB Second-Half Grade: A-

BSB Final Grade: A

Return Game

Ohio State’s struggles in the punt-return game in the first half of the season carried over into the second half. The Buckeyes averaged 6.0 yards per return through the first six games and finished the season averaging 5.2 yards each takeback. 

OSU was 105th nationally in that category at season’s end and 13th in the Big Ten. Only Illinois’ 4.4 mark trailed the Buckeyes among conference squads. 

H-back Dontre Wilson originally handled the punt-return duties, but his indecisiveness and susceptibility to fumbling cost him that job. Running back Demario McCall and H-back Curtis Samuel replaced Wilson as the team’s punt returners. 

The two fared worse than their predecessor, though, as McCall averaged 4.7 yards on three returns and Samuel was good for 3.2 on six. Wilson had an average of 6.3 yards on 17 attempts.

Conversely, Ohio State’s kickoff-return game performed well this past fall. The Buckeyes averaged 24.4 yards per return, which ranked 13th in the country and second in the Big Ten. Iowa led the conference with a 26.0 clip. Campbell played a significant role in the Buckeyes’ kickoff-return game. He handled 21 of the team’s 28 kick returns and averaged 27.8 yards every attempt, which paced the Big Ten. 

“He’s a very valuable player to our team,” Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett said of Campbell on Oct. 31. “I think he does a lot for us, especially on special teams. He’s definitely a valuable player to our team.” 

The Akron native was one of the very few bright spots in OSU’s 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. He totaled 105 yards on three returns (35.0 yards). His game-high 54-yard runback gave the Buckeyes excellent starting field position at the Tigers’ 42. Ohio State could not cash in on the opportunity, though.      

For the year, the Buckeyes did not return a kick or punt for a touchdown. 

BSB Midterm Grade: C

BSB Second-Half Grade: C+

BSB Final Grade: C+

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