Final Exams: How The Offense Grades Out

The emergence of tailback Lydell Ross and flanker Santonio Holmes were pleasant surprises as the Ohio State offense found some consistency in the second half of the season. Here, we assign letter grades on each unit of the offense for the second half and the season.

With the regular season complete, we will share our grades on the Ohio State football team for the 2003 campaign.

I provided "Midterm Grades" during an edition of The Buckeye Grove in October. At that time, OSU had just lost to Wisconsin to fall to 5-1 on the season. The Buckeyes then went 5-1 in the second half of the year with the lone loss coming in the season finale against Michigan, denying OSU a chance to defend its national championship against Oklahoma at the Sugar Bowl.

The loss to Michigan does cast a pall on the second half of the year. But it should be noted that the Buckeyes did defeat three top-20 teams (Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue) and also won a tight game at Penn State.

So, with all of that in mind, we will grade each facet of the offense today and come back with the defense and special teams tomorrow. We will share the first-half grade, then give the second-half grade and average them for the season. Here goes:

Quarterbacks -- In the second half of the year, what Craig Krenzel wasn't able to do (mostly because of injuries against Penn State and Michigan) backup Scott McMullen came on and did the job. Krenzel had three 200-yard games in the second half. Over the last six games, he and McMullen combined to complete 59.1 percent of their passes – up from 56.3 in the first six games – for 1,428 yards with nine touchdowns against four interceptions. In the second half of the year, the Buckeyes moved up from 95th to 71st nationally in passing offense at 207.5 yards per game. Any way you cut it, OSU's play at quarterback in the second half was an improvement over the first six games. The players at this position aren't exactly winning games yet, but they didn't lose any in the second half of the year, either.First-Half Grade: B, Second-Half Grade: A-, Final Grade: B+

Running Backs -- OSU ended up in exactly the same spot in rushing offense as it was after six games – 87th nationally. Lydell Ross did enjoy three straight 100-yard games against Indiana, Penn State and Michigan State and also had a strong game against Purdue. But the injury bug that plagued him in the first half of the year reared its ugly head again at Michigan, where he only got 22 yards on nine carries. His backups, Maurice Hall and Ira Guilford, were nonexistent in the second half. At fullback, Branden Joe became healthy at midseason and did the best he could to help aid the running game. The idea of using Joe as an offensive weapon never materialized, though. First-Half Grade: C-, Second-Half Grade: B-, Final Grade: C.

Wide Receivers -- Part of the reason the passing game clicked better in the second half was the play of split end Michael Jenkins and flanker Santonio Holmes, who started the last four games after Drew Carter went down with a knee injury. Holmes actually replaced Carter midway through the Indiana game and immediately became an unqualified star. Over the last five games, he had 27 catches for 460 yards (17.0 average) and five touchdowns. This redshirt freshman has a bright future in front of him. Jenkins remained solid, delivering two of his best games at the end against Purdue (six catches, 123 yards) and Michigan (nine catches, 132 yards). The only down side – besides Carter's injury – is the fact OSU did little to bring along people like Bam Childress and Roy Hall. First-Half Grade: B+, Second-Half Grade: A, Final Grade: A-.

Tight Ends -- Just as in the first half, this was a real bright spot for the offense. with Ben Hartsock (14 catches) and Ryan Hamby (9 grabs) were consistent outlets for the QBs. Hartsock also continued to draw rave reviews for his blocking. Hamby is positioned to take over as the starter next year. Off-the-field problems derailed promising freshman Louis Irizarry, whose first year ended without a reception. First-Half Grade: A-, Second-Half Grade: A-, Final Grade: A-.

Offensive Line -- At the midway point, we wondered if it could get much worse. But after failing to reach 350 yards even once in the first six games, the Buckeyes hit that mark four times in their last six games. The Buckeyes began to run the ball much more effectively and, until surrendering four sacks against Michigan, had succeeded in keeping opposing pass rushers off the quarterbacks. At midseason, OSU made a switch to the lineup as a healthy Alex Stepanovich replaced Bryce Bishop at guard and Nick Mangold, who had replaced Stepanovich when he went down, stayed at center. Although the initial returns (185 yards total offense in a 19-10 pitcher's duel against Iowa) weren't pretty, the offense found some consistency over the next four weeks. Stepanovich earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, while tackle Shane Olivea was a second-team pick. Both well deserved. I also felt versatile Adrien Clarke, who played some guard and some tackle, had a pretty good year. No unit came as far as this one did in the second half. First-Half Grade: D+, Second-Half Grade: B, Final Grade: C+.

Offensive Coaching -- At the midway point, we wondered aloud why the offensive scheme was so predictable and, truly, so inept. After all, after six games OSU was 109th nationally in total offense (out of 117 teams). But something broke loose in the second half and OSU moved the ball effectively – for the most part. OSU ended the year 94th in total offense at 331.8 yards per game. It ain't exactly BYU of the late 1980s, but it was a little bit of a step toward respectability. They did average 369.7 yards per game in the second half. There were questions in the Michigan game about two or three play call decisions as well as the call to put a battered Krenzel back in the game. But, again, I don't think the offense was more than 25 percent to blame for the loss in that critical game. First-Half Grade: D, Second-Half Grade: B, Final Grade: C.

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