Not for a consistent, reliable, strong legged kicker. Josh Huston has proven his salt in the early part of the 2005 campaign. Nine out of 10 field goals made is just part of it. His kickoffs have been soaring deep and, more often than not, to the back of the end zone making them non-returnable. The identity we are searching for isn't even the other two rookies of the special teams, punter AJ Trapasso and long-snapper Drew Norman. AJ's kicks have not only been averaging 40 yards per punt, but have had plenty of hang time which has given the opponents a long field. Only four times have punts been returned, and for less than a four yard average. Drew's snaps have been on target on both place kicks and punts.
No, the lost identity isn't in the special team area at all. Besides the rock solid performance of the specialists, the return game is stronger than ever. The dangerous duo of Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes has opposing coaches so worried that they must game plan ways to kick away from their two talented returners. Together they average over 12 yards per punt return, and over 26 yards per kickoff return. All Buckeye fans know that it's just a matter of time before one of them brings a punt or kick back all the way, no matter what the opposing strategy. No, that missing identity isn't on special teams.
Could that lost soul, that missing identity, be "defense"? Not in your life! Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock's "silver bullets" have been flying around like the Lone Ranger unloading six guns in chase of the cattle rustlers. Except for a slight glich versus Texas and the first play of the San Diego State game, the Buckeye defense has been unmerciful to all three opponents.
The number one linebacking corps in the country, led by Butkus Award winner-to-be General AJ Hawk, have not only totaled over 60 tackles, but have maneuvered behind enemy lines 19 times to sack the quarterback or throw the enemy ball carrier for a loss. A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Schlegel and company have forced six turnovers and held the opposition to grit 58 yards rushing per game. With the steady improvement of the defensive front, the Buckeyes have a chance to be among the national elite in stopping the run. Heacock well knows you must stop the run in order to win the physical Big Ten Conference. Iowa will test the Buckeyes this week with the run, but don't fear; the six guns are loaded.
Maybe that lost identity is the secondary play of the Ohio State defense? Not so fast! Even though the secondary hasn't been as consistent against the pass as the front seven has been against the run, they have been very sound. Two interceptions and over 60 tackles in three games have been one of the reasons teams have had trouble piercing the armor of the bass, nickel, and dime defensive looks. Nate Salley, Ashton Youboty, Donte Whitner and Tyler Everett have been very productive against the long ball and reliable on run support. The reality for the talented Buckeye secondary is that the best the enemy has to offer is yet to come. They will be well tested in Big Ten play, and their "true grit" is yet to be determined. My bet is they will rise to the occasion.
Lost identity in the game of football leads to such things as inconsistency and a lack of big play production. The Ohio State special teams and defense have shown to be consistent in performance and have made a number of big kicks, big returns, big sacks, and big plays to warrant recognition in this early part of the season.
But what about the offense?
Aha! We may have found that lost identity. Let's analyze the characteristic of a consistent and productive offense and see how the Buckeyes fare.
First, a consistent and productive offensive unit has a base play they can "hang-their-hat-on" when they need a good first down call that generates at least three, but hopefully four or five yards. That play traditionally has been the off-tackle play. A play that can, and has been, run out of different formations and different personnel groupings. In the days of Woody, it was often run out of the "T" or Robust Formation (as Woody would call it). The ball would be given often times to the fullback.
More often, and since the days of Woody, the play has been run out of the "I" back formation and given to the tailback with a fullback kicking out at the point of attack and the backside guard pulling around for the linebacker. In the "spread" offense the same off-tackle play is run with the single back or even the quarterback carrying the ball. There is no lead fullback in the spread.
However, unless the single back is a "big" back that leads the quarterback through the hole, the play may not be as effective. Whatever formation, whatever personnel grouping, whoever carries the ball, the Buckeyes need to identify the play they can count on for positive yardage on first down and a guaranteed first down in short yardage situations.
The next needed element is a sound red zone package that emphasizes the run and play action passes. The spread becomes less effective as the field shortens. Routes are shortened and the defense can come off their coverage easier and quicker for run support. Hard run action freezes the defense if you can establish a running threat in the red zone.
Many argue that there is "big play" potential in the spread offense; a good and true argument. By getting the ball to a great player in the open field where he can use his talents and speed is smart football. Also, spreading out the defense often allows a great running back a chance to bust into the open field for a big run. There is no immediate run support from the secondary because they are "bumped" out covering down receivers.
The problem the Buckeyes offense has had is getting the ball to their best players, enough, to take advantage of the spread. Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes have totaled 23 receptions in three games. Teddy has also handled the ball five times on reverses, counters or option pitches. That's a total of 28 touches for the two big play makes out of 177 offensive plays in three games. That's only a little more than 15 percent of the time the offense has the ball.
Even though the growth of Anthony Gonzalez, Roy Hall and Antonio Pitman has been a big positive, there have only been two passes over 25 yards and no runs over 17. That's not nearly enough production for a spread offense.
Hopefully, by deciding on one quarterback and by evaluating the first three games, the offense will establish their identity this week against the Iowa Hawkeyes. I strongly believe the Buckeyes will win the Big Ten and I have the confidence all three components (defense, kicking game, and offense) will be running on all cylinders. Time however, is running out. The Big Ten "race for the title" begins for the Buckeyes noon Saturday.
The guns need to be loaded with "Buck" shot and ready to fire. And on Saturday, let the feathers fly; Hawkeye feathers.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley is in his second year as football analyst for Bucknuts.com. He spent 17 years as an Ohio State assistant coach. He can also be heard on his weekly radio show each Sunday morning on WTVN-AM (610) from 9 a.m. to noon.