Midterm Exams: The OSU Offense

With six games in the books, we take a look at each position group and assign letter grades for the Ohio State offense. That includes the running back position, where Antonio Pittman is on course to become a 1,000-yard rusher. Click here for more.

Ohio State has played six regular season games. This is about as close to the midway point of the season as you will get. So we will provide our midterm exams on each facet of the offense today and will do the defense and special teams tomorrow.

Before we look at each position group, let's check the numbers:

* Scoring Offense -- OSU is 10th in the Big Ten and 60th nationally at 26.5 points per game.

* Total Offense -- The Buckeyes rank 11th in the conference and 71st nationally at 359.7 yards per game.

* Rushing Offense -- OSU checks in at ninth in the Big Ten and 38th nationally at 165.3 yards per game.

* Passing Offense -- The Buckeyes rank 10th in the Big Ten and 82nd nationally at 194.3 yards per game.

Obviously, the Buckeyes stand at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play headed into Saturday's game at Indiana.

Here we go:


Troy Smith has started the last four games. He was suspended for the opener against Miami (Ohio), then relieved starter Justin Zwick early in the Texas game. Certainly, there are a lot of factors that are involved here, but the quarterback play has simply been too inconsistent to give a strong grade.

Zwick and debuting redshirt freshman Todd Boeckman were fine in the opener against Miami (Ohio). But Zwick and Smith were unable to make the play OSU needed to pull out the pivotal game with Texas.

Smith was spotty, at best, against San Diego State. He then played one of his best games yet against Iowa. He was then inconsistent, at best, in the loss at Penn State with a pair of key turnovers. Finally, he rebounded with a career-high 249 yards passing against Michigan State.

Granted, Smith has made just nine career starts. But I am quite certain the coaching staff is looking for more consistency and fewer mental and physical mistakes here down the stretch.

Put it all in the blender and you get:

First Half Grade: C

Running Backs

This has largely been the Antonio Pittman show. He's had 563 yards on 110 carries (5.1 average) and also six pass catches to date. He is in line to be OSU's first 1,000-yard rusher since Maurice Clarett in 2002.

No other back has more than 25 carries, telling you that this is Pittman's show. Backup Brandon Schnittker has had some costly fumbles in the red zone, while true freshman Maurice Wells' opportunities have been few and far between. It's unclear when or if Erik Haw will ever get a shot.

The fullback position with Stan White Jr. and/or Dionte Johnson has only been utilized about 20 or 25 percent of the time, so they almost have to have an incomplete grade.

The production here seems to be better than we've seen in recent years. OSU has been one of the country's worst rush offenses the last couple of years, but the Buckeyes are at least in the top 40 this year, though some of that is also due to Smith, who averages almost 60 yards a game rushing from the QB spot.

Where would this team be without Pittman? And even he is waiting to score his first touchdown. (I bet he gets that this weekend.)

First Half Grade: C+

Wide Receivers

This has been a four-man show with Santonio Holmes (27 catches), Ted Ginn Jr. (20), Anthony Gonzalez (16) and Roy Hall (12).

Holmes has done about all he can with the limited chances he's had. He's made tough catches, acrobatic catches, and everything else in between.

Some have been mystified that Ginn has yet to explode at receiver. Defenses have too easily eliminated him, although he came through with a 57-yard TD grab last week against Michigan State.

Gonzalez and Hall seem to be so capable. It's weird that they don't get more balls, although OSU is only throwing the ball about 38 percent of the time. Albert Dukes (no catches) and Brian Robiskie (one catch) are also in the top six, but are rarely seen.

After all the talk about how the offense would be explosive, we're still waiting to see it. Route running has been called into question for some of these guys, although inconsistency by the quarterbacks (i.e. missing wide open guys) has also been questioned. I guess we expect to see more in the second half.

First Half Grade: B-

Tight Ends

Ryan Hamby has eight catches for 58 yards, but the biggest news here was the catch that wasn't made – the sure touchdown toss from Zwick that could have helped cement the Texas game.

Sadly, that looks like it will be Hamby's legacy. Then again, he can improve his stock if he stays with his role in the run game and is able to pull in some meaningful balls down the stretch.

With Rory Nicol on the shelf, converted linebacker Brandon Smith has been the backup. Marcel Frost finally seemed to emerge from the dog house and played a handful of plays against Michigan State. Maybe he can show some of the big play ability had displayed in the spring.

First Half Grade: C-

Offensive Line

Four of the five starters were back on the offensive line, led by center Nick Mangold and left tackle-turned-left guard Rob Sims. The numbers say OSU is better offensively, but not by a wide margin.

The running game is certainly better. And OSU has surrendered just 10 quarterback sacks in six games. Five of those came in the loss to Penn State, though, as the line seemed outmatched by Scott Paxson, Tamba Hali and Co.

OSU coach Jim Tressel recently said he thought Mangold could be All-American caliber. Sims has also been strong in his move to guard. Right tackle Kirk Barton was also considered among the team's top three linemen before he went down with an injury. True freshman Alex Boone has gotten a baptism as his replacement.

Left tackle Doug Datish, who started at guard most of last year, is coming off one of his best games against Michigan State. Right guard T.J. Downing has been solid and answered the bell.

The spread has taken some of the onus off the line, which is good. The last two years proved that OSU just did not have the talent up front to win games by overpowering people.

I think if OSU is able to solve some of its red zone deficiencies and finish some more drives with touchdowns, this unit will be much better regarded.

First Half Grade: B-

Offensive Coaching

The fact of the matter seems to be that the offense took a definite step backwards from the big numbers it displayed late last year against Michigan and Oklahoma State. Granted, some of it has dealt with the changes at quarterback, lack of depth at tailback, tight end and on the offensive line and the stellar defenses OSU faced against Texas and Penn State.

The Buckeyes did not rise to the challenge in those two games. OSU's red zone woes cost it the Texas game, while the Buckeyes never came up with a scheme to overcome the PSU defense.

There was talk that this would be an explosive offense. That has been hit-and-miss, though.

There is a sense that there should have been so much more done with the talent here. That falls back on the coaches.

First Half Grade: C-

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