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Headline: The Grades Are In
(From Jan. 2006 issue)
By Dave Biddle
With a roster loaded with experience and talent, expectations were high for Ohio State entering the 2005 season.
Although the Buckeyes fell short of two of their primary goals – winning a national championship, and claiming an outright Big Ten championship – it's difficult to classify this season as a failure.
Ohio State began the season with a 3-2 record, including heartbreaking losses to visiting Texas, 25-22, and at Penn State, 17-10.
However, the Buckeyes pulled together and won the last six games of the regular season. Their thrilling 25-21 comeback victory over rival Michigan was the highlight of the year. It enabled them to clinch a share of the Big Ten title and arguably made the season a success.
Let's go position-by-position and examine the 2005 Buckeyes and take a sneak peak at next year.
When the season kicked off against Miami University on Sept. 3, junior Justin Zwick was OSU's starting quarterback and classmate Troy Smith was serving the final game of a two-game suspension. The QB situation was still very much up in the air.
However, when the dust settled, Smith earned the job and emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history.
He finished the regular season with 1,940 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions and a completion percentage of 62.2. He was seventh in the country and led the Big Ten in passing efficiency with a rating of 158.4.
The 6-1, 215-pound Smith was also dangerous on the ground, finishing the regular season with 545 rushing yards (4.4 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns.
As he did in 2004, Smith saved his best for the Michigan game. He was 27 of 37 passing for 300 yards and one touchdown against the Wolverines. The Buckeyes were trailing 21-12 midway through the fourth quarter, but Smith calmly led them on a pair of touchdown drives, including a John Elway-like 88-yard march in the final four minutes for the game-winner.
Yes, many fans wonder what might have been if Smith hadn't been suspended to begin the season (he was suspended for two games in December of 2004 for accepting $500 from a booster). It didn't affect the Buckeyes against Miami as OSU cruised to a 34-14 win behind Zwick and redshirt freshman Todd Boeckman. But it somewhat left head coach Jim Tressel's hands tied for the huge week two contest against Texas.
Tressel had no choice but to start Zwick – he's not going to start a player fresh off suspension. Smith entered the game in the first half and OSU flip-flopped quarterbacks throughout the game, never really getting into a rhythm offensively.
The Longhorns played well and earned the win with a late touchdown drive, but who knows how that game would have turned out with Smith playing the entire way.
Of course, it didn't help the Buckeyes against Penn State, Smith's worst performance of the season. But in nearly every other game, Smith proved that he is one of the rising stars in the college game. He has a chance to add to his stellar season with a strong performance in the bowl game and will likely begin the 2006 season being touted as one of the top quarterbacks in the land.
2005 Grade: A- (A great year for Smith overall. But quarterback play was less than stellar in the two losses, bringing the grade down a notch.)
Sophomore Antonio Pittman began the season as the clear-cut starter at tailback. However, opinions were mixed on how he would fare in the role. Was he big enough? Could he withstand the pounding of the Big Ten season?
But like Smith, Pittman raised his game to another level this year and silenced any doubters. The 5-11, 200-pound slasher closed the regular season with 1,195 rushing yards – including a robust 5.4 yards per carry – and six touchdowns.
He also proved to be an effective receiver out of the backfield with 15 receptions for 155 yards.
Next year, Pittman has the chance to become just the fifth running back in OSU history to reach 1,000 rushing yards twice in a career. He would join Archie Griffin (the only one to do it three times) Tim Spencer, Keith Byars and Eddie George. Pretty lofty company.
Pittman's strengths are his quickness, acceleration and vision. But he also proved he can lower his head and run over bigger defenders.
As good as Pittman was this year, the Buckeyes never found a reliable backup. Senior Brandon Schnittker – a converted fullback – began the season as the No. 2 tailback. Schnittker was not very effective and also had problems with ball security. He was then lost for the season with an injury in the Indiana game.
Stepping up to replace Schnittker was true freshman Maurice Wells. He showed decent quickness, but was ineffective running between the tackles. He also lost a fumble in his only carry in the Michigan game. Wells finished the regular season with 199 yards (3.3 per carry) and one touchdown.
The No. 3 tailback towards the end of the regular season was redshirt freshman Erik Haw. A resident of Tressel's "doghouse" early in the season, Haw got his opportunity when Schnittker went down. Haw had just 14 carries for 61 yards and one touchdown during the regular season, but seems to have some potential if he decides to stay in the program next year. (There have been rumblings that he is considering a transfer, but the opinion here is he will likely stay.)
At fullback, junior Stan White Jr. received most of the snaps and played well (White was actually an H-back most of the time, a FB/TE hybrid). Sophomore Dionte Johnson also played well when called upon. White and Johnson will continue to share the fullback role next year, leaving the position in very good hands.
At tailback next year, Buckeye fans can expect a steady diet of Pittman as he continues to establish himself as one of the premiere backs in the Big Ten. True freshman Chris Wells will also join the fold. The 6-2, 230-pound bruiser is expected to make an immediate impact. Maurice Wells and Haw will also be in the mix, although it might take an injury for them to see a lot of playing time.
2005 Grade: B+ (That's an A for Pittman, a B for the fullbacks and a D for the backup tailbacks. Pittman carried the load; his grade carries the most weight.)
The wide receiver position was expected to be a strength for the Buckeyes this season, and it was.
Fourth-year junior Santonio Holmes definitely had his "money year" with a team-best 48 receptions for 853 yards (17.8 per reception) and 10 touchdowns. Holmes faced double-teams for much of the season, but always seemed to step up with clutch grabs.
And when the Buckeyes decided to go away from their passing game and rely on their running game, Holmes didn't pout. He simply became one of the best pound-for-pound blockers you will ever see at 5-11, 190 pounds.
As the regular season ended, no decision had been made on Holmes' future. But projected as a first round NFL draft pick, and with two young sons back home in Florida, Holmes will likely not be back in an OSU uniform next year.
One could make the argument that OSU's Ted Ginn Jr. had a bit of a sophomore slump, but he still turned in a solid season from the receiver position. Ginn closed the regular season with 43 receptions for 636 yards (14.8) and three touchdowns. Still learning the nuances of the position (he was a star QB/DB in high school) Ginn's route running was criticized at times, but he became more polished as the season progressed and was a very solid No. 2 target.
Sophomore Anthony Gonzalez could make a good claim at being one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten. The 6-0, 190-pound Gonzalez caught 27 passes for 358 yards (13.3) and three touchdowns. With Holmes and Ginn stealing most of the headlines, all Gonzalez did was quietly make big plays.
Well, not always so quietly. His 26-yard leaping reception over a defender on the winning drive against Michigan will be replayed on Buckeye highlight reels for years to come.
The Buckeyes' No. 4 receiver, junior Roy Hall, was solid when called upon. The tight end-sized Hall (6-3, 240) hauled in 14 receptions for 112 yards (8.0).
Next year, with Holmes likely out of the picture, Ginn and Gonzalez will be the primary targets and Hall will have the chance to step up as the No. 3. Also look for a lot of Albert Dukes, who got his feet wet as a redshirt freshman this year with two catches for 28 yards. He attended the same high school as Holmes in Florida (Glades Central) and some believe he's nearly as talented.
2005 Grade: A- (Holmes, Ginn and Gonzalez formed an outstanding top three. Holmes was probably underutilized when you consider how talented he is.)
The offensive line was led all season by senior captains Nick Mangold and Rob Sims, a pair of three-year starters who will most-assuredly be playing in the NFL next year.
The 6-4, 300-pound Mangold was billed as one of the top centers in America coming into the season and he more than lived up to the hype. In addition to being a solid blocker at the point of attack, Mangold made checks at the line of scrimmage and was basically a coach on the field for the Buckeyes. He will go down as one of the best to play his position in OSU history.
The 6-4, 310-pound Sims also turned in his best season to date. He switched to left guard this year (from left tackle), which he felt was his most natural position all along. His blend of athleticism and power will be missed next year.
Junior right guard T.J. Downing also was a mainstay up front. He started every game and was rock solid. The 6-5, 305-pound Downing plays with a nasty streak and has developed into a fine player.
Another player that deserves a lot of credit is junior left tackle Doug Datish. Entering the season, Datish was a guard/center combo. However, he was thrust into the demanding left tackle role and held his own for the most part.
Sophomore Kirk Barton spent most of the season manning the right tackle position, but missed four games due to an injury. When he was in there, the 6-6, 325-pound Barton was impressive with his combination of size and athleticism.
When Barton was on the shelf, true freshman Alex Boone stepped in and played well. The 6-8, 315-pound mountain was one of the top recruits in the country last year and did not disappoint anyone with his play.
Looking ahead to next year, Downing, Datish, Barton and Boone are virtual locks to start. Also vying for time will be sophomore guard/tackle Steve Rehring. He was battling for a starting job early this season, but came down with pneumonia. He never returned to full strength and the staff decided to redshirt him. The 6-8, 330-pound Rehring played quite a bit as a true freshman in 2004.
The center of the future is freshman Jim Cordle. He would have been Mangold's backup this year, but suffered an ankle injury in preseason camp. The staff was impressed with Cordle as soon as he arrived on campus last spring.
2005 Grade: B+ (Lack of depth and breaking in a new left tackle were the only things holding this group down.)
This position was a glaring weakness for the Buckeyes for most of the season. Senior Ryan Hamby had a forgettable campaign with a key drop against Texas, among other miscues, and was then injured for much of the Big Ten slate.
Sophomore Rory Nicol, expected to battle Hamby for the starting spot, was lost for the season with an injury in the preseason.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Smith stepped in and tried to fill the role, but he was a converted linebacker trying to learn on the fly.
Just when it looked hopeless, sophomore Marcel Frost checked out of the "doghouse" and into the starting lineup. Frost – who finished the regular season with six receptions for 62 yards – wasn't the second-coming of John Frank. But he did help solidify the position. It was no longer a weakness when he was on the field.
Next year, look for Frost and Nicol to share the role.
2005 Grade: D+ (Remember having to ace your final exam just to pass the class? Frost pulled an "all-nighter" and got it done for his boys.)
It's become so common, Buckeye fans might take it for granted at this point. Ohio State seems to always have a good defensive line, at least since defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has been around (he was OSU's defensive line coach for nine years prior to the promotion).
This year's front four was led by senior end Mike Kudla and junior tackle Quinn Pitcock.
Kudla closed the regular season with 34 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 sacks. His blend of speed and strength was nothing short of impressive.
Pitcock's statistics are never going to stick out (27 tackles, three for loss, one sack) but he's one of the best players at his position in the country. His job in the Buckeyes' scheme is to help control the line of scrimmage, eat up blockers and allow the linebackers to fly around and make plays.
Pitcock's running mate inside – senior Marcus Green – also had a solid year. He started every game and had 34 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack.
The same could be said for junior end/tackle David Patterson. He had 23 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. His versatility made him extremely valuable.
The defensive line was also boosted by the play of Bobby Carpenter. The senior outside linebacker moved down to rush end several times this season and led the Buckeyes with eight sacks.
Next year, Pitcock and Patterson will return and are locks to start. Also look for a lot of tackles in Joel Penton, Sian Cotton and Nader Abdallah, as well as ends Jay Richardson, Vernon Gholson, Lawrence Wilson and Alex Barrow.
2005 Grade: A- (This group could have used another effective pass rusher, which would have allowed Carpenter to stay at linebacker full time. When you end up No. 1 nationally against the run, your defensive line has done something right.)
Seniors A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel and Carpenter will go down as arguably the best linebacker corps in OSU history. Hawk finished the regular season with his usual gaudy statistics, including a team-best 109 tackles and 13 tackles-for-loss. He added 7.5 sacks and provided outstanding leadership all season. Carpenter led the Buckeyes with eight sacks.
Schlegel was overshadowed by his more athletic teammates, but he was rock solid all year in the middle with 75 tackles.
Next year, five players will battle for the three vacant starting spots. James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman could be locks for the outside spots. That leaves Mike D'Andrea, John Kerr and Chad Hoobler to fight it out in the middle, although don't be surprised to see D'Andrea moved around, much like Carpenter this year.
2005 Grade: A+ (Off the charts. It will be a long time before we see a group this good at OSU again.)
Solid, not spectacular, best describes OSU's secondary this season.
Junior strong safety Donte Whitner had the best season out of the group with 64 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss, four sacks and two interceptions. Whitner brought a hard-hitting mentality to the secondary and played with a nasty attitude.
Junior cornerback Ashton Youboty had 50 tackles and one interception. He had some rough moments, as most corners do, but proved to be mentally and physically tough. Youboty came into the season known as a lockdown corner, but also showed he could come up and play the run.
Senior free safety Nate Salley went out with a solid campaign. He had 40 tackles and was the vocal and emotional leader of the secondary.
Senior cornerback Tyler Everett had 31 tackles, but missed most of three games with a neck injury.
Freshman cornerback Malcolm Jenkins was the pleasant surprise of the secondary this year. He played in 10 games and recorded 29 tackles and two pass break-ups. Jenkins could be the next great corner to come out of OSU.
Looking ahead to next year, the status of Youboty and Whitner is in question. Both are considering making a jump to the NFL, although it seems like a long shot with Whitner (the NFL rarely drafts safeties early, especially 5-11 safeties like Whitner).
Although Youboty did not have a great year by any means, he would likely not slip past the second round of the draft. It will be tempting to go, but in the end I think both he and Whitner will return to lead the defense next year.
Jenkins will also be back, along with safeties Brandon Mitchell and Jamario O'Neal. And we're still waiting to see Ginn get some snaps on defense.
2005 Grade: B (Again, solid, not spectacular)
Ginn was explosive on kick returns (29.6 yards per return, 1 TD) and punt returns (10.0 yards per return, 1 TD). But he did have quite a bit of trouble catching the ball at times, most notably in the Michigan game.
Holmes also chipped in on kick returns (23.5 yards per return) and was even more dangerous than Ginn on punt returns (12.8 yards per return).
Sixth-year senior kicker Josh Huston had a very solid year. He closed the regular season 20 of 24 on field goals and 40 of 41 on extra points. Huston also drilled an OSU-record 49 touchbacks.
Redshirt freshman punter A.J. Trapasso was erratic at times, but overall did well for a first-year player. He averaged 40.4 yards on 42 attempts, including 18 punts inside the 20.
Next year, Ryan Pretorius and Aaron Pettrey will battle for the vacant kicker position. It looks like Pretorius, a former professional rugby player from South Africa, has the early leg up on the competition.
2005 Grade: B+ (Ginn's sloppy ball-handling, Huston's inability to hit long field goals and Trapasso's inconsistency kept this group from being great.)