Final Exams: The OSU Offense

With the regular season in the books, we look back at the last half of the year and provide letter grades for each position group for the 2005 Ohio State offense. The transformation for that unit over the last half of the year was truly something to behold, led by quarterback Troy Smith and first-team All-Big Ten picks WR Santonio Holmes and LG Rob Sims. Click here for more.

The 2005 Ohio State football season was obviously a tale of two halves. You have the first portion of the year, where the Buckeyes opened 3-2. Then, you have the six-game winning streak that OSU used to roll all the way to a piece of the Big Ten championship.

We published our two Midterm Exam articles in mid-October, just after OSU had turned back Michigan State to get to 4-2. We are back today with the first of two articles with our Final Exam grades for the 2005 season. We will provide grades for each position group over the final five games and for the year as well.

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

* Scoring Offense -- After six games, OSU was 60th nationally at 26.5 points per game. The Buckeyes moved up 32 spots to 28th nationally in scoring at 32.6. The Buckeyes had four straight 40-point games for the first time since 1995 and averaged 39.9 points per game over the last five games.

* Total Offense -- In mid-October, the Buckeyes ranked 71st nationally at 359.7 yards per game. OSU vaulted to 37th by season's end at 404.6 yards per game. Over the last five games, the Buckeyes averaged 460.2 yards per game.

* Rushing Offense -- After six games, OSU was 38th nationally at 165.3 yards per game. The Buckeyes ended the year 29th nationally at 189.6 yards per game.

* Passing Offense -- In mid-October, the Buckeyes were 82nd nationally at 194.3 yards per game. They ended the year 68th at 215.1 yards per game.

Here we go:


At the halfway point, we lamented the inconsistency of OSU quarterbacks Justin Zwick and Troy Smith. Smith had played a masterful game against Iowa, but otherwise was somewhat of an enigma in the first half of the year.

That, of course, changed dramatically down the stretch as Smith played the best football of his career.

He eclipsed the 200-yard mark in passing in four of OSU's last five games, including another incredible performance in the season-ending game against Michigan. He keyed the win in Ann Arbor by completing 27 of 37 passes for a career-high 300 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score.

He had three three-touchdown passing games on the year (Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois). He threw just one interception in the last five games. Moreover, he became the true team leader everybody was looking for.

After the Michigan game, you wonder what Smith will do for an encore. I guess we'll see on Jan. 2, when the Buckeyes meet Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Or, better yet, all next season when Smith – who was sixth nationally in passing efficiency (158.5 points) – will have all season.

For the year, Smith completed 130 of 209 passes for 1,940 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 545 yards and 11 scores.

Put it all in the blender and you get:

First Half Grade: C

Second Half Grade: A-

Season Grade: B

Running Backs

At the midway point, we praised tailback Antonio Pittman for coming into his own. Through six games, he had 563 yards and three 100-yard games. But he had not scored a touchdown.

He was just as strong – if not stronger – down the stretch with 632 yards and six touchdowns in the final five games. Three of those games were 100-yard efforts, including a career-best 186 yards and two scores in the 45-31 win at Minnesota.

Pittman, OSU's first 1,000-yard rusher since Maurice Clarett in 2002, appears on his way to becoming a star for the Buckeyes. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. For the year, he had 1,195 yards and six touchdowns on 222 carries.

He was, perhaps, the one shining light in the backfield. Backup Brandon Schnittker was lost due to an injury after the Indiana game, while true freshman Maurice Wells was spotty at best with a fumble on his only carry in the Michigan game.

Stan White Jr. emerged at fullback, providing some key blocks down the stretch including one that took out two defenders on Pittman's game-winning 3-yard touchdown run with just 24 seconds left at Michigan.

We'd give Pittman an A- or B+. But the group has to be graded as a whole.

First Half Grade: C+

Second Half Grade: B

Season Grade: B-

Wide Receivers

Just as Smith emerged down the stretch, so did his receiving corps.

We have felt all along that Santonio Holmes was the best in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. He proved it over the last five games. He had six touchdowns among his 21 catches over the last five games. He ended the year with 48 catches for 853 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-Big Ten pick.

Ted Ginn Jr. ended up with 23 catches over the last five games, including a career-best nine grabs for 89 yards in the win over Michigan. He may be coming into his own as a receiver. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick, finishing with 43 catches for 636 yards and three touchdowns.

Anthony Gonzalez will be remembered forever for his amazing 26-yard leaping, off-balance grab that set up the winning touchdown at Michigan. That capped a four-catch, 75-yard effort in the season's biggest game.

We would like to see more out of the rest of the group. Roy Hall only had two catches in the final five games. Albert Dukes had his only two catches on the year in the last half of the season. There seems to be some potential with those two and with Brian Robiskie, who also had an early season catch as a true freshman.

First Half Grade: B-

Second Half Grade: A-

Season Grade: B+

Tight Ends

At the midway point of the year, we lamented the play of senior Ryan Hamby. But Hamby was lost to an injury at midseason and never had a chance to redeem himself for some early gaffes (dropped touchdown pass against Texas, apparent missed block against Penn State).

Athletic Marcel Frost stepped into the void and made six catches in the final four games, including three for 22 yards in the win at Michigan. Those experiences could spur Frost toward a big year in 2006, when injured sophomore Rory Nicol is due to return.

But the lack of meaningful play from the tight end spot was covered by three-receiver sets and the use of White as a blocker from the fullback and/or H-back spots.

First Half Grade: C-

Second Half Grade: C+

Season Grade: C

Offensive Line

When the team increases its yardage total per game from 359.7 yards per game by just over 100 yards per contest to 460.2 in the second half, you have to look at the offensive line for getting its job done.

Left guard Rob Sims earned first-team All-Big Ten with center Nick Mangold on the second team. Those two were the standardbearers. Left tackle Doug Datish enjoyed a decent year after moving from guard. Right guard T.J. Downing was nasty and steady at the same time.

Kirk Barton started the first five games at right tackle before going down with an injury. Highly touted freshman Alex Boone filled in for four midseason games and OSU won them all. Barton returned for the Northwestern and Michigan games. The experience sets Boone up to possibly become a starter a year from now, allowing Datish to move to guard or center to replace either Sims or Mangold.

It became a routine down the stretch: Smith will riddle a team, then come in and give all the praise to "my guys up front." This was the best performance by an OSU offensive line in several years.

First Half Grade: B-

Second Half Grade: A-

Season Grade: B+

Offensive Coaching

The feeling at midseason was, quite frankly, that the coaching staff had squandered a pat hand. Going off the way OSU played against Michigan and Oklahoma State at the end of the 2004 season, many believed the Buckeyes would put up huge numbers to open the new year.

That did not happen as it took Smith, in particular, about half the year to find himself after his early season suspension.

Once the staff had a full arsenal at its disposal, the sky was the limit. Of course, the season's two toughest tests – No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Penn State – were at the beginning. But the numbers and wins down the stretch spoke for themselves. The staff stumbled on many ways to attack teams and solidified the running attack – perhaps the biggest accomplishment of all.

And they brought Smith along the right way, and he paid them back for their patience.

But, again, such a strong finish will only lead to huge expectations for this Fiesta Bowl match-up against Notre Dame and for next year, when as many as eight starters should be back.

First Half Grade: C-

Second Half Grade: A-

Season Grade: B+ (it averages to a B, but for a fourth Michigan win in five years we will move them up half a letter)

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