Midterm Exams: The OSU Offense

We provide our Midterm Exams with grades on each position group and the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Troy Smith has been hailed as OSU's offensive leader in the 6-0 start, but Ted Ginn Jr. has quietly moved among the Big Ten's top receivers. Click here for more.

With Ohio State at the midway point of the season, we thought we would go through and provide our Midterm Exam grades for the offense, defense and special teams. Today, we will concentrate on the offense.

Obviously, the top-ranked Buckeyes are 6-0 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play with six Big Ten games left in the regular season.

The Buckeyes have been able to attack opposing defenses in any number of ways so far this season. That versatility is appealing to the coaching staff.

"That is the beauty of the offense and what we're doing," said OSU wide receivers coach/assistant head coach Darrell Hazell. "What we try to do Sunday and Monday as a staff is just watch as much film as we can and get the best plan we think that can attack their defense, whether it's running the ball or passing the ball. Thus far, it's been good."

Center Doug Datish used this past weekend's game against Bowling Green – where tailback Antonio Pittman finished with a season-low 61 yards on 13 carries – as an example of the way the Buckeyes have been able to spread the wealth.

"That's the great thing about our team," Datish said. "We are unselfish. Pitt's not in there complaining that he only got 13 carries and 61 yards. We're able to win with ease and we do it without beating up Pitt and Beanie (Wells) and Troy (Smith). In the end, I think that will help us come out on top."

Smith, of course, is OSU's leader at quarterback. He has been the catalyst to keep the offense going. He also seems to be a tough grader.

"Thus far, I would give us a strong B," Smith said. "We've had some pretty good outings, but in some areas we need to improve. I doubt there is an offense out there in the country with a quarterback or offensive coordinator who would say, ‘We're right where we need to be.' Everybody has the thirst to be the best and continue to improve."

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

* Scoring Offense -- OSU is third in the Big Ten and 20th nationally at 32.8 points per game.

* Total Offense -- The Buckeyes rank seventh in the conference and 35th nationally at 386.7 yards per game.

* Rushing Offense -- OSU checks in at 10th in the Big Ten and 54th nationally at 151.5 yards per game.

* Passing Offense -- The Buckeyes rank third in the Big Ten and 33rd nationally at 235.2 yards per game.

Here is a look at how each position group and the coaches have graded out so far:

Quarterback

Smith is considered, by many, as the early favorite for the Heisman Trophy and also as the Big Ten MVP – at least for the first half of the season.

He ranks first in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in passing efficiency. He has completed 101 of 148 passes (68.2 percent) for 1,261 yards with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

OSU coach Jim Tressel puts a huge value on ball security, so Smith scores high on that front. His two interceptions came on a bad weather day against Penn State. He had a deep ball intercepted and also had a ball deflected at the line and picked off.

"Troy has always been very careful with the football," Tressel said. "However many interceptions he has here at Ohio State, I would bet you a high percentage of them are deep throws. Troy is very aware. One play during the Iowa game, he came off, I said, ‘Troy, the post might have been open.'

"He said, ‘No, Coach, you'll see on the film, it wasn't.' And he was right. He's very aware of where people are and very careful. And he understands the importance of that turnover margin and as long as he'll continue that understanding, then we can contribute on offense our part to that statistic."

Smith, who destroyed then-No. 2 Texas for 264 yards and two touchdowns, said it takes hard work every day in practice to stay sharp on the finer points of the quarterback position.

"Some very positive things have happened this far, but there is always more room to improve," he said. "Any way you cut it – receivers make great plays on balls that are thrown behind and in front. Those things don't get written up in the paper. You read things in the paper about first downs and touchdowns, but to me, it's all the little things that I can get better. Usually, they are the ones that get ignored."

Smith was almost perfect last week, going 17 of 20 on his passes against Bowling Green.

"I've never really had a problem with placement of the ball," Smith said. "At times, maybe I threw the ball too hard. But I have a staff here that has helped me along the ways tremendously in terms of touch passes and placement of the ball. I can just grow and listen as long as I stay obedient."

The backups – Justin Zwick, Todd Boeckman and Rob Schoenhoft – have only played sparingly to date. It's good to know a battle-tested guy like Zwick is available if something were to happen to Smith.

It is really hard to get an A, but I honestly think Smith – for everything he brings – deserves it at the midway point.

Midterm Grade: A

Running Backs

Pittman, with 628 yards and seven touchdowns, has taken the next step from what we saw a year ago. He is finishing more plays and is equally adept between the tackles and running outside. He has four 100-yard games so far this year and, when called upon, has made the tough plays needed to sustain drives.

"When we talk about Antonio Pittman, it's passionate for me because he doesn't get the respect and the credit he deserves," Smith said of Pittman, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in yards per game (104.7). "He has bailed us out a number of times. He gets labeled as just another running back. But to me, he is one of the top three running backs in college football."

Freshman Chris "Beanie" Wells and sophomore Maurice Wells have also provided backup. Chris Wells had 78 yards in the win at Iowa and, at 230 pounds, he has generally been effective in short-yardage conversions. However, he only got five carries in last week's rout of BG and the Buckeyes missed a golden opportunity to season him further.

"We had hoped to have three solid running backs as we come forward and Beanie and Antonio have gotten a lot more opportunities, but to this moment, I still think we have three solid guys who could run our offense," Tressel said. "If you can keep healthy with three guys who can run your offense from the running back position, I think that's a real plus."

OSU has not done as much with the fullback position. But when called upon, senior Stan White Jr. has only enhanced his reputation as a strong lead blocker.

Midterm Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

OSU lost Santonio Holmes a year early to the NFL. The concern was whether Ted Ginn Jr. would develop into a "complete receiver" and whether Anthony Gonzalez could move from the number three spot to number two. There were also concerns whether Roy Hall, Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline and Ray Small could serve in complementary roles.

Consider all of those questions solved with positive answers – at least so far.

Ginn, coming off a career-high 10 catches against BG, is second in the Big Ten in receptions per game and third in the conference in receiving yards per game. He has 33 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns.

Gonzalez is a close second with 27 catches for 404 yards and four TDs. He blistered Texas for eight catches for 142 yards and a score.

With Hall mending an injured ankle, Robiskie stepped forward and made touchdown grabs against Iowa and Penn State. Hall returned to catch a TD pass against Iowa.

"It's good to see the depth that we hoped to have at receiver come true," Tressel said. "Everyone talked about our depth, but all I could think about was Santonio Holmes was the first-round draft choice and I hope that we can approach the type of productivity that we had while Santonio was here.

"I've been pleased with Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Roy Hall is now back in the mix. Gonzo and Teddy have been part of that productivity in the past, so that's been a plus that that's occurred.

"Gonzo so is like everyone else. The more he learns, the better he is. He studies the film extremely hard, trains good extremely hard, and he's better than he was a year ago and if he wasn't, we wouldn't be better. Teddy's better than he was a year ago. Brian Robiskie is significantly better than he was. Brian Hartline is better. Roy's back. So we have a chance to have a good receiving corps."

Midterm Grade: A-

Tight Ends

The tight end position was hurt when Marcel Frost was suspended prior to the season and opted to transfer to Division I-AA Jackson State for his final two years of eligibility. Prior to his departure, it was thought that Frost and sophomore Rory Nicol would be on the field together in some two-tight end sets.

But Nicol has been flying solo at tight end much of this year. He has seven catches and one touchdown as, quite honestly, the production in other facets of the offense has not required much from the tight end. Nicol seems to be improving as a run blocker, an important part of the job description for an OSU tight end.

Brandon Smith saw extensive action as the backup against BG. Freshman Jake Ballard has played sparingly.

Midterm Grade: B

Offensive Line

It has mostly been a good story for the offensive line. Datish moved to center – his third position in as many years. Senior T.J. Downing was back at right guard and junior Kirk Barton returned at right tackle.

Sophomore Alex Boone has been a mainstay at left tackle, while senior Tim Schafer and sophomore Steve Rehring split time at left guard. Schafer has filled in at tackle as well when Barton has been hobbled by a foot injury.

The offensive production has generally been strong. When OSU has had to run the ball, the line has come through. The pass protection has been strong with only eight sacks allowed to date.

But there have been a spate of holding penalties and other minor miscues (isolated blown assignments and false start and personal foul penalties) to say there is still some room for improvement.

"The fact is that we are not as good as our potential," Datish said. "Overall, as the season progresses, we have jelled together more. We play tough in conference and out of conference, too. But we can always get better. There are things we mess up every once and a while that we shouldn't.

"We're never happy. To be totally satisfied, Pitt would run for 300 or 400 yards and Beanie would come in and run for 100. Troy would never get touched. But, as an offensive line, we have come back and jelled and worked through some personnel changes. We can do some things a lot better, but we could also do some things a lot worse."

Midterm Grade: B-plus

Offensive Coaching

The offensive game plans each week have received favorable reviews. For instance, against Texas, the Buckeyes came right out and threw the ball effectively, mixing balls to Ginn and Gonzalez.

At Iowa, OSU slammed the door shut on the Hawkeyes will well conceived drives to open the game, finish the first half and open the second half. Then, with the game in hand, OSU adeptly mixed power running and screen passes to play keepaway from Iowa.

Of course, it helps to have a heady trigger man like Smith, who can get you in and out of plays as needed and also takes care of the ball. And it helps to have great play makers like Pittman, Ginn and Gonzalez to distribute the ball to.

But it also takes great planning and scheming. Where OSU struggled in the first half of last year, nearly everything the Buckeyes have touched so far has turned to gold.

Midterm Grade: A-


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