Here's how BSB sees it at the halfway point of the 2009 season.
Terrelle Pryor is not leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency this season.
Through the first six games of his sophomore season, Pryor sits seventh in the conference at 132.3 – a figure that is 15 points lower than last year's mark of 146.5. The statistic hurting that rating the most is Pryor's six interceptions, a figure that is higher than last year's total for the season (four).
At times, he has looked like the big-time playmaker promised as the No. 1 overall recruit out of Jeannette, Pa. At other times, not so much.
"I was watching a game a few weeks ago and there was a 40-year-old I think by the name of Brett Favre who sometimes does the same stuff," quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said. "Remember, we've got a kid in his second year in college and he's trying to be the best quarterback that he can be and that's all we can ask for."
His average of 213.5 yards of total offense per game sits him seventh in the conference. That figure is not helped by his performances against Illinois and Wisconsin, when he put up 141 and 122 yards of total offense, respectively.
However, the struggles in the passing game can not be pinned solely on the quarterback. At his Oct. 13 press luncheon, Tressel made a point to mention that fact.
As a team, the Buckeyes sat last in the conference and 108th in the nation at 166.2 passing yards per game with six games in the books. Pryor was 72 of 128 for 948 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions to that point.
BSB midterm grade: C-
Passing numbers are down this year, but it is largely hard to fault the wide receivers for that fact.
Wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell has settled into a four-man rotation consisting of junior Dane Sanzenbacher, sophomore DeVier Posey, senior Ray Small and true freshman Duron Carter. Rounding out a top six that the coaches have described as one of the deepest in recent years are sophomore Lamaar Thomas and junior Taurian Washington, although they have played sparinglyl.
At the top of the yardage chart is Sanzenbacher, who has graded as high as 93 percent against Toledo. The Toledo native has 16 catches for 326 yards and four touchdowns, and his average of 54.3 yards per game ranks eighth in the Big Ten.
"He's a tremendous football player," Hazell said. "A lot of the things that you probably don't even notice he's doing, he's at the top of his game when he's doing them. He's been a blessing. He's been great for us."
However, those 326 yards put Sanzenbacher on pace to be the team's leading receiver with 706 yards for the season. That would be the second-lowest total to lead the Buckeyes this decade, ahead of just Brian Robiskie's 535 yards a season ago.
Posey actually leads the team in catches with 21 and has shown signs of a budding relationship with Pryor. Against Indiana and Wisconsin, Pryor and Posey hooked up for touchdowns that looked like plays between two teammates who were growing more comfortable with each game.
The maturation of Small has been a bonus. After not breaking camp with the team while he dealt with an academic situation, the senior from Cleveland Glenville was viewed as someone who would have an impact on special teams but not likely out wide. From the Toledo game to the Wisconsin game, Small had all five of his catches this season for 77 yards and was on the field when the Buckeyes went to three wideouts.
Between top tight ends Jake Ballard and Jake Stoneburner, the position has combined for nine catches for 107 yards. Those numbers do not jump off the page but put the unit on pace to top last year's production, when Ballard combined with senior Rory Nicol to combine for 11 grabs for 133 yards. However, four of those nine catches this season came in the first game of the season against Navy, and the tight ends primarily remain an afterthought in the passing game.
As a whole, it is a unit that is making the most of the limited opportunities it has been given.
BSB midterm grade: C+
This year, the men in the trenches at OSU have seen injuries and the flu help shake up the team's depth chart on the line – particularly at tackle.
The Buckeyes have started junior Justin Boren, sophomore Michael Brewster and junior Bryant Browning from left to right in the interior of the line in each of the first six games, but the tackle spots have seen more constant rotating.
After working all spring and summer to take over the right tackle spot this year, senior Jim Cordle suffered a foot injury in the USC game that sidelined him for the next four games. In his place, sophomore J.B. Shugarts has gotten his first taste of true playing time and has looked solid at times.
On the other side, junior Andy Miller began the season as the starter while sophomore Mike Adams sat out a two-game suspension, but Adams' return to the lineup in week three meant a start in Miller's place for week four. The junior then came down with the worst case of the flu on the team and was sidelined for the next two games, allowing Adams to hold down the spot in his absence.
The sophomore bookends are going through some of the same growing pains as the rest of the offense.
True freshman Marcus Hall first saw action in relief of Shugarts during the Indiana game and has emerged as a player who will join the rotation. Although the coaches are high on freshmen Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley, they are currently marked for redshirt seasons. The primary backup for all three inside positions is fifth-year former walk-on Andrew Moses, who has seem limited duty this season. In addition, Miller can play left guard and a healthy Cordle can play a number of different spots.
Through the first six games, the Buckeyes had named a Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week four times. The only player to bring home multiple honors is Browning, who has settled into his more natural position of right guard after struggling at right tackle last season. The other two awards have gone to Boren and tight end Jake Ballard.
"I think we've made improvement," Brewster said. "We're just going to keep getting better. It's hard when you've got five guys blocking eight, so we'll make some adjustments. We'll be fine.
"Everyone is going to start playing as our line keeps getting better. At the moment we have no seniors so we're making in-game adjustments."
BSB midterm grade: B-
The Buckeyes began the season with sophomore Dan Herron and junior Brandon Saine as the two primary ballcarriers with freshmen Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall set to back them up when necessary.
Now halfway through the year, Herron has been hobbled with an injury for the last two games and is expected to miss the week seven matchup with Purdue. In addition, Berry has struggled with a balky hamstring that could keep him grounded for the entire 2009 season.
Further down the depth chart, senior Marcus Williams – who has been referred to by Tressel as "the old standby" – is apparently out for the season with a knee injury, further thinning the ranks.
In Herron's place, Saine has taken over the starting spot and averaged nearly a full 2.0 yards more per carry (5.5) compared to Herron (3.7). Although he came in without Berry's national reputation, Hall saw action in week three against Toledo and has carried the ball 25 times for 103 yards.
The biggest positive has been the play of Saine. After proving himself a jack-of-all-trades on the offense as a true freshman, injuries robbed him of most of his sophomore year and allowed Herron to pass him on the depth chart. With 63 carries for 349 yards, Saine already has eclipsed the season-high marks he set as a freshman with 60 rushes for 267 yards. He has not yet scored a touchdown, however.
His average of 58.2 yards per game is fifth-best in the Big Ten and tops among the three Buckeyes in the top 10. Pryor checks in at No. 7 at 55.5 per game, while Herron's average of 48.2 yards per game comes in at No. 10. As a team, the Buckeyes sit fourth in the conference with an average of 172.2 rushing yards per game.
Looking at the position as a whole, Saine said he likes where the group of running backs is headed.
"I think we've done really well," he said. "We do everything we're asked to do. We might not enjoy pass blocking, but we do it like it's our job. Different things the tailbacks do, I think we're all stepping up and doing well as a unit.
"I think that we all make the best of the opportunities that we get."
Redshirt freshman Jermil Martin has moved from fullback to running back but saw just one carry in the first half of the season that went for a 2-yard loss against Toledo.
At fullback, freshman Zach Boren and Adam Homan continued to battle each other for playing time although Boren remains listed as the starter. Neither has a carry, but Boren snagged an 8-yard touchdown pass from Pryor against Indiana and has two catches this season.
BSB midterm grade: C+