Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State Buckeyes
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QB J.T. Barrett
- The redshirt freshman tacked on three more touchdowns to add to his record-setting season and then may have added to the legend of his first year at the helm by proving his toughness by hanging around the Horseshoe after breaking his ankle, but this will be the final helmet sticker for Barrett this year. The job he did in replacing Braxton Miller on short notice before the season with no prior experience leading the offense was simply remarkable, and it's a tribute to Barrett that the shoes Cardale Jones now has to fill in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin are so big when there was little reason to expect the Buckeyes could simply replace one Heisman Trophy candidate with another at the most important position on the field. It's a shame for Barrett that he won't get to play a role in the postseason after guiding the Buckeyes through the turbulence and to an 11-1 record.
- The workhorse rusher should expect a heavier workload next weekend, and he proved with one explosive run on fourth-and-1 with Jones already on the field at quarterback that he may be ready to take over as the focal point of the attack. Elliott's 44-yard burst was the knockout blow to Michigan's upset bid, the second consecutive touchdown for the sophomore after that game had been tied again midway through the third quarter. He finished with 121 yards on the ground and added a 7-yard reception in another productive outing in the backfield, and Elliott certainly figures to touch the ball more than 18 times against the Badgers.
- Comparisons to Ryan Shazier are still probably a bit premature, but Lee did a pretty decent impression of the first-round NFL draft pick by flying all over the field and making plays in a variety of different ways to impact the outcome from his spot at linebacker. Lee finished with a team-high nine tackles, including two for a loss and a sack, but it was his 33-yard fumble return for a touchdown that iced the win over the Wolverines and offered yet another glimpse at his uncanny ability to find the football. He also provided a nice bookend for his first year as a starter, dashing to the end zone in the final week of the regular season to help produce a win just like he did in Week 1 against Navy to announce his presence for the Ohio State defense.
H-B Jalin Marshall
- The virtuoso second-half performance against the Hoosiers will go down as definitive proof why Urban Meyer and the coaching staff never batted an eye about keeping him on the field and prominently in the game plan despite two fumbles at Minnesota. Marshall was almost impossible to defend after the game had started to slip away from the Buckeyes, and his four-touchdown barrage, starting with a punt return for a score that energized a restless Ohio Stadium, also might have helped save the season. Expect him to continue to play a major role against rival Michigan and then in the Big Ten title game the following week.
- The junior doesn't often come up in discussions about the best linebackers in the Big Ten, but he is certainly valued by the Buckeyes for the way he goes about his business and quietly, efficiently racks up statistics and disrupts offenses. Perry was everywhere for Ohio State against the Hoosiers, including the backfield where he made three tackles for loss and led the team with two sacks. In all he finished with 14 tackles, and while Tevin Coleman did bust a few big plays on the ground against the Buckeyes, it might have been worse without Perry on the field.
- The probability was always high that the sophomore would find rushing room against Indiana's soft defense, and Elliott exploded almost right from the start with a 65-yard touchdown rush that put him over 1,000 for the season. But he was just as valuable as a receiver out of the backfield, which could add another dimension to an Ohio State offense that seems to be developing new wrinkles every week. Elliott led the Buckeyes with seven receptions, and combined with his work on the ground, he piled up 146 yards in the victory that punched a return ticket to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
- The Buckeyes figure to be able to score any way they want against a defense that is allowing more than 33 points per game, and it's a safe bet J.T. Barrett is going to throw for a few touchdowns. But Ohio State will probably lean more heavily on its ground game against the Hoosiers, and Elliott will be the direct beneficiary of a game plan that could keep the clock rolling along while still lighting up the scoreboard just in case Urban Meyer thinks he needs some style points to impress the selection committee. Expect Elliott to get the 46 yards he needs to top 1,000 for the season by the end of the first quarter as the Buckeyes play it relatively safe and conservative while feeding the sophomore rusher carries. DB Tyvis Powell
- The Hoosiers have been a mess throwing the football since losing Nate Sudfeld to injury, and they weren't even all that dangerous through the air even with their starting quarterback healthy. No Big Ten team has more interceptions than Ohio State's 16, and it will no doubt be looking to add to that total this weekend -- and there might not be a player with more motivation to make a big play than Powell after a bit of an inconsistent outing against Minnesota. Powell's contributions have perhaps been a bit overlooked this season considering he's tied for second on the team with 54 tackles and he's picked off a pair of passes, but he could be in the spotlight against the Hoosiers for all the right reasons. QB Barrett
- Maybe he's a safe choice, and perhaps he will only be needed to play a half, like in his last home outing, against Illinois. But with the way the redshirt freshman is rolling, no list would be complete for Ohio State right now without his name on it. Backup Cardale Jones actually did some impressive work in relief of Barrett against the Illini, and Jalin Marshall has chipped in admirably as a Wildcat threat, so potentially the quarterback position in general could shine and not just Barrett. But with a Heisman campaign in full swing, Barrett probably won't leave the game until he's added to his already bursting resume.
The top five remains steady, but Ohio State has moved a step closer to potentially breaking into that group. The Buckeyes, whose class is led by three five-star prospects, added a commitment from an eighth ESPN 300 player in offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. The top-10 OG is a big, tough and competitive player. He needs to continue to better blend technique with his aggressive nature, but with some work he can be a physical and productive presence in the trenches for Ohio State.
It has been a challenging season for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels, who have won three of their past four games, were able to score a big victory on the recruiting trail. With a commitment from ESPN 300 DE Jalen Dalton, North Carolina was able to keep the state's No. 3-ranked prospect at home. A lengthy and athletic defender with good upside, Dalton is a promising player who could grow into a potential playmaker for a team that needs major help on defense. Despite some of the struggles this season UNC has still managed to put together a strong class that now sits at No. 21 and features five ESPN 300 prospects.
Inside the rankings
The biggest challenge for Urban Meyer and his staff since he arrived in Columbus has been luring top-flight defensive front personnel and overall skill from the Midwest that is comparable to what he had at Florida. It has been a down period in Ohio for the 2014 and 2015 classes in terms of sheer numbers and caliber of players, which led to the Buckeyes going after guys like Joey Bosa (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Georgia), Vonn Bell (Georgia) and many others to help supplement the roster. That trend is continuing with the commitment of 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that the upcoming in-state 2016 class is much stronger and deeper, which hopefully will allow for them to not have to venture too far south this time around to supplement the roster. The Buckeyes already have four players committed in 2016 and all are from Ohio.
To read the full class rankings, click here.
QB J.T. Barrett
- Just when it seems like the redshirt freshman can't possibly do more, he unveils yet another aspect of his game that turns heads and makes the Buckeyes even more dangerous on offense. Ohio State hasn't been shy about using Barrett as a rusher, but it hadn't really seen the ability to run away from defenders that he put on display while rambling 86 yards for a touchdown on the way to 189 yardsoverall on the ground in the victory. That scoring run was the longest in school history by a quarterback, and it was the longest by any Ohio State player since Eddie George in 1995. George, of course, went on to win the Heisman Trophy -- and the way Barrett is rolling, he could easily find himself at that ceremony next month.
- The veteran defensive back hasn't been mentioned much among the best in the Big Ten in coverage, but he's quietly building a case as guy quarterbacks don't want to mess with in the passing game. Grant took over the team lead for Ohio State's ball-hawking secondary with his third interception of the year, and he could have had another one along with a touchdown if not for an iffy pass-interference call earlier in the game. Perhaps just as important for the Buckeyes, Grant was a willing tackler and finished with seven hits against the Gophers in the snowy conditions, offering another reminder of his importance to a vastly improved unit.
- The redshirt freshman made a couple mistakes, and they proved pretty costly in terms of style points in a matchup that wasn't as competitive as the final score indicated. But even with his fumble at the goal line and a muffed punt, the Buckeyes might not have been nearly as explosive on offense without the versatile Marshall at their disposal -- particularly with Dontre Wilson on the shelf with a broken foot. Marshall grabbed five receptions for 95 yards with a touchdown and also had a 12-yard rush, and if nothing else, coach Urban Meyer will have a teaching point for the youngster in terms of ball security, in addition to some fresh evidence about how useful the hybrid athlete can be in his spread attack.
QB J.T. Barrett
- The redshirt freshman had already gone on the road and beat one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, but in case there were any holdouts who still believed the young quarterback had something to prove, his demolition of the Spartans should be enough to convince anybody he's the real deal. Barrett was in complete command of the Ohio State offense, completing 16 of his 26 passing attempts for 300 yards and three touchdowns and adding 86 yards and two additional scores on the ground in a pressure-packed environment. It's hard to play any better than Barrett did against the Spartans, and that performance put his team in control of the East Division and back in the thick of the College Football Playoff conversation.
- Maybe the Buckeyes and the veteran target had been saving him up for a critical moment. Smith hadn't made quite as much of an impact this season as perhaps was expected for his final season with the program, but he showed up when it counted most with a dynamic outing on the perimeter that stretched the Spartans and kept them from loading up the box against the run. The senior finished with six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown, including a fantastic grab to convert a long third down when the game was still tight.
- The Michigan State offensive line came into the weekend with perhaps the best reputation in the league, and combining that with the pain of losing a year ago was all the motivation the talented defensive lineman needed to turn in one of the best overall outings of his career. Bennett was nearly unblockable up front for the Buckeyes, forcing Michigan State to adjust its game plan around him and still not preventing him from making two tackles for loss, sacking Connor Cook, forcing a fumble and breaking up a pass. Bennett's value has been hard to quantify this season statistically, but he left no doubt Saturday that he's still one of the most disruptive forces in the Big Ten.
DE Joey Bosa
- The sensational sophomore season rolled on, and it's getting harder and harder to even consider another player as a challenger to Bosa for top defensive honors in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes didn't even need him to turn in a full shift against the hapless Illini, but Bosa still tacked on three tackles for loss and two sacks before resting for most of the second half in the easy victory. There might not be a more difficult blocking assignment in the nation than lining up against Bosa, and lately it's been his versatile ability and Ohio State's willingness to move him to different spots up front that is giving opponents even more fits.
- Somewhat lost in the hype swirling around true freshman Raekwon McMillan, the senior has been steady, reliable and occasionally a standout for the Buckeyes in the middle of the defense. Against the Illini, Grant put himself in position to deliver a pair of turnovers and spark the lopsided victory, deftly nabbing a bouncing ball for an interception and then later pouncing on a fumble to put another nail in the Illinois coffin. The veteran also chipped in three tackles, and against Michigan State's improved offense, the Buckeyes will no doubt need Grant to be a factor again next week.
- The true freshman was a surprise starter, but it was clear he had earned the right as he carved up the Illini with his blinding speed and more toughness than perhaps he had shown previously this season. Samuel ended up carrying the football just nine times, but he turned those opportunities into 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns to offer a reminder that Ohio State will be just fine without the services of Rod Smith moving forward. The one-two combination with Ezekiel Elliott at running back could be critical for the Buckeyes down the line as they continue to incorporate more young, talented players into the rotation on offense.
DT Adolphus Washington: The junior was a force up front a week ago, turning in one of the finest performances of his career as he continues to thrive on the interior. He has embraced a role taking on blockers and helping open up playmaking opportunities for teammates, but Washington still has used his strength and speed to bust into the backfield and disrupt offenses on his own on occasion. He has 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks to his credit despite doing a lot of dirty work in the trenches, and Illinois will have to account for Washington if it hopes to generate much with the football.
WR Michael Thomas: Barrett is expected to play, and coach Urban Meyer has stressed all week that there's no concern about the knee injury impacting the passing game. And since the knee sprain could limit Barrett's mobility, that should mean the ball will be coming out of his hands quickly and a bit more often than it did a week ago. The most likely beneficiary of that tweak to the attack should be Thomas, who has been a handful for defensive backs this season after building himself into a more complete receiver during his surprising redshirt year as a sophomore. Thomas already leads the Buckeyes with 22 catches and five touchdowns, and he figures to add to both totals against the Illini.
DE Joey Bosa
- No defender is playing any better right now in the Big Ten, and the Buckeyes may have had a hard time winning or sticking around in the College Football Playoff conversation without him. The star sophomore always figured to be a nuisance for Penn State's suspect offensive line, but that doesn't make his sledgehammering up front any less impressive as he made six tackles and added 2.5 sacks to his season total -- with the most important of them coming on the game's final play. The Nittany Lions had no chance of slowing Bosa down on the last snap in overtime, and after darting around one blocker and bulling over another, he had a walk-off tackle that Ohio State won't soon forget.
- The junior seems to be flying well below the radar even on his own team, but he has quietly put together an impressive season thanks to sure tackling, an ability to properly diagnose a play and rarely putting a foot wrong with his assignments. Against the Nittany Lions, that all added up an eye-popping 18 tackles, including two for a loss, a performance that was a bit reminiscent of what Ryan Shazier did in stuffing the stats sheet over the last couple seasons. Perry doesn't have nearly as much athleticism as the first-round NFL draft pick and he certainly isn't as flashy on the field, but he's been invaluable for the Buckeyes and an improving defense.
- Urban Meyer would typically prefer never needing to put the sophomore from Australia in the game, but when field position becomes a premium like it did against Penn State, he has quite a useful weapon at his disposal. Johnston pinned the Nittany Lions inside the 20-yard line on four of his six punts, including a beauty in the fourth quarter that was downed at the 1 by Devin Smith. Overall, Johnston averaged 45 yards on those attempts with a long of 59, and that effort shouldn't be overlooked in a tight battle that could have easily gone against the Buckeyes.
QB J.T. Barrett
- The redshirt freshman has only been a starter or half of a season, so there is still plenty of time for him to improve. But how much more could the Buckeyes really need from Barrett? After his rough outing in September against Virginia Tech, Barrett has played himself into contention for major awards and dragged the Buckeyes back into the College Football Playoff discussion with an accurate arm, underrated athleticism as a rusher and the leadership skills of a veteran. Against the Scarlet Knights, he threw for 261 yards, ran for 107 and accounted for five touchdowns -- and still apparently left Urban Meyer wanting a little more.
- Ohio State was already in control on the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the first half, but it obviously didn't want to give Rutgers any reason for optimism heading into the locker room or let the game get any tighter. After a costly penalty extended the drive deep into Ohio State territory, Grant snuffed it out with an interception in the end zone that might as well have been the nail in the coffin for the Scarlet Knights. The Ohio State cornerback also tied for the team lead with seven tackles in his finest outing of the season.
- There still haven't been all that many opportunities for the tight ends to get their hands on the ball with so many skill players fighting for touches, but Vannett made the most of his opportunities against the Scarlet Knights. The junior turned both of his catches into touchdowns for the Buckeyes, opening the scoring quickly on the opening drive with a 12-yard grab and tacking on a 26-yarder for good measure in the second quarter. He and Jeff Heuerman may have to keep doing dirty work as blockers most of the time, but they are both more than capable of adding an extra dimension to the vaunted Ohio State attack.
TE Jeff Heuerman
- The veteran's injured foot took longer to fully heal than previously anticipated, but Heuerman looks healthy and ready to add yet another dimension to Ohio State's rapidly improving offense. With J.T. Barrett at quarterback, the Buckeyes have played some of their best football by pushing the tempo, and Heuerman's versatility is key in helping to ramp up the pace given his skills as both a blocker and a receiver. Heuerman is too big to be covered by a defensive back, he's too athletic for a linebacker to handle one-on-one -- and might also be just the answer the Buckeyes need to shore up some inconsistency in the red zone.
- Thanks to relatively modest numbers at this point, the senior has somewhat fallen off the awards radar at this point of the season. But the same ability that made him a preseason All-America candidate is still there, and it shows up at least a couple times per game even if it doesn't produce individual statistics. Bennett still has 3 tackles for a loss and a sack to his credit, and Ohio State's blowout wins have given him rest late in games, but his work occupying blockers down after down has helped Joey Bosa and other blitzers keep quarterbacks off balance. When a team stops paying extra attention to him, Bennett still has the speed and strength to slice into the backfield and make some noise.
- The majority of the backfield workload will continue to be on Ezekiel Elliott's shoulders, but the former ESPN 150 recruit is finally showing signs of living up to his promise and carving out a role for himself in his final season. The process actually started by proving he could be trusted with special teams playing time, and now Smith might be in position to become Ohio State's short-yardage and goal-line finisher with his tough running between the tackles. Smith has scored a rushing touchdown in each of the last three games and has also grabbed one as a receiver this season, making him yet another threat that a defense must account for.
QB J.T. Barrett
- The redshirt freshman continues to rewrite the record books and rack up individual honors as his rapid development continues for the Buckeyes. Barrett was staggeringly efficient as a passer, completing 18 of his 23 attempts for 267 yards and four more touchdowns while spreading the ball around to nine different receivers in that famed "distributor" role Urban Meyer has been touting behind center. And Barrett is proving he's no slouch on the ground either, adding 71 yards rushing and another score to keep the Terrapins off balance and spark a blowout that has the Buckeyes again looking like a legitimate contender in the Big Ten.
- The Buckeyes have eased him into the rotation behind starter Curtis Grant, but the takeover at middle linebacker is well underway as the true freshman is already starting to live up to the advance billing about his freakish ability. McMillan's interception and 19-yard return for a touchdown will only take the hype to another level, but he was also sure in his tackling with four hits and proved he doesn't give up on plays with a critical fumble recovery after teammate Darron Lee had the ball popped loose following an interception just before halftime. Ohio State had nothing to complain about with Grant, but the future is sneaking up on him.
- The case is building every week that the sophomore might be the nation's most lethal weapon at defensive end. Bosa added another sack to his credit and had 1.5 tackles for loss on top of that, making a living in the offensive backfield and looking downright unstoppable up front in what was actually a better defensive outing for the Buckeyes than the scoreboard might suggest. Bosa isn't even halfway through his second season with the program and he appears to already be the best defensive player in the Big Ten. What else does he have in store this season after Ohio State returns from its bye next weekend?
QB J.T. Barrett
- The redshirt freshman is growing up in a hurry and his rapid development is turning the Buckeyes into the kind of high-octane attack Urban Meyer envisions for his program despite all the youth on the field -- including, obviously, at quarterback. The passing numbers are certainly impressive, and the Buckeyes will win a lot of games with Barrett completing 26 passes on 36 attempts for 330 yards and four touchdowns. But it was the work he did as a rusher by making the proper reads in the zone game and showing his elusiveness as a scrambler as he chipped away at the Bearcats with 79 yards on the ground that really impressed in just his fourth start.
- The task of replacing Carlos Hyde at running back actually seemed like a bigger chore than filling Braxton Miller's job at quarterback early in the season as Ohio State struggled early to establish itself as a threat on the ground. But Elliott is looking more than capable of taking the torch in the backfield now, and the Buckeyes didn't shy away from giving him a heavy workload as he relentlessly battered away at Cincinnati with 6.5 yards per carry on the way to a total of 182 with a touchdown. Elliott was also a factor as a target in the passing game, catching five passes for 51 yards to cap his breakout performance.
- Cincinnati had reasons to feel good about itself after delivering a huge touchdown pass early to take a quick lead, and the Buckeyes needed somebody on the defensive side of the ball to change that. It certainly shouldn't come as a surprise that it was the sophomore sensation who took it upon himself, bulling into the backfield and absolutely leveling Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel with a hit that jarred the football loose and led to a safety that allowed Ohio State to reclaim control and dictate the game. The Bearcats would come climb back to within five points in the third quarter thanks to breakdowns in the secondary, but the night might have looked far different without Bosa's sack and forced fumble.