Friday, December 7, 2012
Year in review: Ups, downs for specialists
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, wrapping up today by rewinding to look at the kicking game and a group of special-teams contributors that were stretched by injury during a roller coaster campaign.
Receiver Corey "Philly" Brown became the playmaker that Urban Meyer was looking for on special teams.
Most valuable player: Roles on special teams just aren't handed out under Urban Meyer, though that doesn't change the fact they're valuable proving grounds for players looking to make an impression, as the Ohio State coach is so heavily involved with the kicking game. It also doesn't just apply to younger players, since it was junior Corey "Philly" Brown's explosive contributions on punt return that seemingly helped his role on offense expand as the season progressed and the Buckeyes gained even more confidence in his ability to make something happen with the football in his hands. Meyer had been somewhat critical of Brown's ability to make defenders miss early in the season, but his 76-yard punt return against Nebraska helped seal a blowout victory and signaled that the wide receiver was turning a corner as a playmaker.
By the numbers: Good luck finding a more successful punt return unit than the one Meyer rolled out in his first season with the program. On four different occasions with an opponent trying to kick the ball away and swing field position, the Buckeyes decisively flipped the momentum instead with touchdowns. Brown returned two punts for scores, cornerback Bradley Roby pounced on a mishandled snap for a touchdown and also recovered a ball that had been blocked by Travis Howard for another trip to the end zone in a productive season for that unit -- one that Meyer will expect even more out of next year.
Best moment: With the offense struggling in the midst of a physical, throwback, Big Ten slugfest, Brown provided just the spark the Buckeyes needed to open the scoring against Wisconsin on the road. Given some of the recent history in the series on special teams and how important that score would later prove to be in a game that would go to overtime, Brown's burst 68 yards right through the middle of the coverage unit might go down as one of the most significant milestones on the road to perfection.
Preseason question: Do the Buckeyes have a game-breaker on special teams?
Postseason answer: There was plenty of shopping around for somebody capable of making tacklers miss and handing the offense good field position, and the results were mixed for much of the season. Brown produced two electrifying touchdowns and grabbed hold of the job returning punts, something the other five candidates Ohio State tried weren't able to do. There wasn't as much success handling kickoffs, with nobody averaging more than 23.3 yards per return or breaking out with an attempt longer than Rod Smith's 36-yarder.
Looking ahead: There is only one hole to fill among the specialists, and at least in part, Meyer addressed the departure of punter Ben Buchanan by landing a commitment from one of the most heavily recruited players at that position in the nation, Johnny Townsend. Drew Basil wasn't used all that much to kick field goals, but he did drill four of them in the win over rival Michigan to close the season and will be back for his senior season next year. The Buckeyes should also benefit from the experience of a bunch of young players who had a taste of life at the Big Ten level by playing special teams, potentially providing more consistency and eliminating some of the communication problems that plagued the kicking game at times.