Ohio State Buckeyes: Jake Stoneburner

Position preview: Tight ends

August, 9, 2013
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp heats us and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

TIGHT ENDS

Top of the depth chart: Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will split first-team work.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State tight end Jeff Heuerman caught eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in 2012. Expect bigger numbers this season.
Next in line: Redshirt freshman Blake Thomas turned in a productive spring and could push for action after sitting out last season. Thomas has plenty of size at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, and he showed a glimpse of big-play potential with a 34-yard reception in the spring game.

New faces: Marcus Baugh gives the Buckeyes another versatile big man capable of throwing hard-hitting blocks while presenting a difficult matchup in coverage, but he’s currently off to a rocky start thanks to an off-the-field incident last month that led to a suspension for what would have been his first game with the program. There is still plenty of optimism about what he can do on the field, but he’ll have work to do to see it much with all the talent ahead of him.

Recruiting trail: Urban Meyer and Tom Herman have both proven they know how to use tight ends to exploit a defense, and neither could ever have too many of them on hand to manipulate opponents. That’s why Heuerman and Vannett are likely to spend a lot of time on the field together, and why the Buckeyes are still chasing four-star recruits even though the cupboard remains well stocked at the position. Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada) is currently at the top of the rankings among players with an offer from Ohio State, one of three ESPN300 tight ends who remain uncommitted and chased by the program.

Flexibility: Given the similarities between Heuerman and Vannett and the packages that will feature both guys at the same time, there isn’t really much need to label one of them the starter and the other a backup. There will be plenty of opportunities for each to make an impact, but it will be interesting to see if Thomas can build on his solid work in March and April and make some appearances in the fall.

Notable numbers:

-- The Buckeyes hyped the position a year ago and planned on making Jake Stoneburner an integral part of the attack as he took on a hybrid tight end/wide receiver role, but the results were uneven at best. Stoneburner finished with just 16 receptions, though 4 of them went for touchdowns as he finished his career contributing to an unbeaten season.

-- The expectations for production at the position are high again entering the season, as the Buckeyes are once again making it an emphasis to get the tight ends involved in the passing attack. There’s reason to believe it’s not just lip service from Meyer and Herman given their track records, and Vannett and Heuerman are capable of making an impact after combining for 17 catches, 217 yards and a score a year ago.

-- Baugh might have to wait his turn before getting involved much offensively, but he’s got the hands and size to be a reliable option as a target when that chance arrives. Over his last two seasons in high school, the Riverside, Calif., native caught 68 passes for 1,138 yards and scored 10 times.

Big question: How much will the Buckeyes really throw it to the tight ends?

The offense isn’t short on weapons with a loaded backfield, veteran talent blending with talented newcomers at receivers and, of course, Braxton Miller working his magic at quarterback. But even with all those options elsewhere, Meyer has consistently singled out his tight ends for praise and made clear that he has great expectations for Vannett and Heuerman. They can make a mark even without the football in their hands thanks to their strength and willingness to clear the road as physical blockers for the ground game, and neither will complain if that’s all their asked to do. But they can really tax a defense since both are fast enough to run past linebackers and tall enough to have an edge over safeties in coverage, which should make them a tantalizing option for Herman calling the plays and Miller delivering the football.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The list of core values was barely tested in Urban Meyer’s first season.

The Ohio State coach had only one case with which to establish precedent last year, and if that wasn’t enough to make it clear that he would react swiftly and fiercely, Carlos Hyde apparently handed him an even bigger platform to deliver the message on Saturday.

And if Hyde's indefinite suspension from the roster less than two weeks before the start of training camp doesn’t help paint the picture well enough for the Buckeyes, maybe nothing will.

The impact was far different last summer, but it set a precedent on alleged acts of violence against women. Storm Klein’s instant dismissal for an offseason incident with a woman last summer ultimately didn’t stick when the domestic violence charges against the linebacker were dismissed, and he was allowed to return to the team after missing the first two games of the season following a guilty plea to a lesser charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Bradley Roby
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY SportsOhio State cornerback Bradley Roby was arrested after an incident at a bar in Indiana.
But Klein, a senior, wasn’t expected to be a major contributor, wasn’t on watch lists honoring the best players in the country at his position and couldn’t help the team win a national title thanks to the NCAA sanctions that blocked the Buckeyes from a bowl game. Hyde checks all of those boxes for Ohio State a season after scoring 17 touchdowns and forming one of the most effective inside-outside rushing combinations in the country with quarterback Braxton Miller.

Suspending Hyde from the program before charges have even been filed in an alleged assault case in a Columbus bar sends a signal that’s effectively impossible for the rest of the Buckeyes to ignore, even if he might ultimately be able to return to the fold.

There’s still another disciplinary matter that will require Meyer’s attention thanks to star cornerback Bradley Roby’s arrest in Indiana over the weekend. He's charged with hitting a security guard in a bar, and if it’s possible, the handling of that situation might be even more important for Ohio State in setting the tone for the program moving forward.

The Buckeyes will likely survive just fine offensively without Hyde, thanks to a deep stable of running backs and the incomparable Miller calling the signals for the spread attack. But any potential loss of playing time for Roby could be a significant hurdle for a defense that already must replace seven starters and was counting on the first-team All-American to provide as much leadership this season as he did athleticism last year.

At a minimum, Roby has opened up some doubt about his ability to be a leader while also putting Meyer’s approach to discipline under a much brighter spotlight than it was heading into his first season at Ohio State.

Aside from Klein a year ago, the only other legal issues involving football players in 2012 were a couple of misdemeanor charges against veterans Jack Mewhort and Jake Stoneburner, and both of those players were quickly suspended last summer despite the relatively harmless nature of their arrests. Neither missed a game. Those transgressions didn’t include any alleged violence, and in the extremely limited sample size available since Meyer took over at Ohio State, that’s a core value he appears unwilling to compromise.

Hyde received that message before an arrest was even made in his alleged assault case. Roby is already staring at a charge of battery resulting in bodily injury, and he could be next in line for Meyer to hand out his own sentence, albeit one that is likely to be lighter, given the reported circumstances.

But one way or another, Meyer’s stance on discipline with the Buckeyes will be widely known and surely better understood now. And he has two of his highest-profile players to thank for it.
It could be hard for Ohio State to make a bigger impression the next time big offensive tackle Drew Richmond (Memphis, Tenn./Memphis University School) visits the Buckeyes.

The day could come soon when Urban Meyer and Thad Matta will compete for the same recruit.

Such is the nature of the “new” tight end in football.


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Rising stock: Jeff Heuerman

April, 22, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice in the books and Ohio State now heading into its offseason conditioning program, BuckeyeNation is looking back at the players who boosted their stock with the program the most during those 15 invaluable workouts. The offense will go first this week, followed by a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall as well.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesSix-foot-6, 250-pound tight end Jeff Heuerman looks to be a major factor in the Buckeyes offense in 2013.
No. 5: Jeff Heuerman

  • Who: The junior tight end was already a relatively known quantity for the Buckeyes after providing some rugged blocking and some occasional assistance as a receiving threat last season. But Heuerman had to cede some of the responsibility to Jake Stoneburner in terms of the passing attack. But Stoneburner's departure, Heuerman's continued development and added comfort in the spread system has the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end in position to be a major factor for the Buckeyes.
  • Spring progress: Given his particular role a year ago and his huge frame, Heuerman might not have had much to prove as a blocker this spring. But coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman love to create mismatches with their tight ends and use them in a variety of ways to keep a defense off balance. Showing more familiarity with the playbook went a long way for Heuerman and could help keep him on the field for almost any scenario -- from short-yardage to third-and-long.
  • Jockeying for position: Heuerman already owned a starting job at tight end, a spot he shared last year with Nick Vannett. The sophomore was impressive in his own right during camp, and he'll likely stay bracketed with Heuerman as the official first-teamers and keep giving Meyer a couple reasons to feel good about the amount of flexibility he'll have on offense.
  • He said it: "I’m just excited about being more of an every-down tight end, rather than last year where third-and-long, third-and-7, Jake’s in there running routes. That’s the big thing they’ve been working on this spring, being the every-down tight end. [Position coach Tim] Hinton and coach Meyer, coach Herman, they’ve been doing great getting me ready for that, and I’m excited for that."
  • Closing number: Heuerman generated most of his excitement before the spring game, but he still wrapped up camp by tacking on a catch for 6 yards in the exhibition win for his Scarlet team. He finished last season with 8 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Heuerman's role at TE no joke

April, 11, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jeff Heuerman has jokes.

Such as, where do the tight ends rank among the numerous weapons in Ohio State’s dangerous spread offense, led by the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year?

“First,” a smiling Heuerman said. “Ahead of Braxton [Miller].”

Heuerman has pranks.

His position coach spent a panicked afternoon worrying about a potential arrest after a story was concocted with a pair of staff members about a late-night incident for Heuerman, who then strung Tim Hinton along straightfaced for an extra 10 minutes before pointing out it was April Fool’s Day.

Heuerman also has size, strength and the ability to handle a wide variety of assignments on the field.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesJeff Heuerman is a known commodity as a blocker, but coaches hope to expand his role as a receiver.
And it’s that blend of a fun-loving attitude and mismatch-producing athleticism that has had some Buckeyes comparing the junior to the tight end who made that combination famous in the NFL.

So, is Heuerman really the second coming of Rob Gronkowski?

“Oh, geez,” Heuerman said. “That’s not hard to live up to or anything.”

That standard might be a bit tough to match, and Heuerman has his roommate and former Ohio State tight end-turned-right tackle Reid Fragel to thank for publicly comparing the two and dialing up the hype heading into spring practice. But the Buckeyes do have greater expectations on offense heading into their second season in the spread, and the versatility Heuerman provides is among the biggest reasons why.

At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Heuerman was seemingly born to block in the running game and has proven he can handle that job in the Big Ten. But he also has strong hands and perhaps underrated speed as a target in the passing game. The coaches have kept an eye in his receiving skills in the spring, and that could lead to a larger role in the fall coming off a season that included just eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

That doesn’t necessarily mean his numbers will be jumping to Gronkowski levels, particularly since the Buckeyes have another valuable option at the same position and with similar skills in Nick Vannett, not to mention Miller and one of the most effective rushing attacks in the country. But Heuerman does appear to fit the blueprint Gronkowski has helped provide and Ohio State wants to use with its tight ends -- using a multi-talented athlete who never has to leave the field regardless of the situation.

As long as they stay out of trouble, real or imagined.

“He’s a little bit of a jokester,” Hinton said. “But he almost died [that day]. Coach [Urban] Meyer almost had to kick him off the team because I was ready to kill him.

“Needless to say, he didn’t play at all in the scrimmage.”

Hinton got even a bit by returning fire with his own joke about playing time, but the reality is Heuerman and Vannett will be on the field plenty thanks to the options they provide for the rushing and passing games.

Heuerman has already been used plenty for the former, but after taking a bit of a backseat to Jake Stoneburner last season as a receiving threat, it’s the latter that should allow him to make a more noticeable impact this fall. And while his one-liners, ability to pull off a prank and his position might have started the conversation, it’s the production that will truly determine whether he’s following in those famous footsteps.

“Gronkowski, he’s a great, great player,” Heuerman said. “I don’t really know all his things off the field, but I hear he likes to have fun.”

Heuerman already has that part nailed.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The deep balls carried easily down the field.

The passes to the sideline arrived crisply, and pretty much everything over the middle was on the money.

[+] EnlargeTroy Smith
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireFormer Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith returned to Ohio State to help out with the Buckeyes' Pro Day.
None of the 36 scouts at Ohio State on Friday morning were there to watch Troy Smith work, but six years after going through his own Pro Day, the former Heisman Trophy winner still put on a show for them anyway.

"That wasn't for me, though," a sweating Smith said as he walked off the field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. "That was for Jake Stoneburner, that was for those guys. Anything the Buckeyes need in general around here, I'm at their leisure. Any which way we're going to work, I'm going to help.

"You know, over the years I've learned [a writer's talent] is media stuff. I can roll out of bed and throw spirals, what can I say?"

Those tight spirals helped Stoneburner, who said he dropped his 40-yard dash time to 4.52 seconds and then followed it up with an impressive pass-catching performance with his new mentor playing quarterback for him.

The hybrid wide receiver/tight end was been working closely with Smith to prepare for his pro auditions ahead of next month's draft, and the two certainly made each other look good during the positional drills late in the morning. It might not help Smith get back to the NFL after getting released by the Pittsburgh Steelers last summer, but the outing could boost Stoneburner's stock and help him get there for the first time.

"I can see why he won the Heisman, I see why he was a captain -- he motivated me better than anyone I've ever seen," Stoneburner said. "Having him out there certainly made me look better, and I think he was happier for me than I was for myself.

"I mean, that guy is incredible. I was running as fast as I can 40 yards down the field, didn't have to take one single less stride. He hit me right in stride. I absolutely believe he could be in the NFL, and I think he believes it, too. For the scouts here today, I'm sure he made an impression. He looked flawless out there."

On the other end, Stoneburner didn't look too shabby, either.
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

Smith
Tony Tribble/US PresswireDevin Smith returns for his junior year as Ohio State's big-play wide receiver.
WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Who's back: A valuable, versatile piece of the offense is gone, and Jake Stoneburner's size and ability to line up all over the formation will be missed. But the hybrid receiver-tight end didn't exactly produce as often as the Buckeyes were anticipating in his lone season in Urban Meyer's offense, and the two guys who truly carried the load in the passing game are both coming back and poised to take another step forward after upping their production last fall. Corey "Philly" Brown showed marked improvement from the beginning of the year to the end, and Devin Smith put his chemistry with Braxton Miller and knack for clutch receptions on display much more often as a sophomore. Behind those starters, Evan Spencer and rising sophomore Michael Thomas started gaining more trust from the coaches at the end of the perfect season and could start pushing for more work in the spring.
  • New face: The cavalry is coming, but it hasn't arrived yet. The Buckeyes made speedy weapons at the skill positions a top priority on the recruiting trail, and the haul they landed could easily impact the spread offense right away with hype building already for Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Corey Smith. But none of those guys will be on the field during spring workouts, leaving critical practice reps for the returning veterans.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Brown's role could shift a bit to feature more work in the slot, a role that running back Jordan Hall or reserve Chris Fields could potentially play as well, as the Buckeyes tinker with matchups and formations. Spencer could then move into a starting role at the 'Z' spot where Brown was listed a year ago, with Smith backed up again by Thomas at the other spot.
  • Numbers game: The approach was about as different as could be, but in terms of yardage, Smith and Brown wound up essentially in the same place. Brown vastly improved his number of receptions as a junior, going from 14 to 60 and claiming the team lead by doubling Smith's total. But Smith's ability to streak behind defensive backs and track down the ball produced almost as twice as much yardage per catch as Brown averaged -- with the two combining in the end for 90 catches, 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns.
  • One to watch: Early enrollment gave Thomas a jump on learning the system and a stage to showcase his skills in the spring game a year ago, with the latter in particular taking the buzz about his potential to another level after wowing the crowd at Ohio Stadium with 12 receptions for 131 yards. That performance perhaps put some unfair expectations on a true freshman, and he wasn't ready to meet them in his first campaign while finishing with 3 catches for 22 yards. But those extra workouts a year ago and another full slate of offseason conditioning could start paying some dividends heading into his sophomore season, and setting the table with productive workouts in March and April will be critical with more competition for playing time on the way.
  • He said it: "I think we were built a little differently. But to say we never had talent, I never said that. We maybe didn't have the home-run hitter [with] explosiveness, open-space players on offense, but you know what, some guys really grew up and did a good job for us. 'Philly' Brown did a nice job, but we don't have enough. When you're running an offense where you want three or four split guys all the time and you only have one or two, that's not enough. I think we're starting to get a little bit of that built up." -- Meyer on signing day
Ohio State hardly needs motivation thanks to the chip on its shoulder already firmly in place after sitting out the postseason with a perfect record. But just in case any players required any extra fuel heading into workouts or wanted a little help putting together some goals, BuckeyeNation is here to lend a hand with some records that could be in reach with another productive offseason.

EXTRA POINTS IN A SINGLE SEASON
[+] EnlargeDrew Basil
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesDrew Basil made 56 extra points in 2012, the third-most in Ohio State history.

  • Who owns it: A prolific attack in 2010 gave Devin Barclay plenty of chip shots to convert, and the Ohio State kicker converted every single one of them -- putting his name in the school record book an extra point at a time. That record obviously is much more of a reflection of a dynamic offense than an indicator of how good or bad Barclay was that season, but it's well worth nothing that he is the only kicker in the single-season top 10 for 1-pointers who made every attempt.
  • Who wants it: Just three seasons after Barclay took over the top spot, the Buckeyes are primed to put an even more explosive offense on the field in Urban Meyer's second year with the program. Drew Basil should be in line to capitalize heading into his senior campaign. As a junior, Basil perhaps didn't get as many chances to try field goals as he might have hoped, a combination of Meyer's aggressiveness and a red-zone offense that ranked among the best in the nation at turning those chances into touchdowns, doing so 76 percent of the time. That proficiency still gave Basil work to do, and he banged through 56 extra points, in all in the third-best individual season in school history in that category.
  • Relevant number: The Buckeyes were a perfect 3-of-3 when they had to dial up a two-point conversion instead, and considering how effective the offense was near the goal line thanks to the versatile backfield tandem of battering ram Carlos Hyde and elusive quarterback Braxton Miller, Meyer could conceivably think about trying to double up after a touchdown more often next season. Had those three tries been extra points last year, Basil would already own the No. 2 spot on the single-season list -- though the Buckeyes would obviously much rather be undefeated.
  • Offseason checklist: There's not much preparation Basil really needs to do to convert his simplest chances as a kicker, leaving the work that could carry him to a personal record to all those teammates on offense. Another year of development for Miller as he readies for a third season as the starting quarterback should take the spread offense to another level, and there is no shortage of weapons around him. Aside from the loss of Reid Fragel at right tackle and Jake Stoneburner at wide receiver, every other starter returns for an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring last season and still has room to grow.
  • Attainable goal: All signs point to even more scoring for the Buckeyes in 2013, and given the track record already established by Meyer with the program, that means touchdowns and not field goals. While that could keep Basil from piling up a personal point total that could challenge Barclay's overall mark of 122 set during that same 2010 season thanks to 20 field goals, the extra point mark could be in serious jeopardy.

 

Next up: Replacing Jake Stoneburner

December, 31, 2012
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Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them.

WIDE RECEIVER
[+] EnlargeOhio State's Jake Stoneburner
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJake Stoneburner picked up 27 percent of his yardage on this 72-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter at Penn State.

  • Who: The transformation into the ultimate mismatch didn't quite materialize after Jake Stoneburner moved from tight end to wide receiver, and he wasn't able to equal his dynamic red-zone production from his junior season during his senior campaign with Ohio State. But while Stoneburner went through some rough patches and perhaps didn't give the Buckeyes everything they might have hoped for after moving him around the formation, he was still dangerous at times as a target with 16 catches and four touchdowns and leaves a 6-foot-5 hole to fill on the perimeter. And even when his own statistics weren't all that impressive, Stoneburner still found ways to make an impact by throwing around his 245-pound frame and improving as a run-blocker to help the Buckeyes explode on the ground.
  • By the numbers: Not exactly known for his speed, Stoneburner still tied for the longest reception of the season after darting down the middle of the field for a 72-yard touchdown that effectively sealed a road victory at Penn State in October. That huge strike offered a reminder of the big-play ability Stoneburner brought to the position, which prompted the move in the first place. It was maybe also somewhat bittersweet for the Buckeyes, who might have liked to see it more often -- that dash against the Nittany Lions represented 27 percent of his yardage for the season.
  • Job description: The Buckeyes need somebody capable of stressing coverage in the middle of the field, keeping defenses honest against both the threat of the run and allowing Devin Smith and Corey "Philly" Brown room to operate on the outside. Ohio State had few problems putting up points and obviously finished with a perfect record, but the offense could potentially become even more prolific if it can tap into some space across the middle of the field with a big, fearless target who can offer a reliable set of hands for quarterback Braxton Miller and the ability after that to do something extra with the football in his grasp.
  • Top candidates: Given his responsibilities previously when exclusively at tight end or the diverse package of duties he had as a senior, it might take a combination of guys to fill Stoneburner's void. At tight end, the Buckeyes already know what they have in Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman and have plenty to feel good about there. Chris Fields flashed in a limited role as Stoneburner's official backup at the "H" wide receiver, but Michael Thomas could be an option to watch after breaking into the rotation more regularly at the end of his freshman season. The rising sophomore has a good relationship with Miller and the kind of size at 6-foot-2 that combines with impressive athleticism to make for a difficult defensive assignment, which gives him a shot at becoming the No. 3 option statistically.
  • One to watch: Evan Spencer won't exactly be emerging from nowhere after finishing fourth on the team with 12 catches during the perfect season, particularly after finishing strong down the stretch with the majority of his production coming in the final five games. That late burst offered a glimpse at the kind of weapon Spencer could be in the passing game, and while he obviously doesn't have the same body type as Stoneburner, he should still be able at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds to chip in some blocks for the run game and win his share of matchups after another offseason to build his game.

WR Verlon Reed leaves the Buckeyes

December, 17, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The search for more playmakers at wide receiver is ongoing, but it won't include Verlon Reed when Ohio State gets back on the field during spring practice.

After playing sparingly on offense as a redshirt sophomore last season, Reed and the Buckeyes mutually agreed to part ways over the weekend, a school spokesman confirmed on Monday morning.

Reed had a 13-yard reception in the opening win over Miami (Ohio) in September, but he didn't make another for the rest of the season and couldn't sneak into a rotation that was looking for more contributors to consistently complement Corey Brown and Devin Smith in the passing attack. A talented two-way player out of nearby Marion-Franklin High School, Reed appeared in eight games for the undefeated Buckeyes and also contributed a tackle on special teams.

Reed wasn't listed on the final depth chart of the season ahead of the rivalry game against Michigan, leaving the position battles heading into spring essentially the same as they already were. The Buckeyes are only replacing one receiver on the two-deep, departing senior Jake Stoneburner.

Perfect moments: No. 3

December, 12, 2012
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BuckeyeNation counts down the five biggest moments on the march to perfection for Ohio State, from the biggest games and plays to the locker room speeches and celebrations -- continuing today with one of the most unforgettable short-yardage plays ever.

No. 3: Braxton Miller calls his own number

Braxton Miller
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller's deft manuevering on a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Buckeyes the push they needed to topple Penn State on Oct. 27.
The in-play audible.

The other-worldly, step-back juke.

The change of direction in midair to slip between two tackles.

If there was any doubt left about the excitement Braxton Miller can provide from anywhere on the field, he erased it once and for all Oct. 27 with perhaps the most exhilarating 1-yard touchdown anybody could ever produce. And if the sophomore quarterback can turn a gain of three feet into an unforgettable moment and a score that effectively signaled the end of Penn State's chances of handing the Buckeyes their first loss, it's no wonder his highlight reel had so many entries this season.

"You just don't see athletes do that, period, let alone the quarterback," wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said after the game. "I don't know how to put that play into words."

The box score certainly doesn't do Miller's artistry justice either, officially marking it down simply: "Miller, Braxton 1 yd run."

He actually retreated as far as the 7-yard line after surprising Carlos Hyde by pulling the football out of his stomach on a play that wasn't meant to have an option component to it, an improvisation that saved the running back from lost yardage and set the table for Miller's fireworks after that.

No fewer than four Nittany Lions had a shot to bring Miller down after he decided to call his own number. With the game still tight, stuffing the Buckeyes in that situation and perhaps forcing a field goal would have kept it a one-score contest for the host Nittany Lions.

Instead, the Buckeyes were energized after a lackluster first half. The defense forced a quick three-and-out to give Miller the ball back again -- and he delivered a more routine 1-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive to stretch the lead and keep the dream of an unbeaten season alive.

"He just does amazing stuff," guard Marcus Hall said then. "He's like a player you'd create in a video game."

One wild yard at a time, Miller helped send the entire team onto the next level of perfection.

Year in review: TEs offer steady play 

November, 30, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by rewinding to look at the physical blockers who doubled as extra weapons in the passing game for the high-powered spread attack.

[+] EnlargeJeff Heuerman
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBuckeyes sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman had eight catches for 94 yards and one touchdown.
TIGHT ENDS

  • Most valuable player: The conversion of the projected starter at the position left more work for the two guys left over at tight end, and both of them were able to step up and make a mark. The receiving statistics are essentially a dead heat, and each did some notable work to help the rushing attack get rolling -- but the slight edge goes to Jeff Heuerman over Nick Vannett. Heuerman drew some of the highest praise of the season when coach Urban Meyer identified him as one of the best blockers he's ever had at tight end, and while Vannett's emergence was just as critical, it's the sophomore who gets the nod this season.

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Year in review: Steady progress for WRs 

November, 29, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by rewinding to look at the improvements made by the targets in the passing game and a few memorable entries on the highlight reel.

[+] EnlargeCorey Brown
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCorey "Philly" Brown was explosive on offense and led the Buckeyes with 60 catches for 669 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Most valuable player: The production was steady from start to finish, even if Corey "Philly" Brown could have perhaps provided more yardage with all of his catches in the early stages of the season and saved himself from some good-natured jokes from coach Urban Meyer about making a tackler miss. The junior had the last laugh down the stretch, extending receptions by juking defenders and using his speed to pull away for longer gains than he was contributing during the first month of the season. He was at his best on special teams, though, busting loose for a pair of important punt returns for touchdowns that complemented his team-high 60 grabs on offense.

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Buckeyes set foundation for future

November, 26, 2012
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Ohio StateKirk Irwin/Getty ImagesCoach Urban Meyer and his undefeated 2012 Buckeyes could have an even brighter future ahead.
I ventured out to a couple of places in Columbus on Saturday night to watch the USC-Notre Dame game. Plenty of Ohio State fans were cheering for the Trojans, hoping that their Buckeyes would end up as the only undefeated team in the country. After the Irish won, one well-lubricated fan kept yelling, "Congratulations on being the second-best team in the country."

Ohio State and its backers are relegated to just watching other teams from here on out and hoping to get recognized. The good news is, they shouldn't have to worry about that this time next year.

While the Buckeyes' 12-0 season won't end with a BCS national title shot, it does set up next year's team for a run at the crystal football. Urban Meyer's first year couldn't have gone any better, and Ohio State will almost certainly start next season in the Top 5 and possibly the Top 3.

"This sets the standard pretty high," senior tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner said. "I don't think anyone really expected coach Meyer to come in and turn it around like he did. But for anyone who wants to be a Buckeye or is a Buckeye right now, there's no better place to be."

Ohio State went from a team that Meyer said repeatedly had a lot of holes during the first half of the season to one that had no holes in its résumé. That should frighten the rest of the Big Ten, as Meyer inherited a 6-7 team full of guys he didn't recruit, many of whom didn't really fit his offensive system, and he was still able to go undefeated. What will he do once he starts bringing in game-breaking receivers and running backs who can go the distance?

Even though Meyer said Monday that this team's passing game "is not even in the same hemisphere as what we want," the Buckeyes still led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game. And that offense loses only two starters, Stoneburner and right tackle Reid Fragel, while hoping senior running back Jordan Hall gets a medical redshirt. Meyer said after Saturday's win over Michigan that Carlos Hyde has progressed into one of the top running backs in the country. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is a possible Heisman Trophy finalist who still needs to make tremendous strides in his passing accuracy and pocket awareness.

"I don't see the ceiling yet," Meyer said. "He's got that much further to go."

The 2013 Buckeyes will be the heavy Big Ten favorites and their schedule is once again very manageable. They play Buffalo, San Diego State and Florida A&M at home, with only California on the road in the nonconference slate. In league play, they trade Nebraska and Michigan State for Northwestern and Iowa as non-protected crossover opponents from the Legends Division.

That doesn't mean next year's team doesn't have some major areas of concern. The defense could lose its entire front four if junior tackle Johnathan Hankins leaves early for the NFL as expected. Cornerback Bradley Roby, a redshirt sophomore, will have a decision to make on his future. If he goes pro, that would mean both starting corners are gone, since Travis Howard is a senior. And three of the team's top four linebackers -- Etienne Sabino, Zach Boren and Storm Klein -- have used up their eligibility.

"The linebackers, we've got to get that right," Meyer said. "That's the weakest area of our team right now."

Ohio State will be starting a bunch of young players on defense and will need its offensive line to stay healthy again because there is not much depth. But intangibles, not talent, might be the biggest question mark.

Meyer said he wasn't sure the senior class was entirely on board with him until an emotional meeting before the Sept. 29 Michigan State game. He raves about that group's "complete selflessness" which he said might be the best of any team he's been around. He pointed to defensive end John Simon playing through severe shoulder pain, Boren switching from fullback to linebacker midseason and Sabino rushing back from a broken leg to contribute as key examples. Meyer said he will have a wall in the team's training facility dedicated to this year's team, complete with video highlights that feature the team's unselfish nature.

There's no guarantee that next year's team will repeat that. Meyer also worries about the complacency that success can bring. He said he'll try to find ways to motivate the players in the offseason, including using the fact that a bowl game was taken away from them in 2012.

"We've got to make sure that doesn't take place," he said. "We need an angry team next year. If we have to manufacture that, we will. We're going to try to push the right buttons to get an angry team. If they're not angry, [if they're] complacent this team's as good as dirt, just like any team."

This year's team was good enough to go undefeated, something Meyer never accomplished at Florida despite winning two national titles there. It's scary to think how good the Buckeyes can be in the future after the first year he had in Columbus. Buckeyes fans might not have to concern themselves too much with what other teams are doing in late November.

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