It was a season 98 percent of the teams in college football would have been thrilled to have. But it left Ohio State wishing there had been just a little bit more. Or maybe a little bit less on one Saturday afternoon in Iowa City.
Ohio State averaged 41.1 points a game and 506 yards total offense per game. It had more than 500 yards total offense in nine games and more than 600 in three of those games. But in OSU’s two losses, the offense was not nearly that effective with 350 total yards against Oklahoma and 371 yards against Iowa.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s place in the history of Ohio State quarterbacks will still be argued about a decade from now. His statistics (3,053 yards passing, 798 yards rushing, 35 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions) certainly passed the eye test this season.
He was spectacular at times, like hitting 13 of 13 passes in the fourth quarter in a comeback for the ages against Penn State or when he threw 190 passes without an interception over a six-game stretch. But he also threw four picks against Iowa and had 10 touchdown passes and eight interceptions over the last six games of the season.
Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins was a highly rated recruit who lived up to the hype from Day One. Dobbins rushed for 181 yards in the season opener against Indiana and was one of the best running backs in the Big Ten all season. He finished with 1,403 yards rushing and six games of 100 yards or more.
OSU’s receivers as a group were considerably better than in 2016. The Buckeyes had 39 receiving touchdowns this season, 13 more than a year ago.
On the offensive line, center Billy Price and left tackle Jamarco Jones came into the season viewed as high-round NFL draft choices and played that way. Right tackle Isaiah Prince took a big step forward after a struggling on a weekly basis in 2016.
Most of the season Ohio State’s defensive line lived up to the hype that it was one of the best in the country. The linebackers and defensive backs were much improved over the course of the season but their early-season performances left considerable room for improvement.
Early in the season, the defensive backfield was a liability as it struggled against not just great quarterbacks, like Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, but also against less talented ones. But by the end of the season it was able to hold USC quarterback Sam Darnold to no touchdown passes despite playing without lockdown cornerback Denzel Ward.
Ohio State got more out of its linebackers when Tuf Borland moved into the middle linebacker position the second half of the season. Jerome Baker, who was an immediate sensation in 2016, was less visible this season but did step up late in the season.
The defense might have saved its best for last, when it sacked Darnold eight times in the Cotton Bowl. But it also was pretty good at shutting down most of the best running backs it faced. It held Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to 44 yards, Michigan State’s L.J. Scott to 30 yards, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor to 41 yards and USC’s Ronald Jones to 64 yards.
The question that will haunt Ohio State’s defense for a long time, though, is how could it give up 55 points to Iowa.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Redshirt freshman punter Drue Chrisman made the transition from Cameron Johnston look easy. He was solid from the beginning of the season. Kicker Sean Nuernberger was consistent, too, hitting 17 of 21 on field goals, though only 1 of 4 from 40 yards and beyond.
Kickoffs and kickoff coverage probably gave Urban Meyer some new gray hairs. The Buckeyes gave up touchdowns on kickoff returns against Maryland and Penn State before getting the coverage problems fixed. And three different kickers booted seven kickoffs out of bounds before Blake Haubeil found some consistency.
Ohio State won 12 games and was one place away from reaching the College Football Playoff with a team that was flawed in at least three areas for a significant part of the season (defensive backfield, linebackers, special teams).
OSU has won 12 or more games in five of Urban Meyer’s six seasons as its coach and won 11 the year it didn’t get 12. It is 73-8 in the Meyer years. Not much to complain about there.