Putting the wraps on Ohio State’s 2013 season, starting with the offense.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Ohio State scored in bunches, saw Braxton Miller repeat as Big Ten Player of the Year and saw Carlos Hyde become Urban Meyer’s first running back to post a 1,000-yard season. A senior-laden offensive line was largely dominant, senior backup Kenny Guiton was masterful in replacing Miller early in the year and the Buckeyes never really lost for lack of offense. There are some plays they’d like back in the Big Ten Championship Game, but Ohio State almost always scored when it had to and often when it wanted to against overmatched competition. There are lots of defenses that couldn’t keep up with this bunch, a group that averaged better than 511 yards per game, seventh-best in the country.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Besides the fourth-down conversion in Indianapolis and the last couple drives of the Orange Bowl, not a whole lot. The passing game did go cold at the end of November and in early December, and Miller was better but still has a long way to go with decision making and passing accuracy. Those things will likely bring him back next season, and that’s good news for Ohio State, but even with the 2014 receiving corps potentially full of more playmakers and the offense more explosive, there was an urgency to 2013 because of the experience across the board and especially in the trenches. The biggest numbers of concern would be Miller’s 133 passing yards vs. Michigan and 142 vs. Michigan State; this team needs to win the really big games to accomplish its goals.
PERSONNEL LOSSES: Four offensive linemen and Hyde were seniors; so, too, was wide receiver Philly Brown (63 catches, 10 touchdowns). Miller clearly isn’t ready to be an NFL quarterback but hasn’t officially announced he’s coming back for his senior year. He’s probably thinking about it based on the number of hits he’s taken the last two seasons, and the Buckeyes will certainly miss Guiton as he moves on to a coaching career if he doesn’t get a shot in the NFL. There would have been no 24-game win streak without both Miller and Guiton, and not without the offensive line playing the way it did, either. Lots of teams lose key people every year; bringing a quarterback back with Meyer’s recruiting machine operating at the highest gear
WHO’S ON HAND: Miller and a bunch of other potential gamebreakers, including Dontre Wilson and a receiver Miller trusts in Devin Smith. After redshirting last season, Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith could add pop to the passing game, and the return of tight ends Jake Heuerman and Nick Vannett will help both the running game and the passing game. Ezekiel Elliott is in line for more touches; so, too, is Wilson with time to get stronger and the experience as a spot player who got 53 offensive touches last season.
WHO’S COMING: At least at first, that backfield is going to be crowded with Brionte Dunn coming off a redshirt, Rod Smith making a final push for carries and Elliott and Wilson looking to prove ready for more. There will be quite a battle behind Miller (presumably) between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, who redshirted in his first year. Another stacked recruiting class is coming, too, and includes several players with credentials that indicate they could at least push for playing time.
WHAT CHANGES: As long as Miller returns, the offense will again start with him. Hyde will be gone but a power run game will always be a big part of the Meyer/Tom Herman spread offense. Battles for playing time on the offensive line, at running back and at receiver will highlight spring practice. Wilson has a chance to be a much bigger part of the offense, and the receiving corps has a chance to be much more explosive. Schematically, not much figures to change. The Buckeyes will be breaking in new players on the line and in the receiving corps and giving more work to runners. The passing game needs to be than just vertical, and the running game will have to involve using Wilson as both a weapon and a decoy in addition to keeping Miller away from too many big hits.
FINAL WORD: The Buckeyes scored a bunch of points, fast, and will do so again next year. There will be enough talent on hand to think more really big games are coming, and even if the look is different — Hyde and that offensive line will be sorely missed — the results could again be plenty of 500-yard and 40-plus point games. For Ohio State to win championships, the passing game will have to be more reliable in big moments and the new faces, especially on the offensive line and at receiver, will have to step up.