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Ohio State Football: Buckeyes Who Need to Step Up Their Game

Colin KennedyContributor IOctober 22, 2016

Ohio State Football: Buckeyes Who Need to Step Up Their Game

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    An undefeated record is nothing to complain about, however, some Buckeyes will need to step up their game if Ohio State is going to contend for a national title. 

    Through four games, Urban Meyer's team has had mixed results. Of course the messages are positive overall with a 4-0 record, but the Buckeyes have had some glaring struggles. 

    A defensive line many expected to be the best in the nation has largely underperformed in the early-going, and though they have put points on the board, the offense has been unbalanced. 

    Secondary concerns remain, and the run-heavy offense continues to rely on quarterback Braxton Miller too often. 

    But Ohio State is winning, and in the end that is all that matters. 

    The schedule gets a bit tougher in coming weeks, however. Starting with this weekend's matchup at Michigan State, the Buckeyes play two straight against ranked opponents before traveling to Indiana. 

    A date with Michigan will conclude a season which Ohio State fans hope will end with a Big Ten Conference championship (and perhaps more).

    But if Urban Meyer's squad wants to have any shot at national title contention, a few key players are going to need to step up.

    Here are five names who will have to improve for the Buckeyes:

John Simon

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    Coming into the season, Ohio State's John Simon was expected by many to establish his status as an All-American defensive lineman in his senior year. 

    Well, that hasn't been the case thus far. 

    The Buckeyes' defensive line was supposed to be their greatest strength. But a group with arguably more talent than any in the nation has grossly underperformed through the season's first four games. 

    One year removed from earning first-team All-Big Ten honors, Simon has struggled to standout in the season's opening month. 

    Ohio State's senior captain has unquestionably fulfilled his role as the leader of the Buckeye defense. Continuous praise from coaches and teammates alike has made Simon's underachievement on the field go slightly unnoticed. 

    A nagging shoulder injury could be at the root of the lineman's troubles. An injury that he hid from the Ohio State coaching staff could be preventing Simon from making the big plays he is accustom to making. 

    Either way, the entire defensive line is going to need to step up if the Buckeyes plan on staying undefeated.

    The offense has done its job in scoring points through the first four games, but John Simon and Co. will need to generate a more consistent pass rush as the schedule gets tougher in coming weeks. 

Andrew Norwell

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    As the only returning starter from a season ago, junior guard Andrew Norwell anchors a Buckeye offensive line that has helped Braxton Miller and Co. get off to a quick start. 

    After starting all 13 games in his sophomore season, the Ohio native was named honorable mention All-Big Ten Conference in 2011 by the conference media voters for his performance at left tackle and left guard. 

    Now, Norwell is expected to be the one constant on Urban Meyer's offensive line. 

    Through the first four games, the inexperienced unit has been pretty solid as a whole. But dedicated Ohio State fans may have picked up on a few troubling signs. 

    While the Buckeyes have had little trouble running the ball effectively (24th in the nation with 229.3 rushing yards per game), the passing game hasn't been as potent. 

    Part of the reason Braxton Miller isn't accumulating the yardage totals many expected entering the season is because of the pass-blocking.

    One month into the season, Norwell has been noticeably late in picking up blitzes on numerous occasions. In addition, the third-year player has been whistled for false starts far too often for a player with his experience. 

    Yes, it is still early in the year. And that only means time for improvement. But if the Buckeyes intend on competing for a Big Ten Championship, and maybe even a National Championship, Andrew Norwell is going to need to improve. 

Jake Stoneburner

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    After running into some trouble off the field during the offseason, Jake Stoneburner appears to have gotten his act together in Columbus. 

    His on-the-field performance just hasn't supported that. At least not yet. 

    Making the switch from tight end to wide receiver, Stoneburner was expected to be a nightmare of a matchup for opposing defensive backs.

    Though he has proven lethal in the red zone this year (three touchdown catches through four games), Buckeye fans are hopeful he can contribute on all areas of the field. 

    Including his three touchdowns, the senior pass-catcher has just seven total receptions on the season. 92 yards of offense is a bit low for a player many expected to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. 

    Certainly it could be worse for Stoneburner, who was arrested in the offseason for evading police. But Urban Meyer has stuck with his senior, and expects him to become more involved in a highly talented Ohio State offense. 

Nathan Williams

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    The good news: senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams returned from knee surgery.

    The bad news: the Ohio State defensive line needs all the help they can get. 

    Senior defensive end Nathan Williams played about 30 snaps in the Buckeyes' season opener against Miami of Ohio. One week later, the knee was so sore that it forced Williams to sit against UCF. 

    The rotation on the line hasn't been as functional as intended through four games. With most of the starters playing the entire game, questions about fatigue have already been raised. 

    But Nathan Williams insists that the knee is fine, and that he wants to play as much as possible. Hopefully the production will soon follow. 

    Rust has been evident in the limited action that Williams has seen so far. A missed sack opportunity in Week 1 highlighted what was otherwise an impressive performance from the senior. 

    His performance can't really be criticized given the circumstances; however, there is no hiding from the fact that Ohio State's defensive line needs to step up as a group. 

    And Nathan Williams will need to be a leader in that effort.

CJ Barnett

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    The Ohio State secondary has been the other major area of concern through the first four games of the young season. 

    While the defensive line has failed to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the secondary has been forced to try and shoulder the load.

    And they haven't exactly been successful.

    CJ Barnett is one of the Ohio State safeties who has struggled during the early-going. After getting burned for a 44-yard touchdown pass in the opening game against Miami of Ohio, Barnett has done little to compensate for his mistakes.

    The 6'1' junior does have sufficient size at the safety position, but he struggles to matchup with larger tight ends when the Buckeyes play the base 4-3 as they often do. 

    Improvement has been noticeable after Ohio State allowed 303 passing yards in the season opener, but for one of the country's most talented defensive units, the average of nearly 275 passing yards against still remains a bit high. 

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