Showcasing Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses of Ohio State
With a shocking 6-0 start and a relatively clear path the rest of the season, Urban Meyer's first year as Ohio State Buckeyes football coach is well on its way to exceeding every reasonable (and unreasonable) expectation.
The offense, led by quarterback Braxton Miller, has been infinitely better than the 2011 version in every conceivable way. Spurred on by that resurgence, the Buckeyes have scored 29 or more points in every contest except one this season.
Despite all of those strengths, there have also been some exceedingly glaring weaknesses, which could submarine Ohio State's quest for an undefeated season.
With that in mind, here's a look at both the strengths and weaknesses of the Buckeyes, starting with where the team excels.
QB Braxton Miller
Lining up behind center on an inherently flawed team every week, Miller's sophomore campaign has been nothing short of sensational.
The dual-threat has not only compiled an astounding 763 yards on the ground, which is the seventh-best total in the nation, but he has also been by leaps and bounds a better passer than expected. After struggling throughout much of his freshman campaign with accuracy issues, Miller has completed 61.5 percent of his throws in 2012 and thrown just three interceptions.
Nevertheless, you cannot understand the full breadth of what Miller does unless you look at the whole of the team's offensive production. Of Ohio State's 2,589 yards gained this season, its quarterback has been directly responsible for 1,823 of those yards.
For those who don't feel like hitting the calculator button on your computer, I'll do it for you. That figure means Miller is directly responsible for 70.4 percent of the Buckeyes offense this season.
With all of the preseason hoopla that surrounded Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson having subsided, it may be time we recognize Miller as the Big Ten's most dynamic quarterback.
Diversity of Skill Position Talent
While most of the praise will (rightfully) be heaped upon Miller, the Ohio State offense is full of explosive stars who have helped the young quarterback shine.
Chief among those is wide receiver Devin Smith.
The sophomore Smith has been fantastic as a deep threat this season, gaining 351 yards receiving despite catching just 19 passes. With two touchdowns of 60 or more yards, he's been Miller's big-play target and the guy who ultimately helps spread the field for the Buckeyes' running game.
Nonetheless, it's been the steady hands of Philly Brown that have kept Ohio State's offense churning when the team has needed it most. He's not especially fast, but he has been a consistent underneath target, leading the team in both receptions (35) and receiving yards (352).
Though the Buckeyes seemingly get stops every time they need them, the team's paltry defensive discipline could come back to bite them down the road.
The most glaring example of this defensive carelessness came in Ohio State's 35-28 victory over Cal. Despite getting a scintillating performance from Miller, the defense continually allowed big gains that allowed a far less-talented Bears squad to stay in the game.
Cal running back Brendan Bigelow ran for 160 yards in that contest—a figure that would not seem so bad had it come on more than four carries.
While it would be easy to chalk that up to strong run-blocking from the Bears or poor personnel on Ohio State's run defense, neither are truly the case.
In fact, Ohio State has actually been stronger against the run than the pass this season. What has been consistent is the Buckeyes' seeming inability to get through an entire game without allowing a massive play.
Last week against Nebraska, it was both facets of the defense giving up huge plays, as Rex Burkhead ripped off a 73-yard run and Kenny Bell burned the Buckeyes secondary for a 74-yard play of his own.
Granted, those were blips in a blowout victory. However, there will come a time when Miller cannot single-handedly win a game, and it will be up to the defense to get stops.
Recent history tells us that it doesn't seem likely.
First- and Third-Quarter Point Differential
Despite all of the Buckeyes' well-documented offensive prowess, they have struggled mightily to get things going early in games, thus far.
What will Ohio State's final record be in 2012?
Ohio State has been outscored 36-34 in first quarters in 2012, despite playing relatively weak defenses and five of six games at Ohio Stadium. By contrast, the Buckeyes have outscored the opposition 87-23 in the second quarter, 52-37 in the third and 58-27 in the fourth.
That should tell you something other than that the team obviously doesn't like odd quarters. For whatever reason, this team is either ill-prepared heading out of the locker room, or it simply takes longer than most to start firing on all cylinders.
Either way, Meyer needs to figure out what makes the Buckeyes play so efficiently in the second and fourth quarters and apply those tactics at the start of the first and second halves.
If not, the team may put itself in an early position (especially in the first quarter) from which it is impossible to recover—even as it plays against this weakened Big Ten schedule.
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