Buckeye Seniors Hope To Play Pivotal Role in Championship Run

By Chris Lauderback on April 19, 2014 at 8:15a
Seniors Braxton Miller and Devin Smith should be primed for big seasons.

Every year, Ohio State's football program leans on a crop of seniors for leadership and, hopefully, production. The results can be mixed in an era where the elite players often leave Columbus before playing four years of college football. 

For instance, Jim Tressel's 2002 national championship team had just 13 total seniors and only seven of those were legit contributors. 

The different sides of the ball can also see huge swings in senior production. In 2002, Tressel had one senior contributor on offense, Chris Vance, and he didn't exactly set the world on fire with 178 receiving yards and three scores. Meanwhile, the defense was loaded with eight contributing seniors including names like Mike Doss, Matt Wilhelm and Cie Grant.

Urban Meyer's perfect 12-0 debut also featured lopsided senior production with an offense boasting a mere two contributors as the defense leaned on eight guys in their final season including Zach Boren, John Simon and Etienne Sabino. 

Last year, the tables turned as the offense had no less than nine guys play big time roles including the team's leading rusher (Hyde) and receiver (Philly) along with four of the five starters on one of Ohio State's best offensive lines in recent memory. And the backup quarterback wasn't too shabby either. 

The Bullets however, featured only two solid seniors in C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, with Bryant's season cut short after five games due to injury. Pitt Brown was also a senior, ranking 6th on the team in tackles but most fans would've been fine with freshman Vonn Bell starting instead. 

It's time for Curtis Grant to live up to the hype

Similar to last season, the 2014 defense won't have a ton of seniors though the trio of Michael Bennett, Curtis Grant and Doran Grant will be counted on heavily for both leadership and production. Bennett and D. Grant in particular are known commodities and potential all-conference performers but C. Grant is more of a wildcard. Could this be the season the five-star puts it all together giving the team a much needed boost? It's possible but far from certain based on what he's shown. 

Of course, no senior on the roster projects to match Braxton Miller's production but while the offense boasts seven guys in their final season looking to contribute, there are indeed question marks. 

Wide receiver Devin Smith was Ohio State's 2nd-leading receiver last year with 44 grabs for 660 yards and eight scores but his production was far from consistent. Some of that can be pinned on Miller's sketchy second half passing-wise combined with Herman/Meyer becoming overly conservative on offense but there's no question Smith disappeared as he recorded a meager six grabs over the final five games

Fellow senior receiver Evan Spencer is a bit of an enigma. Despite a few highlight reel snags, Spencer has never recorded more than four catches in a collegiate game and is coming off an ugly injury in the Orange Bowl that kept him out of spring drills. 

With Smith back along with Dontre Wilson and a host of young guys Meyer is excited about along with transfers Jeff Greene and Corey Smith (juco), Spencer will have to prove he's healthy and able to be productive or the staff may favor developing younger guys capable hitting homeruns. 

Though Spencer's contributions are tough to predict, Jeff Heuerman is primed for a big season provided Tom Herman and Meyer give the Florida product a chance to better his 26 catch, 466 yard junior campaign. 

Conversely, Rod Smith has always been more hype than substance for a handful of reasons and he enters his final season on the outside looking in of a deep but unproven running back rotation. Is there a chance the light goes on and he is a consistent contributor? That seems a far-fetched scenario at present. 

Of course, it all starts up front and with Ed Warriner forced to replace four starters two seniors hope to emerge. On some level, 5th-year senior Darryl Baldwin has already done so with the news he is slated to start at right tackle but considering the season opener will serve as his first career offensive start at this level after arriving at Ohio State as blue chip defensive lineman, there's at least some cause for concern. Another senior who made the switch from defense to offense, Joel Hale, is battling Antonio Underwood for the left guard spot and figures to at least see spot duty. 

Time will tell if the senior class can help vault the Buckeyes to the top of the college football heap for the first time since 2002 and considering the four-year guys have yet to experience a bowl victory, nothing would be sweeter. 


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buckeyedude's picture

Just as in 2002, it's still all about the defense. Look at MSU as an example: I think they finished at #2, even with their vanilla offense.

As with most Buckeye fans, I'm hoping for a return to the Silver Bullets. That alone would give us a good shot at a title. Bringing Chris Ash on board really gives me hope.



+5 HS
Oldschoolbuck's picture

Agree 100% 'Dude. Now that we know (or at least we think we know) a lot of the defensive woes may have been due to Coach Withers' philosophy, it will be interesting to see what the Bullets do this year. If the Spring Game was any indication, it is encouraging.

Also, I'm not so sure Senior leadership is as important as leadership from your best players (of course, Braxton must be a leader, given the position. And, hopefully, he has become much more vocal in the locker room, on the practice field, in the weight room, and in the huddle). This team is loaded with talent, let's hope their work ethic is on the same level - that is where leadership will be reflected IMO.

+3 HS
ibuck's picture

If Braxton steps up and distributes the ball to OSU's other playmakers as well as Terrelle Pryor did in his last year, the offense will be better than 2013, even against better defenses. Of course, this means he must spot the open receiver and pitch the ball to the running back on the zone read. IMO, he's not as good as Troy Smith or Pryor in the passing game. I think if he reaches a level comparable to Pryor, Buckeye fans would be thrilled. 

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

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Seattle Linga's picture

This team has so much potential to be amazing by the end of the year.

+1 HS
theopulas's picture

i no its about winning and you play your best ....period....but all things being even....do you go with the senior leadership or grow the experience with youth and hopefully get better for the future....Rod Smith isn't a Meyer recruit and seems to be getting push out of the way.....


James Mee's picture

I think Rod Smith's problem is that he has never lit the world on fire. He seems to be a good but not great running back. He may just not be good enough to start. 

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

In my opinion, Rod Smith is the best horse in the stable. He has run sub 4.4's in the past and he has size like Eddie George (both are 6'3" and both played their senior year at around 240 pounds). His problem right now is his grades as he "Ain't comin' here to play school." Honestly though...he truly is having problems with his grades (as a 5th year senior) which is why he didn't play in the spring game although coach Meyer often praised him for his "A to B in 4 to 6" this spring.

Rod Smith is plagued though...if you didn't know...

Rod Smith has just 83 carries in his Buckeye career. When he has been given the ball, he has looked great. See though, Rod Smith had 4 fumbles before he got his 50th carry. That kind of thing puts you on the bench, then you drop to 3rd string...and 3rd string at Ohio State sometimes means that you don't play. On another note, Smith is very talented as he hit hard as a LB when he was doing anything possible to get some plays in and he caught a 51 yard TD pass where he ran his route, caught the ball in stride, and showed that he has good hands as a pass catcher. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LLobnRQhQY

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



+2 HS
James Mee's picture

I agree that he has a bad case of fumbilitis. I hope that's gone. That's sorta where I was going when I said that he didn't light the world on fire. He also wasn't so good as to get on the field despite those problems. His other problem is while he is very talented, this is Ohio State and we have a lot of really talented running backs. 

Also from what I heard Urban just said that he had a heavy load this semester and that's why he didn't play in the spring game. But I have no idea.

D-Day0043's picture

Cardale Jones was the one who said "I ain't come here to play school."

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

-1 HS
stcburn's picture

I know it's hind sight, but if we would've gone with youth last year, we'd finished no worse and we would have more experience this year. I truly feel we set better talent over experience for the win streak sake. The Defense will be better it can't get worse, can it?

+2 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Seems like Rod Smith has just faded away as spring drills closed. I know there was mention of his academics, but I don't get the vibe that Smith even needs to be in the mix anymore?

I have no issue with EzE, Dunn, Ball or Samuel, but it isn't as if Smith hasn't contributed in the past.

James Mee's picture

True but he did have a fumbling problem. Hopefully that's gone but he may just be the victim of a bad situation. Like Jordan Hall. There are just a lot of really good backs on this team. 

CGroverL's picture

Smith is the best RB on the team....https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVcGG2QF1eQ

Personally, I like this play and the Miller to Rod Smith for a 51 yard TD. Those are great things to have. Jordan Hall took carries from both Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith and Hall did close to nothing..... When Herron returned in 2011, I bitched because Hyde lost carries. I like RB's that are 6' and 240 pounds and can run the 40 under 4.4 seconds consistently. Hyde and Smith were the best RB's on the team from 2011 on. Hyde was lucky to get the carries he got (remember that Meyer never had a 1,000 yard rusher before Hyde). Rod Smith is the best RB on the team. Oops! Did I say that twice already?

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



allinosu's picture

I'm wanting Devin Smith to fight for the ball instead of waiting for it to drop in his arms.

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

I had to give you an "up vote" for that. However, the truth is that only Devin Smith has ever really taken one away from the defense and he did it just once that I can remember. ALL of the receivers need to listen to your advice. Evan Spencer might have one "takeaway" as well, but the receivers need to be more physical while the ball is in the air as offensive pass interference isn't called nearly as much as defensive pass interference. If the WR's need to throw an elbow before jumping to create some separation, they should do it.

The best receivers GO AND GET THE BALL. The Buckeye receivers need some motivation.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



+1 HS
hetuck's picture

I think Curtis Grant - and all the defense - will benefit from simplification. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+2 HS
Horvath22's picture

If all the seniors play at a higher level than they have in the past, we are in for an NC.

TossTrap's picture

I remember Tim May commenting last year (when Carlos was suspended) that his impression of what the coaches thought of Rod Smith was they didn't believe he had the stamina (or something similar to that) to be the go to guy at tailback.

Smith may well be in a rotation. but I'll bet he needs an outstanding fall with the number of backs stepping up their game now.

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

sivaDavis's picture

I don't think many understand just how important Chris Ash will be to this team. If the Buckeyes had any defense last year, they play for a title. The offense will put up points but you need a defense to stop the other team, period. Example is MSU, great defense, ehh offense that could score enough points because of how well their defense played and put them in positions to capitalize. We though, don't need that, we just need to get some 3rd and long and some punts. The offense should be able to continue being dominant. They still could put up 30+ with no defense to help. Just imagine what the team could do with a top 20 defense which I really believe is possible this year.


Is it August yet!?

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Would love to see Rod Smith get a chance to contribute more, but as Chris asserts it seems unlikely at this point in time.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

osubuck57's picture

Thought Braxton and company would have at least 2 Big Ten Championships before they graduated, but I'll take one :)


+1 HS
D-Day0043's picture

I am beginning to wonder if Zach Smith is getting it done as a receivers coach. 

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JohnnyKozmo's picture

Hopefully, Braxton's load in terms of designed runs is lessened, which would open up more carries for other RBs.  And as far as the read option goes, he keeps it way too much when there is nothing there.  If it's going to get blown up anyways, he needs to give it to the RB and let them take the extra hit.  So EZE probably won't see the # of carries Hyde had, and when you add in the potential of even more carries due to Braxton hopefully playing smarter, there should be plenty for another back or two to see significant time.  I'd love to see 3 guys get 10-12 carries for 60-80yds a piece.  Having fresh RBs in the 4th Quarter with the talent that is back there would be huge, especially in close games.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

BuckeyeDevil's picture

Personally, I would love to see the RB's and TE positions get more attention in the passing game. It just always seems underutilized to me. Looks like Heuerman is worth bigger consideration than 26 catches in 14 games. I don't know how OSU compares to others in terms of TE use, but at first glance if I was a prospective recruit at that position the Buckeyes would not be on my radar.

+1 HS
RufusVonDufus's picture

Wouldn't that correctly be Jim Tressel's seniors?   I think so!


blocko330's picture

It may be my confidence in Urban Meyer or it may be my love for Buckeye Football, but I have legitimate high hopes for this year and it ALL comes down to Defense.  Sure, every year as a Buckeye fan you think Nat'l Championship or bust.  Every year, though, there is a but.  And last year the "but" was the secondary.  I think our offense could produce half (no seriously, only half) of what we did last year and we will still be a better team with something really special to play for in Jan '15.

That 2002 team was great (obviously), but in my opinion it all started with great defense/field position.  I wouldn't mind only scoring 17 points a game this year.....just as long as we're only giving up 16.

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

- TruthTeller