Ranking the Young Blood: Top Five Performances by First-Time Regulars

By Michael Citro on September 2, 2014 at 10:10a
J.T. Barrett shined in his debut at quarterback for the Buckeyes.

Buckeye fans got their first glimpse of Ohio State’s future on Saturday, with a number of freshmen starting and getting plenty of snaps on both sides of the ball. But it was also their first glimpse of the present.

Game one is in the books and, although it’s not too early to start looking ahead to the home opener against Virginia Tech, it’s worth a look back at the top performances by Ohio State’s youngsters. These guys were not a novelty act, sent into the game late in a lopsided affair. They will be counted on to produce if Ohio State is to make anything of this season.

Most eyes were on redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, but quite a few other new faces saw the field as starters and regular contributors on Saturday afternoon in Baltimore. These were the top five performances by first time regulars*, as I saw them.

*For the record, I don’t consider Ezekiel Elliott a first-time regular, as he was a prominent backup last season. That said, I thought he played extremely well once the offensive line settled in.

5. Jalin Marshall

He wasn’t utilized a whole lot, but Marshall impressed me with his quickness on Saturday. His rushing numbers weren’t good (three attempts for seven yards for a 2.3-yard average) but his carries in the first half were partially a product of the blocking he received.

Marshall caught two passes for 19 yards and seemed a very dangerous threat turning the corner on the tap pass that featured so prominently in Ohio State’s game plan on Saturday. The Marshall Plan will be exciting to watch as the season progresses.

4. Curtis Samuel

It’s easy to see why Urban Meyer talked so excitedly about Samuel throughout camp. It’s like having a bigger, stronger Dontre Wilson on the field whenever Samuel is in the lineup. He is equally dangerous running outside or between the tackles. It looks like he’ll be used a lot this season.

Samuel ran for 45 yards on just seven carries, including a 14-yard run, and caught one pass for four yards in his first game as a Buckeye. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and 6.1 yards per touch. It’s one game, but it really looks like No. 4 will be special.

Lee's scoop and score provided a spark for the Buckeyes early in the second half.

3. Darron Lee

Lee had a somewhat mixed day if you consider the rushing yards allowed by the defense as a whole, but when there were big plays made it seemed like he was always the guy making them. His fumble recovery and 61-yard return for a touchdown sparked the team early in the second half and he had the hit of the game, burying Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds with this tackle for loss.

He finished third on the team with seven tackles and tied for second with five solo stops. He and Adolphus Washington led the Buckeyes with two TFLs, and he added a quarterback hurry in a game in which Reynolds attempted only four passes and dropped back to throw only six times.

To make a comparison to another guy who wasn’t always perfect fundamentally but who simply went out and flashed all over the field, he reminded me a lot of Ryan Shazier on Saturday, and that’s very high praise for a first-time starter.

2. J.T. Barrett

Quarterback is football’s most difficult position. The ball is in his hands on every offensive snap and he is charged with a number of tasks—confirming he has the correct personnel on the field, making sure his team is in the right formation, reading the defense both before and after the snap, and executing the play by accurately getting the ball where it’s supposed to go.

The signal caller generally gets more blame and more credit for wins and losses than any other player, so there is also more pressure to perform than virtually any other position.

Barrett had to make his first start away from the friendly Ohio Stadium crowd, and he performed admirably. Taking advantage of a fairly conservative passing game plan, he completed 12/15 passes (one was dropped by his receiver) for 226 yards and two touchdowns with one lone interception. His run reads weren’t perfect, but overall I saw less evidence of pre-determined gives/keeps than we saw from Braxton Miller in 2012—his first year in Tom Herman’s offense.

In addition, Barrett appeared calm and poised regardless of the situation. Perhaps that’s the most important takeaway from a first-time starting quarterback.

1. Sean Nuernberger

 Sure, “Das Boot” didn’t affect as many plays as Barrett, Lee and others, but perfect is perfect, and that should be rewarded. The true freshman didn’t have to make a game-winner in the closing seconds, but he started his career on the road in a game that was close much of the way. He calmly stepped up and nailed a 46-yard field goal—not exactly a chip shot–late in the first quarter, scoring the game’s first points. Then he drilled a 28-yarder to pull the Buckeyes within one late in the first half.

In the second half, Nuernberger went 4/4 on extra points to help provide distance between the Buckeyes and the Midshipmen. Although his volume of work was lower than the others on this list, Nuernberger was asked to do six things and he executed all six. I’ll reward his perfection with the top honors here.

What did you guys think? Which youngsters impressed you?

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