Midterm Grades: A Position-by-Position Breakdown Heading into the Homestretch of the 2020 Season

By Andrew Ellis on November 25, 2020 at 10:10 am
Our midterm grades have arrived for Ohio State's 2020 season.
Via Ohio State Athletics

Four down. Six more to go.

I still can't get used to the fact that tomorrow is Thanksgiving yet we're only four games into the 2020 season. Ohio State is still a few weeks away from its annual showdown with the Wolverines, but the team has reached the halfway point of a Big Ten season that's heading toward a date with the Wildcats in Indianapolis. 

Even though we've only seen four games thus far, I think we've got a pretty firm grasp on where things stand and what areas may be problematic as we move closer to the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff. 

Quarterback: A- 

I went back and forth here, but a better game on Saturday would have resulted in an A or perhaps even an A+ for the season. Justin Fields threw three interceptions and made a number of questionable decisions against Indiana. Still, he's completing nearly 80 percent of his passes and has amassed over 1,300 total yards and 16 touchdowns in just four games. Will three picks allow the Buckeyes to beat Clemson or Bama? Probably not. But he's been dang near perfect outside of the lone rough one.

Running Back: C+

Tony Alford's running game has been far from explosive in 2020. Master Teague and Trey Sermon are both averaging 5.2 yards per carry and they're coming off their best performance of the season against the Hoosiers. Teague doesn't have a whole lot of that make-you-miss quickness and Sermon doesn't always seem to know exactly where he's going. I think the duo has been okay though they aren't really the type of backs that will strike fear into opposing defenses. 

Wide Receiver: A

Brian Hartline has the best pair of wideouts in America as both Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have been phenomenal this season. Wilson's move to the slot has led to him topping the century mark in each of his four games while hauling in four touchdown passes. Olave is sitting at 380 yards and four scores of his own. We all saw what Jaxon Smith-Njigba did in his debut, but the phenomenal freshman class hasn't seen quite as much action as some may have expected. Hartline's room is easily one of the team's greatest strengths. 

Tight End: A 

If you were expecting some great turnaround here with tight ends being the focal point of the passing game, then I have no idea what you were thinking. Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell have combined for 12 catches for 86 yards and three scores. I suppose it is a bit surprising that Ruckert has caught more passes (9) and scored more touchdowns (3) than a guy like Jameson Williams. We've gotten used to this by now and we know what to expect from Ohio State tight ends. Ruckert and Farrell have done their jobs quite well in 2020.

Offensive Line: B

I think one of the season's biggest surprises has been Ohio State's tackle play exceeding that of the interior portion of the line. Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere have both been superb on the outside. Harry Miller, Josh Myers, and Wyatt Davis aren't quite at the level we all had expected out of them. Miller had an especially rough stretch against Rutgers, but it's important to remember that he's only in his second season and first as a starter. I'm thinking the tackle play is worthy of an A while the interior is in the C+ range.

Defensive Line: B+

This is far from breaking news, but losing a disruptive player of Chase Young's caliber is going to make a team's pass rush look a bit different. Larry Johnson's crew is, however, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks even though the sack numbers are down in comparison to 2019. The interior pass rush has been really good as Tommy Togiai leads the team with three sacks and Haskell Garrett has been surging as a senior. 

Jonathon Cooper and Zach Harrison both have 1.5 sacks on the season, but I know plenty of folks are hoping for a bit more pressure from Johnson's rotation off the edge. Outside of the 210 yards given up to the Cornhuskers, the Buckeye front seven has been solid against the run and ranks No. 12 nationally. 

Linebackers: A-

From my point of view, Al Washington's group has been mostly exceptional this season. I can recall a few missed tackles early on against the Huskers, but there hasn't been much that has me concerned moving forward. Pete Werner, Tuf Borland, and Baron Browning are all playing at a high level. They've been a big part of the superb play against the run and helped to hold Pat Freiermuth to just three catches for 46 yards back in week two. I do wonder if we could see a bit more pass-rushing from Browning over the latter part of the season. 

Defensive Backs: D+

The biggest takeaway from the Indiana game? Ohio State's pass defense is officially a problem. The Buckeye secondary lost three starters from 2019 and was expected to take a step back this season. I don't think anyone expected it would be quite this large of a step, however. The loss of Cameron Brown was a big blow to Kerry Coombs and Co., and one has to wonder if any changes will be made in the coming weeks.

Ohio State is currently ranked No. 115 nationally against the pass. Shaun Wade has been bested by Jahan Dotson and Ty Fryfogle, but he's at least been in the right position most of the time. Coverage breakdowns have plagued the unit and that was especially apparent against the Hoosiers. I'm not all that worried about falling victim to Greg Schiano's trickeration, but the mistakes we saw on Saturday would be too much to overcome if they were to happen in the playoffs.

Most of the complaints have revolved around Marcus Hooker and Marcus Williamson, but all aspects of the defensive backfield really need to get better. Ohio State is in a bit of a weird spot, though. The Buckeyes won't face another solid passing offense until the presumed playoff appearance, so it'll be difficult to gauge how much the unit improves. On the other hand, Coombs should have the opportunity to experiment a bit more with Josh Proctor and perhaps Lejond Cavazos in the upcoming weeks. 

Special Teams: C

Ohio State's special teams haven't been particularly impressive, but it's fair to say that injuries have played a part in the performance thus far. Starting kicker Blake Haubeil's injury has led to three different players attempting field goals on the season. The trio has connected on just two of the five attempts through four games.

The return game has been fine albeit pretty limited with just six kickoff and five punt returns on the season. We've seen some muffed returns in the past, so we'll give some props to Garrett Wilson for avoiding anything catastrophic back there. In the punting game, Drue Chrisman's average per boot has dropped from 44.3 yards last season down to 42, but he's still placed six of his 13 kicks inside the 20-yard line. His 36-yarder late in the game against Indiana was a tad bit troublesome.

Ohio State checked in at No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings and will use the remaining games to help strengthen its resume. None of the country's top teams are without flaws. Alabama's pass defense is ranked No. 68 nationally. Notre Dame's passing attack isn't all that potent behind Ian Book and some questionable pass-catchers. Clemson has been hit with some injuries and doesn't have the big names at receiver that we're used to seeing. 

How are you feeling about Ohio State's position groups as we sit here midway through the season?

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