COLUMBUS — Ohio State finished the 2017 season with 12 wins and a pair of trophies, but it was a strange ride to the end of the season for a team that won big and lost big, sometimes in back-to-back games.
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Now that it’s finished, it’s time for final grades: Here is how the Buckeyes graded out in the 2017 season:
Running: A. The Buckeyes were one of the most effective rushing teams in the country, using two backs who have run for 1,000 yards in their careers, quarterback J.T. Barrett’s adeptness running the read option, and a physical offensive line that paved the way for 243 yards per game in 2017. Sometimes OSU relied upon Barrett — and not its backs — too much in the running game, but the Buckeyes still did mostly good work on the ground. A healthy rushing attack played a major role in winning a dozen games.
Passing: B. Perhaps no player in Ohio State history has been dissected as much as Barrett. It was not a coincidence Barrett’s two worst showings of the season were losses, including a four-interception clunker at Iowa. But looking at the entire picture, the senior quarterback had more help from his line and pass-catchers this season, and the Buckeyes’ passing game was much improved from 2016. OSU was not a passing team at its core, but it still led the Big Ten in passing efficiency.
Red zone: B. Ohio State wasn’t as efficient as it would like when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone (66.2 percent of trips), but it made use of the positioning more than not, coming away with points on just short of 90 percent of overall trips inside the 20-yard line. The one game where this really hurt OSU was against Oklahoma. Ohio State scored one touchdown in four red zone trips in a 31-16 loss.
Against the run: A+. There was nothing more that could have been asked of Ohio State’s run defense, which played some of the country’s top running backs — Saquon Barkley, Ronald Jones, LJ Scott, and Akrum Wadley — and a service academy, yet finished the season holding opponents to fewer than 3 yards per carry. That’s hard to do at any level, let alone a Big Ten team that played two nonconference heavyweights.
Against the pass: B. The Buckeyes’ linebackers had their struggles in coverage, but OSU proved to be a solid pass defense in 14 games. Ohio State finished in the top 30 nationally in passing efficiency defense, third-down conversion percentage, and total passing yards allowed. A natural step back was inevitable after losing three starters in the secondary, but the next wave of defensive backs proved up to the task.
Red zone: A. Opponents who found themselves inside Ohio State’s 20 failed to score a touchdown 43 percent of the time, and failed to score at all 28 percent of the time. OSU finished eighth nationally in red zone defense.
B. Urban Meyer and special teams coach Kerry Coombs had a situation on their hands in October, most notably when Barkley began Penn State’s trip to Columbus by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. But by season’s end, the kickoff team became a strength: Ohio State finished 10th in kick return defense. Added to a punt team that was ninth in net punting and a kick return team that was 18th, OSU’s special teams solved its woes by season’s end.
C. In terms of executing its game plans, Ohio State was mostly good, as a conference championship and a No. 5 ranking reflect. But this grade gets docked for one thing: penalties. Ohio State was one of the worst in the FBS, and finished last in the Big Ten in penalties, penalty yardage, and lost yardage per game.
A-. A nightmarish afternoon in Iowa City aside, Ohio State was one of the most complete teams in college football. The Buckeyes paid for that day in the form of missing the playoff, but in the end, Ohio State’s season still had many notable accomplishments. Eleven of the Buckeyes’ 12 wins were by 10 or more points, they beat four teams in the top 16, beat Michigan again, and completed the year by winning the Big Ten and a major bowl game.
Yet for programs like Ohio State, it’s playoff or bust. In this attempt, the Buckeyes just missed the whole package.
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