There were a ton of questions about this Ohio State team heading into the weekend, and I'm not sure we have any more answers than we did before today's kickoff. The first half was an ugly mess that somehow only saw the Buckeyes concede 7 points while only scoring 6. The second half was a different story, as Ohio State strung together 4 touchdowns on its way to a relatively convincing 34-17 victory.
Still, did we honestly expect much different? Our starting quarterback had less than 2 weeks to prepare for his first live action in almost 2 full years, our defensive line was missing one of its terrifying bookends, and there is inexperience up and down the roster, from offensive line to secondary.
Let's take a look at how we think these Buckeye players are trending now that we've seen them in action.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Sean Nuernberger, K: Man, oh man. Converting your first collegiate FG attempt from 46 yards, away from home, has to feel good. The true freshman also put one in from 28 yards and was responsible for all of the Buckeyes' first-half scoring. Nuernberger added 4 PATs to make it a perfect day. He looked even better after Navy missed a would-be field goal to end the first half, and when teammate Kyle Clinton buried a kickoff out of bounds to give Navy great field position.
Darron Lee, LB: No. 43 is a bad, bad man. The freshman linebacker showed up all over the field, and finally shifted momentum back towards the Buckeyes by taking a fumble recovery to the house from 61 yards out. He also had a huge stick against Navy's seemingly unstoppable triple-option attack when he brought down Keenan Reynolds in the backfield late in the first half.
Devin Smith, WR: Barrett only found his senior receiver twice, but twice was enough. Smith racked up 94 yards and a TD on his two catches. It was a (slightly underthrown) heave from Barrett to Smith that broke the game open for the Buckeyes, good for 80 yards down the right side of the field and into the endzone.
Dontre Wilson, WR: Wilson is officially listed as a receiver on the team's depth chart, but his Saturday stats show just 2 catches against 6 rushing attempts. Wilson went for 46 yards in the air and 43 on the ground, for some tidy averages. He also looked dangerous on special teams, where he's expected to do big things this season. It can't be more than another game or two before Wilson busts a kick return loose for 6. I'd like to see him shore up his hands a little bit, too--his drop of a decent Barrett pass on OSU's opening drive was one I'm sure he'd like to have back.
J.T. Barrett, QB: Despite a very shaky first half, Barrett led a few great second half drives to secure the victory for the Buckeyes. I'm not sure you could ask much more of him, stats-wise, in his first live game action since October of 2012--when he was a senior in high school. He lacks Braxton Miller's explosiveness, which made watching the read-option cringe-worthy at times, but he was sharp through the air. He finished 12 of 15 for 226 yards with 2 TDs and an INT, which was really the only bad read he made. He also ended a possible OSU touchdown drive by not keeping the ball on an option play where he had gaps to hit. Trust that he'll get over those little humps as he gets more comfortable leading the offense.
Curtis Grant, LB: Grant was nowhere to be found for most of the game as Navy's three-headed rushing attack ran downhill against the Buckeyes. He did come up big with a sack that put paid to a Midshipmen drive late in the 3rd quarter, but was otherwise a non-factor. Grant is a solid player and will put it together this season, but he was no match for what Navy had to offer.
Buy: Curtis Samuel's El Guapo impersonation. Samuel didn't see much action before the second half, but he made the most of his touches. The 5'11 back had some bruising carries up the middle to open up the field, a dimension that the Buckeyes sorely lacked in the first half. He matched Ezekiel Elliott's rushing total on barely half as many carries, and seemed more dynamic than Elliott on most of those.
Sell: The offensive line's El Matador impersonation. Yikes. There wasn't a lot to like from this raw O-line in the first 30 minutes of play, though they did seem to figure things out in the second half. Navy's defensive line spent an awful lot of time in the backfield disrupting plays and taking away the potency of the rushing game. The O-line also disappointed on a failed Buckeye 4th-down conversion attempt, which in fairness never should have even occurred--Elliott had pretty clearly gained the first down on the previous play, and Meyer apparently rushed the play call (after the incorrect spot) to prevent a possible fumble ruling from going Navy's way.
Buy: ALL the freshmen.
Meyer's newest crop of players (redshirt or otherwise) were some of the team's brightest spots during a tense game. Nuernberger looked like a young Mike Nugent, while Darron Lee made the aforementioned brilliant plays. Jalin Marshall, a former high school quarterback, looked great on a few shoveled end-arounds from Barrett, and hopefully we'll see him get more touches down the line. Barrett himself looked better and better as the game wore on, and the aforementioned Curtis Samuel is a freshman, too! There are a lot of exciting players in this class, and it's exciting/terrifying to think about how good they'll be in another year or two. In the meantime, keep praying to Wu-Tang for the debut of freshman LB Raekwon McMillan.
Sell: Running the option, repeatedly, against the best option team in America. Because maybe, just maybe, they might have a pretty good idea of how to stifle that particular kind of play.
Buy: Urban's celebration face. When the game clock struck zero, Meyer looked genuinely happy for the first time since probably December. Okay, definitely since December. It wasn't a pretty win, but it was a win nonetheless, and the coach has a better idea of what this team looks like now that he's seen them in action.