We're decently past the midpoint of Ohio State's 12-game regular season, but it's close enough to supplement this week's usual offensive player to week column with the extremely prestigious, first-ever, indisputable Buckeye Three-Quarters Season Offensive Honors (TM).
1. The Room for Growth Award: Dontre Wilson
Stat line: 7 rec., 63 yards.
Dontre Wilson is the oasis in the desert, the unicorn in the woods, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He has mythical speed and shiftiness, and he tempted Buckeye fans with a taste of his talents last year. An injury held Wilson out of nearly all the postseason last year and again out of the first game of this season, but although Wilson has been healthy for a while, he's failed to return to form.
Urban Meyer says it's not lack of effort that's holding Wilson back:
"Dontre is a guy that had a tough injury, missed the first game and then has really been working hard to get back to where he has to be," Meyer said Thursday during his radio show on 97.1 The Fan.
"He's never been a full-time player because he's never been big and strong enough. This is the first year, I have no doubt that he can go out there and hold the point blocking on the perimeter. The first maybe year and a half, he couldn't do it."
As a junior, Wilson's time to shine is slowly eroding away. He's got a few games left in this season and a senior year to show that he can perform at the next level. Yes he's short, but small, powerful runners have been excelling in the NFL of late (Jonathan Stewart, for instance), so there's a professional future for Wilson if he can prove to Meyer and Co. that he deserves touches. Ball time is hard to come by on this team, with so many playmakers, but Wilson needs to demonstrate that he can be depended on when his number gets called. So far, that's not been the case.
2. The "Did Not See That Coming" Award: Curtis Samuel
Stat line: 12-103, 1 TD rushing, 15-209, 2TD receiving.
Lost among the Zekes, Cardales, Braxtons and Barretts in pre-season Buckeye commentary was Curtis Samuel, but the 5'11, 200 lb. second string running back has been quietly having a fantastic season. Although his performance as a rusher has been limited, Samuel has stepped into the h-back role that Urban Meyer loves so much, regularly flushing out of the backfield to catch a pass before burning defenders with his speed. Opportunities for true rushing are limited this year, particularly as J.T. Barrett steps in to run the read-option more, but Samuel has proved worthy of touches, taking his specialized role to heart and producing well.
Samuel figures to have a larger role next year when Elliott leaves for the NFL, so it remains to be seen if he can carry the water as a true running back. For now, we're happy to have Curtis Samuel adding another explosive wrinkle to this offense.
3. The Viner Award: Braxton Miller.
Stat line: 19-280, 3 TD receiving, 30-207, 1 TD rushing.
No commentary necessary here, just the most GIF-worthy, Vine-worthy, repeatable move in the season thus far. And that's saying something, considering how many times a Buckeye has hurdled a defender this year. And, uh, this one's got 8.8 million views as of posting.
4. The Pre-GOAT 2/3-Season MVP: Ezekiel Elliott
Stat Line: 167-1130, 13 TD rushing, 23-160 receiving.
I thought about naming this one the "Please Don't Get Injured" Award, but decided (a) not to be responsible for a jinx and (b) that there may actually be enough ballers on this team that they could get away with an injury or two to their star cast. Jinx avoided!
At any rate, Ezekiel Elliott is obviously the most valuable player on this team. Nationally, he's one of the five best players. Current odds put him as third in the Heisman voting, and he's closing in quickly on Leonard Fournette's obscene numbers.
By my count, you can attribute at least two Buckeye wins to Elliott's performance (Hawaii, Indiana), and he's been critical in every game . He's rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season, and has busted out a 50+ yard run in 3 of them so far. He's been perfect in pass blocking:
In 50 pass blocking snaps across seven games, PFF [Pro Football Focus] grades his pass blocking efficiency at 100 percent. Little things like this escape the attention of the public but are highly valued when NFL teams consider prospects. That Elliott is a wunderkind with the ball in his hands helps too.
Elliott's consistency, his ability to produce explosive plays and his contribution to the rest of the offense make him damn near irreplaceable.
The best part is that Elliott dominates on the field but remains humble and team-oriented, always attributing his success to the players around him.
Ezekiel Elliott: Great player, even better human being, and your three-quarters-season MVP.