Breaking down Ohio State's emerging young stars
We fell victim to the early-season narrative surrounding Ohio State, but head coach Urban Meyer has the Baby Buckeyes picking up right where the departed draft picks left off. New stars are making their mark, from all-everything running back/slot receiver Curtis Samuel, to fellow running back Mike Weber to third-year defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker.
Ohio State has reloaded, and they’ve done it quickly, and while the Buckeyes are young the roster is full of talent. Let’s take a look at the team’s new, emerging stars:
Emerging playmakers on offense
It’d be easy to look at the stat sheet and anoint QB J.T. Barrett as a top Heisman contender, but a closer look at the action shows just how much his teammates have elevated the numbers. He’s done a fine job of distributing the ball to his playmakers, and it’s been Samuel, WR Noah Brown and others who have done the heavy lifting.
The best player on Ohio State through three games – and our top-graded all-around running back – Samuel has lined up all over the field, including 73 snaps split wide, 64 in the backfield and another six taking direct snaps. He’s averaging 8.1 yards per carry while leading the team in receiving with 259 yards. Meyer is known for using running backs and slot receivers interchangeably and Samuel has been a perfect fit so far this season.
After much hype heading into the 2015 season before an injury derailed his season, Brown had his national coming-out party against Oklahoma on Saturday night. Not only did he catch all four Barrett touchdowns, including the catch of the year as he snagged the under-thrown deep ball to turn an incompletion into a touchdown. At 6-2 and 222 pounds, Brown brings a physical target to the Ohio State offense and Barrett simply needs to give him a chance to make plays against one-on-one coverage – expect to hear much more out of Brown as the season progresses.
RB Mike Weber
Let’s not forget the other running back in Weber who also boasts a top-10 rushing grade while ranking 12th in the nation with 351 rushing yards. The redshirt freshman complemented Samuel well and he’s posted a 73.9 elusive rating that has bested departed first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott’s the last two seasons (58.5 in 2014, 62.8 in 2015). That’s not to say that Weber is better than Elliott, but it’s one way to show that Weber’s ability to make defenders miss and create after contact has helped a young offensive line.
Defense rallies around a rock in the middle
Coming into the season, we felt good about one player on the Ohio State defense and that’s LB Raekwon McMillan. He’s lived up to the hype to this point, ranking among the nation’s top linebackers against the run and in coverage, while providing his usual sure tackling in the middle of the Buckeyes’ defense (he’s missed only 16 tackles on 187 attempts since 2014). Sure, we also thought DE Sam Hubbard would break out, and he’s done fine as a pass-rusher — but much like the offense, it’s all about the new names that have emerged for this defense.
S Malik Hooker
Hooker was seemingly all over the field the first two weeks, making multiple highlight-reel interceptions and while he didn’t get his hands on the ball against Oklahoma, he’s been a force on the back end of the defense. His range has brought versatility to Ohio State’s secondary, and those three early interceptions will have opposing teams thinking twice before pushing the ball down the field.
CB Marshon Lattimore
Targeting Lattimore has not gone well for opposing quarterbacks so far this season, as he’s allowed five catches on 10 targets, but he also has three interceptions and two other passes defensed. He’s allowed a passer rating of 275 on throws into his coverage and as we like to say around the office, quarterbacks would have a better passer rating if they just threw the ball in the dirt rather than targeting him (© Sam Monson).
Defensive line rotation
Perhaps the biggest question mark was replacing the production of DE Joey Bosa and DT Adolphus Washington up front, and it’s been a strong committee approach to this point. Hubbard has been solid while DE Tyquan Lewis has continued his strong play with the top pass rushing grade up front. Among the new names, defensive tackle Michael Hill has held the point in the running game, as his 81.4 grade against the run can attest. DT Dre’Mont Jones had his best game of the year against Oklahoma and DT Robert Landers has played well on his 20 or so snaps per game.
Ohio State always comes into the season with high expectation,s but they’ve now raised even their own high standards. The talented roster has developed sooner than expected, and that puts Ohio State right in the playoff mix. With the Big Ten schedule starting in two weeks, it will be up to Curtis Samuel to continue his Heisman-level play, Noah Brown to build on his four-touchdown performance, and an opportunistic secondary to continue to take the ball away from opposing offenses. The inexperienced players have grown up quickly and Ohio State is primed for huge matchups down the stretch against Nebraska, Michigan State, and of course, Michigan.