- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's time to pass out grades for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Uncertainty surrounded the unit heading into the season after the departure of starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the suspensions of three other starters. But the Buckeyes' offensive struggles reached new lows in the first half of the season before freshman Braxton Miller emerged at quarterback. Ohio State looked lifeless in losses to Miami and Michigan State, nearly suffering its first shutout at home since 1982. The Buckeyes won a game at Illinois despite completing just one pass and attempting only four. Coordinator Jim Bollman infuriated fans with ultra-conservative game plans, even though Miller, the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year, raised hope for the future with his play-making ability. An inexperienced receiving corps struggled mightily, the offensive line was inconsistent, but the backs performed decently, especially when Dan Herron returned from suspension. But Ohio State ended up 107th nationally in total yards and 117th in passing. Not good.
The defense kept the Buckeyes in several games and won one against Illinois to spark a three-game win streak. But the typical dominance associated with the unit didn't show up nearly as much in an atypical season. Ohio State had good players in all three levels of the defense -- lineman John Simon, linebacker Andrew Sweat, safety C.J. Barnett -- but lacked the all-around depth that's normally a given in Columbus. The defense struggled for chunks of games -- the second half at Nebraska, the first half at Purdue, the first half against Penn State -- and had no answers for rival Michigan in the regular-season finale, a 40-34 loss. While much was made about the offensive stars involved in the tattoo parlor scandal, Ohio State lost a ton of defensive production from the 2010 team, and it showed. The unit still finished 24th nationally in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
After a shaky season on special teams in 2010, the Buckeyes rebounded for the most part this fall. They ranked in the top 25 nationally in both punt coverage and kickoff coverage. Specialists Ben Buchanan and Drew Basil were, for the most part, pretty solid, and Jordan Hall had a decent year on returns. Still, it's impossible to look past the extra-point attempt Ohio State had blocked against Purdue that would have given the Buckeyes a 21-20 lead in the final minute (Ohio State went on to lose in overtime).
After dominating the Big Ten for the better part of Jim Tressel's tenure as coach, the Buckeyes faced unique and difficult circumstances this season. Players and coaches both were thrust into new and challenging roles. Still, even the more pessimistic prognosticators figured Ohio State would win more than six games. The Buckeyes lost more Big Ten games this season than they had in the previous six combined. That's a precipitous drop. While there's hope for the future with Miller and Urban Meyer, Ohio State would just as soon forget this season.