Six games into 2018, and the Ohio State Buckeyes are undefeated, defeating two quality opponents in TCU and Penn State on the road. Seems like Ohio State fans should just start making those travel plans for a certain College Football Playoff game destination, right?
As ESPN's Lee Corso often says, "Not so fast, my friend." While Ohio State is 6-0, the remaining games on the schedule are challenging. Ohio State's passing offense has been exceptional with redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, but there have been issues with the running game. Defensively, the Buckeyes have given up several big plays and continue to be without star defensive Nick Bosa, who may or may not return this season. At the midway point, here are the key points through the first six games of the 2018 season, with some things to keep an eye on as the second half commences.
Offensive MVP: QB Dwayne Haskins
The redshirt sophomore has made an indelible mark upon the Ohio State record book in just six games, having thrown for 1,919 yards and 25 touchdowns. Haskins is on track to break Joe Germaine's single-season record of 3,330 yards (1998), as well as J.T. Barrett's mark of 35 touchdown passes (2017).
Defensive MVP: DT Dre'Mont Jones
Nick Bosa was the headliner of the Ohio State defense before suffering an abdominal injury in the TCU game. Chase Young showed his talent with a dominating performance the following week at Penn State, but Jones has been the most consistent up front. He's among the team leaders in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks, and he also had a key interception against the Horned Frogs, which he returned for a touchdown.
Best Moment of First Half: 4th Down Stop to Seal the Penn State Win
Clinging to a 27-26 lead, Ohio State's defense was able to stop Penn State in the final minutes in Beaver Stadium.
Best Newcomer: QB Tate Martell
A redshirt freshman, Martell has played well in his limited opportunities as Haskins' backup. Martell possesses the type of mobility usually associated with the quarterback in an Urban Meyer-offense, and he has not disappointed when given a chance to show what he can do during the three games he has played. He has completed 23 of 28 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown while adding 121 yards and two scores on the ground.
Biggest Surprise: Ohio State defense
Week after week, the Buckeyes have up big plays to opponents. Oregon State, TCU, Penn State and Indiana were all able to rack up substantial yardage and/or points. Even though Ohio State won each game, this is a trend to keep an eye on as the team prepares for the November stretch run.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Will the Ohio State defense tighten up?
As stated above even though the defense has given up numerous big plays, the Buckeyes have been able to overcome those mistakes and breakdowns. Will the coaching staff make the necessary adjustments to fix this tendency?
2. Will the Ohio State running game emerge?
Lost in the shuffle of Dwayne Haskins' gaudy passing numbers is an inconsistent production on the ground. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have each had their moments, but neither has gone for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games against Tulane, Penn State and Indiana. For this offense to reach its full potential, the load can't fall just on Haskins.
3. Will the Ohio State penalties decrease?
So far this season, the Buckeyes are near the bottom of the FBS when it comes to penalties. Ohio State has been hit with 51 assessed penalties for 485 yards. Only five other Power 5 teams have had more penalties called on them on a per game basis than the Buckeyes. Ohio State needs to improve in this department if it wants a shot at making it to the College Football Playoff.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 24 vs. Michigan
THE GAME. The Wolverines are always a threat, no matter what their record is, and Jim Harbaugh knows that the critics are demanding a win over their hated rivals. This could determine the winner of The Big Ten East Division.
2. Nov. 10 at Michigan State
Ohio State usually has a tough game with Michigan State, no matter at home or on the road. Last year's 48-3 dominating win by the Buckeyes was truly the exception, as most of these games have been decided by only a few points.
3. Oct. 20 at Purdue
Ohio State will play Purdue for the first time since 2013. While Purdue began this season poorly, the Boilermakers have won their last two games, and the Buckeyes usually struggle in Ross-Ade Stadium.
4. Nov. 17 at Maryland
Ohio State has usually not had too much difficulty with Maryland, having beaten the Terrapins every year since 2014. Maryland was able to upset Texas in the season opener, and will be doing everything possible to pull off a bigger one at home in late November.
5. Nov. 3 vs. Nebraska
Nebraska is still looking for its first win, and first-year head coach Scott Frost is trying to find answers for this Cornhuskers squad. With Ohio State's defensive challenges, true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez may be able to come up with some big plays, as mobile quarterbacks have given the Buckeyes problems this season.
6. Oct. 13 vs. Minnesota
The oddsmakers have already declared Ohio State a substantial 31-point favorite. P.J. Fleck believes that he can get the Golden Gophers to an elite level eventually, but it will not happen on Friday the 13th in Ohio Stadium. Not with a true freshman quarterback in Zack Annexstad having to compete against a Buckeyes defensive line that should be able to pressure him repeatedly.