Braxton Miller is the key to everything for Ohio State, but he can't do it alone.
If the Buckeyes want to complete their undefeated season, the dynamic dual-threat quarterback is going to need some help.
Ohio State's 35-23 victory over Penn State Saturday night was just another hurdle cleared for this team. The Nittany Lions presented a challenge in Beaver Stadium, but the Buckeyes were clicking on all cylinders and dominated the second half.
Continuing that success will be contingent on a few key players. Miller's production at this point is assumed and obviously necessary, but these three guys must step up as well.
Carlos Hyde, RB
Miller leads the team in rushing, but Hyde is coming on strong in recent weeks. With 600 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season, he's a viable No. 2 option in Ohio State's ground game.
At 6'1'', 235 pounds, Hyde isn't a highlight-reel runner, but he follows his blockers well. He runs hard north-south, using his offensive line to carve into the opposing front seven.
Hyde isn't a threat to catch the ball, but with nine total touchdowns (one rushing) in the last four games, he's becoming a legitimate go-to option. Entering the season, he was battling with Jordan Hall for carries, but Hall's knee injury leaves him as the sole ball-carrier.
In order for Ohio State to win its last three games, Hyde must continue running well. He takes some focus off of Miller, allowing the electrifying quarterback to make plays in the open field. Without that, defenses can key on Miller.
No matter how good Miller can be, he can't do it alone. Hyde is the best playmaker otherwise.
Jake Stoneburner, WR
Stoneburner doesn't have breakaway speed, but he gives the Buckeyes a possession element down the field. A former tight end, Stoneburner uses his 6'5'' frame to create major mismatches.
Miller doesn't have an incredibly reliable target to throw too. Devin Smith is a big-play guy and leads the team in touchdowns, but he doesn't have the consistent hands that a true No. 1 option needs. Stoneburner isn't used as much, but his hands are better.
With 14 catches on the season, Stoneburner has 236 yards and four touchdowns. His 72-yard touchdown grab against the Nittany Lions Saturday night was his longest of the season and showed his potential.
Most defenses don't have a perfect matchup for this guy. He's huge, has above-average speed and understands how to exploit the seams of a defense.
Urban Meyer can split Stoneburner out or line him up in a traditional tight end's spot. His versatility and unique skill set make him a valuable commodity and Miller's most important receiver.
Ryan Shazier, LB
The Buckeyes have struggled defensively at times this season, but Shazier is a very bright spot. The sophomore has 83 tackles on the season, consistently making plays from his linebacker position.
Saturday night Shazier showed his value. With seven tackles, two sacks and an interception for a touchdown, college football fans got to see what he's capable of doing on any given night.
He's still young, so growing pains are expected, but his athleticism and instincts will result in production on a weekly basis. The Buckeyes defense has a ton of talent, but it has struggled to put it all together this season (i.e. giving up 49 points to Indiana).
With four games of 10-plus tackles, Shazier has emerged as the defensive leader for Ohio State. Even if Miller racks up yards and points in the next three games, the defense will have to get stops if the team wants to win.
He's not the most veteran of the group, but Shazier has become the go-to guy on this unit. If the rest of the defense starts playing more consistently, the Buckeyes have as much talent as anyone on that side of the ball.
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