The midway point of the season is the perfect time for an Ohio State football awards show. Hollywood has the Oscars. Television has the Emmys. Music has the Grammys. Broadway has the Tonys.
The Buckeyes get the Dispatchys. Sure, it’s a dumb name that may or may not have been originated by OSU beat writer Joey Kaufman, my compadre on the BuckeyeXtra podcast (we discuss the awards on the latest edition; check it out on iTunes). But dumb or not, winning a Dispatchy is serious stuff. No one wants to be the Glenn Close of Ohio State football.
Let’s skip the opening number and go straight to the awards presentation. Time to hand out those paper mache replicas of the neon Dispatch sign that sits atop the paper’s former location at 34 S. 3rd St.
Best performance by an offensive lineman. Nominees: center Josh Myers; right tackle Branden Bowen; left guard Jonah Jackson.
The envelope please …
Winner: Bowen. A close call. Myers has exceled as the quarterback of the O-line and Jackson has transitioned smoothly into the group after transferring from Rutgers. But Bowen is both a load to deal with and a feel-good story. He missed all of last year while recovering from a broken leg and instead of disappearing down the depth chart worked his way back into a starting role.
Best performance by a wide receiver. Nominees: Chris Olave; Binjimen Victor; K.J. Hill.
Winner: Olave. Another tough decision. Hill leads the team with 27 catches; Olave has 16. Both have four touchdowns. Victor has 18 and three. But Olave is just so natural at what he does. The Tom Hanks of Zone 6. Facing third-and-8 with the game on the line? Olave is our guy.
Best performance by an offensive skill player. Nominees: Justin Fields; J.K. Dobbins; Olave.
Winner: Fields. If we could split the Dispatchy down the middle this would be the category to do it. Dobbins (826 yards rushing; 137.7 average per game) is the heart and identity of the offense. His toughness allows the Buckeyes to play power football and not become a pass-first (Big 12) finesse team. But Fields is the brain of the operation. Without him, nothing works. He has the accuracy (18 passing touchdowns against one interception) and running chops (283 yards) to make him a true dual threat.
Best performance by a defensive lineman. Nominees: Chase Young; Tyreke Smith; Zach Harrison.
Winner: Duh. Young has 8½ sacks and three forced fumbles, but that only begins to describe his impact on the defense. The linebackers and defensive backs are better with him doing his thing. Kaufman thinks Smith deserves a “best supporting” award, considering his limited playing time due to injury. “He’s been dinged up but when he has played he’s flashed a lot,” Kaufman said. As for Harrison, expect the true freshman from Olentangy Orange to receive even more screen time over the second half of the season.
Best performance by a defensive back. Nominations: Jeff Okudah; Shaun Wade; Damon Arnette.
Winner: If Young is the Daniel Day-Lewis of the defense — a shoo-in come awards season — Okudah is Leo DiCaprio, one of the best in the business. The junior takes away half the field, so hesitant are offenses to throw his way. Wade is a monster both in run support and in having the strength and agility to cover both wide receivers and tight ends. Arnette almost left early for the NFL, so we decided to recognize him in an unpaid role.
Best performance by a linebacker. Nominations: Malik Harrison; Pete Werner; Baron Browning.
Winner: Harrison. “He’s a guy who is always around the ball, and last year it didn’t seem the linebackers were always near the ball,” Kaufman said. “In terms of bottling stuff up, which has been the M.O. of this defense so far, he is the representative of that.” I like Werner a lot; really strong in pass coverage. Browning, meanwhile, might be the most improved player on either side of the ball.
Best director (coach). Nominees: defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley; head coach Ryan Day; quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich; defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Winner: Day. Hafley gets beat out by the bigger name, despite organizing a defense that has not allowed a play of 75 yards or longer, compared to the four allowed through six games last season. Day is doing more with this team than even Urban Meyer would have. Yurcich deserves credit for how he has managed Fields, keeping the first-year starter balanced by talking him off ledges between series. Johnson could win the Dispatchy every season, but gets overlooked in voting because the D-line always has so much talent.
That’s it, except for Best Picture. The entire defensive cast pulled together to help make “Return of the Silver Bullets” a smash hit. Let’s see how the sequel fares in stadium theaters over the second half of the season.