Sports Today: Ohio State football has to decide what it wants offense to be

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Sports Today: Ohio State football has to decide what it wants offense to be

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Staff Writer
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer watches the action against Indiana on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. David Jablonski/Staff

Have you heard the one about how Ohio State football can’t do offense anymore? 

Of course you have because if you’re reading this, you’re on the internet, and there is nowhere on the web without someone’s take on how Urban Meyer’s famous attack has broken down. 

I found this one from Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel particularly useful as it confirms (albeit through mostly anonymous sourcing) my belief Meyer’s offense has gone stale since he got to Columbus and so far little influence from Kevin Wilson can be found. 

Ross Fulton of BuckeyeGrove.com explains that aside from curiously going away from a running game that was working, a “foundational problem” is “the passing game is not built off the running game.” 

(Sorry to everyone who just had a brief bout with Tresselball PTSD.) 

Ian Boyd, who was ahead of the curve in pointing out some of Ohio State’s fatal flaws last season, also had an informative piece for SB Nation about how Oklahoma kept the Ohio State defense off balance all night with a smart play-action scheme (including, gasp, a fullback) and a quarterback who simply balled out. 

Ohio State hasn’t had either of those things in a big game very often since Tom Herman left after the national championship season of 2014. 

Truth be told, the Buckeyes are still at the same crossroads they were two years ago. They must decide if they want to commit to being a spread-run option team or a power run/deep play-action pass unit. 

They were the former while thrashing mostly inferior competition in 2012, ’13 and most of ’14 until J.T. Barrett got hurt. They were the latter in the postseason when Cardale Jones replaced him. 

One philosophy fits Barrett best while the other is more suited to Jones, Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins. 

I believe the rest of the personnel is fine either way, though lack of tight ends or a fullback or H-back is a big problem. (That’s a recruiting error.) Having two reliable tight ends was a major key to the success regardless of who was at quarterback in ’14, a luxury they haven’t enjoyed since. 

If Meyer wants to stick with the option — I don’t think he does, to be honest, but I am certain he doesn’t want to bench Barrett — he has to modernize it because teams caught up to his version of that a long time ago. It was harder to tell because of the brilliance of Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and the offensive line of 2012 and ’13, but the offense has had issues from the beginning of Meyer’s time in Columbus. 

He has admitted on multiple occasions the “spread option” part wasn’t really big during Miller time. Instead they relied more on called quarterback runs, which Meyer equates to single-wing football and rely on different blocking schemes than his most basic spread run game does. 

I believe after Miller and Barrett had season-ending injuries in the same year, he realized his offense really is a quarterback killer. 

The spread-option guys have denied that from the start, but it’s always been obvious they were wrong. Tim Tebow was beaten up by the end of his time at Florida, too. 

Also the way Jones stood back there and flung it against multiple marquee programs was surely a great recruiting tool both for the guys who throw it and the ones who catch it. 

Meyer sticking with Jones to start 2015 points strongly to what he wants the offense to be in the grand scheme of things, but Jones was inconsistent and didn’t get much help from the players around him or Herman’s replacements in the offensive braintrust, so they went back to Barrett eventually. 

That made sense in the short term because Barrett was much more productive running a few plays tailored to his strengths when he would replace Jones, who was undercut from the start when Meyer showed he was willing to bench him at literally the first sign of trouble against Virginia Tech in ’15. 

So the decision to go with the Barrett band-aid is still reverberating today as the offense has struggled and a popular fifth-year quarterback is the subject of much criticism. 

Classmate Billy Price came to Barrett’s defense Tuesday night, making some strong points about the quarterback’s experience and intangibles. 

Ohio State center Billy Price went to bat for fellow senior J.T. Barrett after the QB has come under fire for his role in the struggles of the Buckeye offense.

Assuming the majority of the team feels this way — probable but not certain given the age gap between fifth-year seniors like Price and Barrett and all those freshmen and sophomores — this is further proof the best way forward is to shape an offense around what Barrett can do. 

Regardless of who is playing quarterback, the offense must change, but the necessary adjustments vary. 

Benching Barrett would mean they face two variables (new offense, new quarterback) instead of one (new offense, same quarterback), and the latter is probably a larger gamble than they need to take. 

The worst thing about the present is they are stuck in between offenses and the quarterback they are using is only good at half of it. 

If they switch QBs but leave the scheme generally the same, that will still be true. 

In the long run, the best bet is to leave the option behind. Meyer knows this, which is why he recruited throwing quarterbacks like Burrow and Haskins, but he has hedged with Tate Martell. 

READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s “Cus Words Blog

He’s got a tough decision now, but I also still believe he’s got the right guy to help him make if if he just trusts Kevin Wilson to do the job he was hired to do. 

They’ve compromised the running game in trying to fix the pass, a net loss in productivity that’s anything but necessary given the players at their disposal. 

One way or another, that has to change if the Buckeyes want to get back on course now or in the future — no matter who is playing quarterback. 

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