Ohio State has offered a lot to football nerds the past few years.
Woody Hayes’ three yards and a cloud of dust?
Jim Tressel’s three runs and a towering punt?
Those days are long gone.
The Buckeyes broke the school record with 46.9 points per game last season, and the last three seasons are among six of the highest-scoring in school history.
The story is similar when it comes to yards, where the school record has gone down in consecutive years and three of the top five averages have occurred since 2017 when Kevin Wilson became offensive coordinator and Ryan Day first joined Ohio State’s staff as quarterbacks coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator and then head coach.
Since then, they have relied on veteran dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett, pass-first first-year starter Dwayne Haskins and then another first-year starter in Justin Fields, who has shown the ability to be more of a runner than Haskins but also threw the ball with great efficiency last season.
“I think you look at the three years that the Coach Day and myself have been here, the quarterbacks have 47, 54 and 51 touchdowns accounted for,” Wilson said. “So we need to keep Justin healthy, and I don’t think we just throw everything at him, but I think Coach Day will trust him more.”
Each Ohio State head coach of the past 70 years (at least) has put his spin on the offense, but one needs not even go back five to see a major evolution.
When Urban Meyer’s famed spread-option offense went stale in 2015-16, he brought in two great football minds – one a veteran, one a lesser-known up and comer – to revamp the attack.
First Wilson, who had himself been part of the spread football revolution from its early days, and Day, who played and coached for spread offense guru Chip Kelly, enhanced the passing game in 2017 and especially 2018.
Last year with Day having ascended to head coach after Meyer retired, the running game got a much-needed renovation, featuring a greater variety of runs and the return of the quarterback getting under center from time to time.
With Fields coming back for a second season and a bevy of five-star prospects for Greg Studrawa to build an offensive line out of, there was a lot of interest in just how the Ohio State attack would continue to evolve.
“I guess the playbook technically opens up although it’s always been kind of open,” Wilson said. “You’ll see Justin maybe being even more on target, more accurate. He looked very, very impressive those first three days of practice. Now we’ll have to get that back up to speed coming through the issues we’re dealing with, but it’s exciting to see what you can do. Like we said a year ago: He’s about as talented young man as I’ve ever seen back there catching that snap so we’re excited to see what happens, where it goes.”
That, of course, is like many things on hold for now as Ohio State players have dispersed to their homes following the university’s decision to close campus to students in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Fields’ ability to run and throw and the exit of star running back J.K. Dobbins along with a productive trio of veteran receivers made the offseason extra intriguing for football Xs and Os junkies.
How much might Fields run this fall to supplement the running game?
How will the different gifts of the talented-but-raw receivers be used?
How will the offensive line come together?
Will a veteran group of tight ends be as useful as they were last year – or perhaps even more?
Those are all questions the staff hoped to begin to answer in the spring, and they will still need addressed in the summer or fall – whenever possible.
“Last year I think sometimes because we had a pretty solid line and running backs, maybe we didn’t force (Fields) to make some of the things that maybe you saw Dwayne do when we relied a lot on Dwayne’s skillset (as a pocket passer),” Wilson said. “So I just think maybe you see (Fields) be a little bit more complete this year.”
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.