Ryan Day said in July he went to bed thinking about what the Ohio State offense would look like this fall.
Now the variety the Buckeyes displayed in their season-opening win against Florida Atlantic might cost opposing defensive coordinators (starting with Cincinnati’s Marcus Freeman this week) some sleep.
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Along with the usual shotgun-based passing attack and zone running game, the Buckeyes ran sweeps and various quarterback options, kept the screen game intact and took some shots down the field.
They operated with three receivers most of the time, as usual the previous seven seasons, but they also showed off two- and three-tight end sets.
They even unveiled a larger-than-expected package of plays run from under center, something not done with any regularity since Urban Meyer took over the Ohio State program and offense in 2012.
“I think it gives us some versatility and flexibility in terms of what we’re doing,” Meyer’s successor, Day, said Tuesday. “I know you guys were asking me that all preseason. I was trying to keep it under the vest, but yeah, it’s out there now.”
Running plays from under center, which was the dominant way of doing things from the late 1950s until a decade or so ago when a wave of coaches including Meyer fueled the rise of various types of shotgun spread offenses, provides a few advantages to playing exclusively out of the shotgun.
With the running back lined up behind the quarterback instead of to one side, the defense has less of a tip about which direction the play is going. The running back also has a better chance to pick up a head of steam heading into the hole, and play-action passes are more effective.
“It’s good to have for a lot of reason schematically, and then we have done a good job with that,” said Day, noting it put an onus on quarterback Justin Fields and center Josh Myers to execute the QB-center exchange.
That was something Fields had done as the backup quarterback at Georgia last season, but it was new to Myers, a third-year sophomore from Miamisburg High School who moved to center last year.
“I thought it would be tougher than it was,” Myers said Saturday. “Justin does a great job, and even in the preseason we hardly had any problems with it.”
“Hardly any” is more than zero, of course, and Day said there was a mechanism for speeding along the process.
“So any time we had a fumbled exchange during practice, we made them both do a lap together,” Day said. “That started off early in the spring, and as they go around the field together and run together, they have a little conversation about how to get it right.
“So it gives them a little time to think that through. A little bonding.”
Fields confirmed that was the case, noting that any hiccups were generally related to plays on which Myers had to move laterally to cut off a defender.
“We would just try to tell each other what we felt and just to try to get on the same page with each other, just kind of get that straightened out,” Fields said. “Like it would be a certain play where he would have to go reach a guy to the left or to the right, and he would move faster, so just kind of adjusting to his speed and the way he moves just helps a lot.”
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa admitted Tuesday the quarterback-center exchanges were a concern of his entering the game, but he was happy with how it all turned out.
“With the centers, the guy’s hand is under there, (and) when you take off at certain angles to run certain plays, those are stressful situations,” Studrawa said. “So we’ve had to work on those a bunch in the offseason, and I really thought the first game they handled it really well.”
Studrawa was also pleased with Myers’ starting debut.
“I tell ya, all the things that we put on our center here, making the calls and doing all those things, and then we’re in the shotgun, then we’re under center and doing all those things and he handled it magnificent,” Studrawa said. “I was worried about it. I thought it might be a little too much on him early, but he really handled it well.”
Myers got a shoutout for pancaking a defender on Fields’ 51-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring, and Studrawa noted that was one of four or five times he made a big downfield block.
“I know he was nervous before the game because it was his first start, but he was able to overcome his nerves and really play physical and still handle all the things mentally,” Studrawa said. “I think there were only two misidentifications (in the blocking scheme) that he had the entire game, which was excellent.”