With Jalin Marshall in the fold, the rich get richer. - USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State dramatically upgraded their skill positions with the class of 2013. How will it translate to the field?
The rest of the B1G has no idea what's coming, do they?
They got a taste in 2012, but let's face it...there was a bit of luck involved in OSU getting to 12-0. There were very good and great players on that team, but there were some fundamental weaknesses. Granted, guys like Devin Smith and Philly Brown had good seasons, but other than a couple big plays from Smith, there wasn't a guy that had that 'it factor'. Certainly no one of an Aaron Hernandez-ilk or, as dead-horse-beaten into oblivion by now as it is, no one that resembled Percy Harvin.
Or maybe I should say resembling Ted Ginn Jr. I've since forgiven Harvin for what he did to Ohio State, because something something mumble Vikings, and mumble mumble awesomeness. I hope you understand.
But be that as it may, Ohio State hasn't had a guy that has had that take-it-to-the-house-from-anywhere-on-the-field kind of speed since Ginn left. Make no mistake, the offenses have been good, but I would call them more methodical than explosive.
There's a pretty good chance that changed Wednesday.
In the 2013 class, Ohio State signed five skill guys that could all see playing time this upcoming season, and they all have the one commodity that can't be taught: speed. And lots of it.
Ezekiel Elliott was a St. Louis kid that committed to OSU awhile back, was thought to have wavered a little bit (though per Urban Meyer, we understand he was steadfastly solid to the Buckeyes) when home state school Missouri pushed, but ultimately signed with Ohio State. He's a versatile back that can carry the ball or split out wide, and create mismatch problems with the opposing nickelback or safety. Just as Percy Harvin was both a receiver and at times an all-purpose back while at Florida, Elliott is a guy that can do both. I see him operating primarily out of the backfield, though.
If there's a pure burner in the class with Ginn/Harvin like speed, it's James Clark. Look at his tape and that speed just jumps out at you, and you get the feeling that he can score from anywhere, but of all the skill guys recruited, he's probably the least polished route runner, much like Teddy Ginn when he came to Columbus. He seems ideally suited for the slot, where Harvin did (and still makes) most of his damage.
Corey Smith is a guy that's really hard not to like, too. He's a junior college transfer that is probably the most balanced in terms of athleticism, speed, hands, and route running. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he practices his way into a starting job. It might not be such a limb to walk out on though – as a JUCO transfer he should be the most polished and balanced guy in the class, and might already be not too far behind Corey "Philly" Brown and Devin Smith.
If we're continuing our Harvin/Ginn loose speedster comparisons, Dontre Wilson also fits the archetype. Where Elliott is more of a running back who can catch, and Clark is closer to a prototypical college slot receiver, Wilson is the best combination of those abilities. Like Clark, he's blazing fast and can score from anywhere. He's primarily a running back, but is just as effective from the slot. He can take a handoff and kill you off tackle, or he can catch a 10 yard slant across the middle, make a guy miss, and outrun everybody else.
Finally, a guy that has sort of been looked over because of the signing day news is Jalin Marshall. Of all the skill guys signed Wednesday, Marshall could very well be the best of them all. He's fast, with an uncanny ability to make guys miss, not unlike Ginn (though a tad slower). He's a more polished route runner than Clark, but isn't at the level of say a Corey Smith. He's not as versatile as Wilson, and will play wide receiver, but will fill the role of deep threat perfectly.
Imagine this : November 30th, Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes break the huddle, Jordan Hall next to Miller in the shotgun spread formation. Deployed on the outside are Devin Smith and Corey Smith wide left and right. On the inside slots in the four wide formation, are Wilson and Clark. Miller smiles to himself, because TTUN shows a blitz from his right side, with Clark the hot receiver.
At the snap of the ball, they bring the Mike, the outside backer, and the inside corner covering Clark, with the safety dropping down to cover Clark. Miller gets the ball, finds Clark in between the blitz and the safety dropping down, Clark makes the safety miss...gone.
Or, don't blitz. Put Marshall and Clark on the outside, make them play a two deep cover with over the top safety protection to prevent getting beat deep. That forced double coverage on the outside, but if you have a guy lined up in the slot like Wilson or Clark, you know they'll have a ridiculous mismatch. Snap the ball, deep routes clear out the underneath guys, a linebacker will be forced to play middle zone on the slot, and now you have a mismatch with either Miller, Carlos Hyde, Hall, Bri'onte Dunn, or Ezekiel Elliott carrying the ball.
Because as good and as fast as the outside receivers are, Ohio State still has a powerful running game between the tackles that can do as much damage as the passing game.
Ohio State just gained significant matchup advantages at every skill position, against every opponent in the B1G, save maybe Michigan. And I would fathom to guess they're better than even with them.
On Wednesday, a difficult offense to defend against became potentially almost impossible.