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How has Ohio State’s Offense Evolved from Jim Tressel to Urban Meyer?

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Spoiler: the passing game has been an issue.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve had the pleasure of tackling some incredibly important Ohio State coaching questions over the past two years. Does Urban Meyer typically blow teams out more than Jim Tressel did (kind of)? Who has had the best five-year start among Meyer, Tressel, and Woody Hayes (King Urban)? Today, we tackle another question only reserved for the slowest periods of the off-season: how has the look and efficiency of Ohio State’s offense changed from Tressel to Meyer?

With the help of Sports-Reference.com, I compiled the Ohio State offense’s per game averages from 2001 through 2016. The worst figures are in red and the best are in green. Without further ado, Ohio State’s offensive production from the last 16 seasons:

Ohio State Per Game Offensive Statistics 2001 - 2016

Let’s establish some takeaways...

Ohio State threw the ball more last season than ever before. In fact, it really wasn’t close. Ohio State averaged 31.5 pass attempts per game in 2016 and the next closest year was 2003 (28.2 pass attempts per game).

2014 marked the most productive passing season in recent Buckeyes history. That season saw 16-year highs in: passing yards per game, passing touchdowns per game, and yards per attempt.

Incredibly, 2014 was also nearly the most productive rushing season in recent Buckeyes history. The Zeke-led ground attack averaged 264.5 rushing yards per game along with 2.7 touchdowns on an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Still, this wasn’t enough to top the 2013 Buckeyes, who averaged an absurd 308.6 rushing yards per game with 3.2 touchdowns on an average of 6.8 (!!!) yards per carry.

Ohio State’s passing efficiency last season was their second-worst performance of the past 16 years. Only (gulp) the Luke Fickell-led 2011 Buckeyes averaged fewer yards per pass attempt. That’s right, Ohio State just made the final four with an offense that was barely more adept at throwing the ball than a Buckeyes team that once threw four total passes in an entire game against Illinois. At just 6.79 yards per attempt, Barrett and the Buckeyes failed to consistently pick up big yardage through the air. Perhaps this inability to control the air spilled over to the rush game, where the Buckeyes averaged 5.5 yards per rush — their lowest total since 2012.

The 2005 Troy Smith/Ted Ginn Jr./Santonio Holmes passing attack was lethal. Aside from averaging just 1.5 passing touchdowns per game, this group posted top-three marks in yards per game, completion percentage, and yards per attempt.

The worst rushing offense of Urban Meyer’s tenure was still better than Jim Tressel’s best rushing offense. The 2012 Buckeyes couldn’t make much happen through the air, and their ground game was fairly underwhelming as well compared to later years. Still, they gained 242 rushing yards per game with 3.1 touchdowns on an average of 5.2 yards per attempt — marks that would all be highs during Tressel’s 10 seasons.

Terrelle Pryor was really good in 2010. Not only did he post the highest completion percentage in the sample, but Pryor’s average of 8.53 yards per attempt was good for the fourth-highest mark. Meaning: Pryor was accurately shredding defenses down the field. It’s not a coincidence that Pryor had his lowest quarterback rating of the season during Ohio State’s lone loss to Wisconsin in 2010.


Let’s take another look at this data, but this time we’ll sort by who was coaching. I left Fickell out of this exercise since we’ve already spent too much time revisiting the (mostly) living hell that was the 2011 football season.

Urban Meyer/Jim Tressel Per Game Offensive Statistics 2001 - 2016

More takeaways...

Urban-led offenses have run more plays, picked up more yards, and scored more points than Tressel-led offenses. Who would’ve thought! Still, the disparity between the play count wasn't always so lopsided, as the Pryor-led offenses in 2009 and 2010 ran a similar amount of plays as some of Meyer's slower offenses.

Tressel surprisingly led a more explosive passing offense. It’s very close, but Tressel-led offenses averaged slightly more yards per attempt than Meyer-led offenses. Meyer’s teams have completed passes at a higher rate and scored more touchdowns, but the idea that Tressel never pushed the ball down the field clearly isn’t true.

Urban knows how to run the football. We discussed earlier how Meyer's worst rush offense was better than Tressel's best rush offense, but there's reason to believe this was due more to scheme than anything. Meyer has always utilized a quarterback that is a threat on the ground, while Tressel often leaned on running backs and seldom designed runs for his quarterback ... until 2010. After unleashing Pryor against the Oregon Ducks in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Tressel went all in with a spread offense designed around Pryor’s strengths for ensuing season. The result was Tressel's best rushing attack yet, as Pryor, Dan Herron, and Brandon Saine spearheaded an attack that averaged 220.1 rushing yards with 2.1 touchdowns per game on an average of 5.2 yards per carry.


During the course of a football season fans will often overreact to an issue that really isn’t as bad as it seems. Yes, Ohio State's rushing attack wasn't as good in 2014 as it was in 2013. As it turned out, the Barrett-Zeke attack was still the second-best rushing offense of the last 16 years.

With that said, sometimes fans hit the nail on the head. Watching Ohio State’s passing offense over the past two seasons has been an emotional roller coaster. There’s no denying that Barrett is among the best quarterbacks to ever play for Ohio State, but there’s also no denying that the Buckeyes’ pass offense has hit rock bottom in the Meyer era. We’ve seen the heights the offense can sore with an explosive passing offense, here’s to hoping Kevin Wilson and company can restore the Buckeyes’ aerial attack.