On Urban Meyer’s radio call-in show on Friday, following the head coach’s segment (and a chat with strength coach Mickey Marotti), offensive coordinator Ryan Day said that the Buckeye offense started playing with tempo against Maryland because they got down early, and when they realized that it was working, decided to stick with it.
Excuse me, what?
It took being down against the Maryland Terrapins for you to realize that running tempo with this offense leads to success? Was there a fire in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center’s tape room that destroyed all footage of the first three games of the season, in which quarterback Dwayne Haskins masterfully ran the hurry-up offense with quick passes, and the running backs went for chunk play after chunk play?
In my humble, sports blogger opinion, there is no conceivably acceptable excuse for the Ohio State coaching staff to not have completely understood that their offense works best when it works fast.
Now, there are obviously strategic reasons why they might decide not to go with tempo even knowing that fact; for example considering how historically awful the defense is, the idea of going fast and getting the D on the field sooner, might not be the best idea. I get that. But for coaches who are at the top of their profession — more than a few of whom are paid more than a million dollars per year — not to understand that this is their ideal offense is a bit mind-boggling and frustrating.
Now of course, there is the conspiracy theory that Day knows this full well, but Meyer refuses to let him run that style because he is more comfortable sticking to the schemes that he knows best, but I’m not going to get into that.
Instead, I just want to implore Coach Meyer to let Dwayne be Dwayne. Trust this quarterback that you have groomed for nearly three years. Let the best passer in the storied history of Ohio State football throw the ball... a lot.
While Day and the offense might have come out of the Maryland game realizing that the high-tempo attack was their best offense, I came away from that game wondering just what Meyer and his staff are seeing in practice to make them not fully trust Haskins’ ability to lead this offense.
Ever since Meyer returned from his suspension, we have seen the play-calling move further and further away from the high-tempo, pass-heavy offense that was so fun and exciting (not to mention successful) in the first three games. Instead we’ve been subjected to the square peg of the zone-read being forced into the round hole that is this offense.
Certainly there has been a step up in quality of opponent since the first three games — TCU notwithstanding — and Haskins and company have still thrown the ball with historic success, but it has never felt as fluid or natural as it did in those first three games.
Against a defense as nasty as Michigan’s, a full embrace of, and return to, that style seems like the perfect (and maybe only) antidote to what the Wolverines do well. This season, UM has given up the fewest passing yards of any team in the country (123.2 per game) and have allowed only 7 passing touchdowns on the year. Seven! Haskins threw six in one game earlier last month.
Furthermore, TTUN has given up the fewest pass plays of 10 or more yards of any team in the country (49). Obviously, Ohio State’s offense is the best passing unit that the Wolverines will face all season (they have 155 passes of 10+ yards, for third nationally). However, to beat this defense, OSU is going to have to bring their best, and an up-tempo offense, with quick passes and opportune runs is the way to do that.
I mentioned this on Sunday in the MVP article, but the drives that ended the halves against Maryland should be all the film that Meyer and company need to know what type of offense maximizes Haskins’ strengths and minimizes his weaknesses.
He has great timing with his receivers, and has tremendous accuracy throwing the ball, especially within 15 yards. If you put him on a 1-3 step drop, he should be able to find an open receiver, whether it’s in the flat or over the middle.
What that also does is prevents him from having to deal with a tremendous amount of pressure. Although he did well eluding the rush in the game-tying drive at the end of regulation, Haskins has shown a propensity to force things when he senses pressure (real or imagined).
So, if the play design can get the ball out of his hand before Chase Winovich or Rashan Gary can get to him, that will make Haskins even more dangerous.
The up-tempo attack will also prevent Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown from making adjustments and substitutions to combat Ohio State’s multi-weapon offense. That is also when the play call can utilize the cornucopia of wide receivers to spread the field, opening lanes for J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber, Demario McCall (please), and even Haskins (as a last resort) to run.
Now, I am well aware that there is likely nothing in the world that I understand even half as well as how the OSU coaches understand this offense, but it just seems so obvious after watching 11 games that if the Buckeye offense wants to get anywhere near its potential, it needs to complete its year-long evolution from J.T. Barrett’s unit to Dwayne Haskins’ unit.
And if they can do that this afternoon, the Buckeyes just might put up enough points to get their porous defense off the hook and on their way to Indianapolis for another Big Ten Championship Game.