Ryan Day has the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes at 2-0 this season, and goes for his first signature win as head coach this weekend as his squad battles No. 15 TCU Horned Frogs. The Buckeyes will be back at AT&T Stadium for this “neutral” site affair.
Ahead of the matchup, Day did his usual Monday press conference with the media—talking about the aftermath of Rutgers, and previewing the Horned Frogs. Here’s the five biggest takeaways we got from Day’s presser.
1. “Sometimes we’re playing fast and he [Dwayne Haskins] has to make a decision where the ball goes. Sometimes it’s to the running back and sometimes he has to run it and sometimes he gets thrown to the receivers. Whether it’s before or after the snap, he has to make decisions.”
When it comes to making the plays work on offense, OSU signal-caller Dwayne Haskins is the guy that determines what’s going to happen. The answer Day gives here came from a question of whether or not Haskins has the ability to audible plays at the line.
It appears Day already has the confidence in his quarterback to make the right decisions. So far this season, Haskins has completed 79.2 percent of his passes for 546 yards and nine touchdowns, while barely playing more than a half per game. On the running side, J.K. Dobbins is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, while Mike Weber is picking up 7.8 yards per attempt.
Whatever play-callers Day and Kevin Wilson are dialing up, Haskins is able to recognize whether or not that certain play is going to work with what the defense is showing them before the snap. Granted, OSU has a boatload of talent at every position, and the first two opponents (Oregon State and Rutgers) aren’t anywhere near College Football Playoff level, but you can’t say that the offense is struggling while the first time starter is learning the ropes. In fact, this is one of the most electric—if not the most electric—offenses in Buckeye history.
Here's another good game note for you, folks: Ohio State’s offense has never produced 1,300 total yards, 700 passing yards or nine touchdown passes after its first two games of a season … until this year. #GoBucks— Jerry Emig (@BuckeyeNotes) September 10, 2018
Understanding what the defense is showing you goes a long way for a quarterback; it can make or break an offense’s productivity on any given Saturday (or Sunday). In these first two games, Haskins obviously has known what’s up, but with TCU and coach Gary Patterson having two more games of film on him, it’s all about adapting from here on out.
2. “I think when you play in big games, obviously you have to take care of the football. You have to run the football. You have to play good defense and you have to really follow the plan to win even more because every play is so much more important.”
Turnovers cost games. This is especially true in big games. Protecting the ball will be something Day—and Urban Meyer in practice—will probably be stressing. Last season against Iowa, J.T. Barrett lobbed four interceptions in Kinnick Stadium. Ohio State lost the turnover battle, and got housed 55-24. Also of note from that game that we’re all trying to repress into the deep recesses of our minds: OSU was held to just 163 yards of rushing.
Ohio State will try and get the running game going against TCU, especially if they can push the Horned Frogs’ defensive line around. It’ll be another homecoming of sorts for Dobbins, whom I suspect will be the primary rusher in this game. Last week against Rutgers, he tallied 12 carries for 73 yards and a score—all before halftime. Dobbins didn’t get any touches after the intermission, and should be fresh going into this week’s game.
On the defensive line, the Bucks are about as good as you can get. With Nick Bosa and Chase Young in the fray, the best offensive lines in the country would have a hard time containing the duo.
However, there is a small amount of concern around the “follow the plan” to win line. In recent memories, there have been big games that the coaching staff has over-thought, and made games exceptionally harder than they needed to be. If this game comes down to the wire, it would be the first time that Day’s been the guy wearing the headset and making the final decisions as a head coach.
You can’t practice that or simulate it; you just have to go through those situations to understand what should/shouldn’t be done. It’s a little bit different vantage point when you’re in the HC chair (Hue Jackson said so on the first episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”).
Whatever the plan to win is, it will have to be Day’s decision on what to do if that plan goes awry.
3. “Overall, it’s been solid. I think the move that Mike’s [Michael Jordan] made in a short period of time, he’s done a nice job of that.”
One of the biggest questions about the offense coming into the season was how the retooled line would work, but Day has thus far been pleased with new center Michael Jordan, who has been at left guard for the past two seasons. Moving over to center is a transition, but it looks like he’s succeeding so far.
Snaps are finding Haskins, and there haven’t been any noticeable hiccups in either of the two games this season. If he keeps this up, Jordan may very well end up in award territory by season’s end. Pat Elflein and Billy Price both took home Rimington Award trophies after making the move to center—and now both are playing on Sundays.
With TCU’s stud defensive tackle Ross Blacklock out for the season with an Achilles injury sustained last month, we may see another solid week at center for Jordan and the Buckeye offensive line.
4. “Any time a defense has been together that long, they have seen so many different things come their way. So they have adjustments. They make quick adjustments. They know exactly how you’re trying to attack them, so very, very talented group, as well. A lot of veteran guys back there.”
Of the three coaches that Day will/has faced during his tenure as interim head coach, TCU’s Gary Patterson is the most seasoned. Patterson is in his 18th year at the helm of the Horned Frogs program, and has brought them to considerable heights during his tenure. When you’ve coached for that long, you’ve generally seen everything.
That football knowledge gets passed down to the players, and they, in turn, become better because of it. This season, TCU returned six starters (and a total of 20 letterman) on defense. Those defenders got torched by Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma twice last season, so they’re experienced with a QB that can air it out. The humbling by Mayfield may make this defense more weary of what Haskins can do. Especially with how the Buckeyes turned short passes into long gains against Oregon State, there will likely be a sense of urgency to stop the YAC (yards after catch) for TCU.
Senior strong safety Ridwan Issahaku is just one of the veterans on the defense, and happens to be the team’s leading returning tackler from a season ago. A veteran coach with some veteran players is a tough thing to beat in college football. Here’s hoping Ryan Day has his offense ready to go Saturday night.
5. “You know, still getting those guys the reps. They haven’t done a lot of it. The more reps we can get on film, the more opportunities we have. But they are dynamic in different ways, so we think of it as more of a benefit that you have two guys you can put back there that can make a play.”
Punts have been bizarre experiences so far this season for the Buckeyes. Ohio State lost a punt to Oregon State after C.J. Saunders bobbled it, and he’s had his opportunity to catch a punt interfered with twice. Last week, Demario McCall mishandled two punts.
Fielding issues may just be a consequence of not getting enough reps, which is very understandable. But, it appears that in-game reps are still going to be split, as Day said that both returners are “dynamic in different ways.”
Sure, on paper, it is a good idea to try and get two guys experience. Depending upon where the ball is at, you can even go with whichever returner is best for the specific situation in terms of field position and score. However, by doing that, you have less reps between the two. Improvement in a two-returner system will be slower than if there was just one designated returner, and that can be scary based on the early returns.