Fair warning: this will not be an article in which I break down film. This will not be an article in which I analyze historic OSU teams with advanced statistics that I don’t really understand. This will not be an article in which I discuss the intricacies of Jim Tressel’s conservative offense, nor the efficiency of Urban Meyer’s zone-read. No, this is going to be an article all about the feels.
I’ve been a Buckeye fan for longer than I can remember, but I one thing that I do distinctly remember is watching Jim Tressel’s introductory press conference from my dorm room in Bradley-Patterson where I was an RA in January 2001. So, if you’re doing the math, the formative years of my fandom came during the John Cooper era, my young adult years were spent rooting for Senator Tressel’s teams, and most of my 30s have been spent watching Urban’s squads.
Admittedly I’m speaking in generalities, and basically overlooking the past 20-plus years of dominant defenses, but the basic milieu of the latter two coaches has been to take teams with distinct talent advantages, and do everything possible to make the games as close (and, in turn, as boring) as possible; robbing the teams of unique personalities and excitement.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the winning that Tressel and Meyer’s teams have done over the past two decades. That’s been fun; especially the late season successes against Michigan, in bowl games, and the pair of national championships. That’s all been wonderful, especially following the 13 years of Cooper-helmed disappointments (looking at you 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1998).
Cooper’s teams never had the consistency, nor reached the heights, of Tressel and Meyer’s, but man were they fun. Perhaps that is a bit of nostalgia bias, because I certainly recall violently throwing things during the Michigan State game in 1998, but by and large, Cooper had ridiculously talented players, and he let them do what they did best; something that rarely can be said for his two successors.
As I said, Tressel and Meyer’s results have been extremely fun in the new millennium, but the teams really haven’t been. While I will never forget being in Sun Devil Stadium for Ohio State’s first national championship since 1968, to get it, we had to suffer—and I mean that literally—through 10 seasons of a coach who thought that the punt was the most important play in football. A coach who seemingly would have taken the air out of the ball if he could.
Watching a Jim Tressel-coached game was an experiment in tedium. His offensive philosophy was the football equivalent of Chinese Water Torture. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Yes, it was eventually effective, but man was it painful and it would drive you crazy. When one of The Vest’s teams scored, I more often than not felt relief, not excitement. I watched most of those games intellectually knowing that the Buckeyes should (and likely would) win, but still being overcome by a weekly existential dread that they were somehow going to punt their way to an unnecessary L.
Then, after the Luke Fickell, post-Tattoogate season, Buckeye fans gleefully welcomed the guru of the spread offense to town. We thought that the days of vanilla offenses were over. We expected a new regime focused on offensive innovation and video game-like output.
However, by the time that Urban got to Columbus, his revolutionary offense had evolved into the zone-read. And, while effective, rarely did it allow the absurd collection of talent to thrive. Instead, especially in the four-ish years of J.T. Barrett, it resulted in an endless array of QB runs, mostly of the three-to-five yard variety.
Again, this is not a knock on Barrett, who was a master of Meyer’s offense. It’s just that the offense was frustratingly predictable; not only in terms of playcalling, but in the mis/underuse of some of the best skill position players in the country.
Do you remember how much fun the postseason run was in 2014? I obviously don’t have to tell you what the difference was (but I will anyway), it was a quarterback—though capable— who wasn’t suited for the zone-read. Instead, Cardale Jones was a gunslinger with questionable accuracy who benefited tremendously from a finally unshackled corp of receivers who used their athletic advantages to make plays they’d rarely had the opportunity to make the rest of the year.
With the hiring of Ryan Day to reshape the offense in his image, Ohio State is no longer recruiting run-first quarterbacks à la Barrett or Braxton Miller (or <cough> Tate Martell). And with the shift to throw-first, dual-threat quarterbacks, the offense has seemingly shifted from zone-read to RPOs, which plays perfectly to the skills of new starting QB Dwayne Haskins, and that’s obviously exciting to players and fans alike.
We got a hint that Haskins might be special when every single wide receiver who could have gone to the NFL last spring decided to come back, and thank Woody they did, because yesterday’s game was SO MUCH FUN!
Now obviously the defense gave up way too many points (see, I’m an equal opportunity defense-ignorer), but the offensive production had me giddily excited from start to finish. From Mike Weber averaging 9.3 yards per carry to Terry McLaurin’s 121 yards receiving to Haskins looking like a legit first round draft pick. Though just a season opener against a clearly inferior opponent, this game just felt different.
The astute amongst you will remember that yesterday wasn’t the first time that the Buckeyes put up 77 in a season opener. In fact, they did it against Bowling Green just two seasons ago, but not all points are created equal. With Barrett leading the team, chunk plays were a happy coincidence in an offense that was otherwise designed to grind down a defense.
But, with yesterday’s small sample size, it appears that Day intends to utilize all of the weapons to spread out the field and score as quickly, and as often, as possible. Haskins was unbelievably accurate and efficient yesterday, showing an ability to place the ball in a position that would allow his receivers to catch it in stride; something that we haven’t seen much of in a long time. The receivers displayed remarkable hands, and all four running backs (Weber, J.K. Dobbins, Brian Snead, and Master Teague) looked great.
And, I know that I’m probably getting myself a bit too excited over a 46-point win against a pretty bad team, but the playmaking felt different yesterday; the play-calling felt different yesterday; the players felt different yesterday, and that difference was fun.