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What should you expect from Ohio State’s offense in 2019?

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Our full offensive film breakdown and depth chart predictions for the Buckeye offense.

Graphic by Patrick Mayhorn
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of “new” in the Ohio State football program as we enter 2019. New head coach, quite a few new members of the coaching staff, and some new faces all over the field as stars like Dwayne Haskins, Parris Campbell and Dre’Mont Jones — among others — head off to the next level. That’s normal in Columbus. The Buckeyes have become an NFL factory over the years, and mass exoduses of talent is nothing new.

What is new, and what may bring some tangible changes, are the additions and losses of staff members. Most importantly, obviously, is that for the first time since November 2011, Ohio State has a new man running the show. Ryan Day isn’t going to change a ton about the way that Ohio State is run, but there should certainly be some new looks on the field.

While quite a few of the changes may happen on the defensive side of the ball — where nearly every staff member was replaced in January— Day confirmed with one of his first hires that the offense would not remain a carbon copy of the 2018 version moving forward, when he hired former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. That move signals a move away from the power spread of Meyer, and further into the future of football that we’ve seen at Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama as of late.

With that philosophical shift comes the expectation of personnel shifts. Different systems require different styles of player, and it’s fair to assume that some players that fit in the Meyer offense may not fit as well in a Ryan Day/Mike Yurcich offense (for example, Tate Martell).

What we don’t know, yet, is who exactly could be impacted by that. However, the film can help us out quite a bit in that respect. Let’s go position by position, and look at what we might see from the Buckeye offense in 2019.


Quarterback

The number one, most important thing in for a quarterback in a Day/Yurcich offense is to have accuracy. Bar none, above all else, the quarterback has to be able to hit every open receiver, because the offense is extremely predicated on precise throws to open targets. That’s the model set by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach when they developed the air raid, and while no one outside of Leach and North Texas are running a pure air raid anymore, that ideology has taken hold all over college football.

Arm strength, size, and mobility all take a back seat to accuracy, and as long as the quarterback can hit his open targets, he can run this offense. Look at Mason Rudolph, and to an even greater extent, Taylor Cornelius. These are two guys who, despite their physical short comings, were able to succeed in the offense because they were never asked to have a rocket launcher for an arm. If the quarterback can get the ball out quickly and accurately, he’ll be just fine under Day and Yurcich.

That first point, “quickly,” brings us to requirement two. Quarterbacks in this system have to make their reads quickly, and throw as soon as they see an opening. There’s no room for hesitation in this offense, because so much of the offense is designed around exploiting a gap in the defense that will only be vulnerable for a split second.

It works perfectly when the ball is out quickly, and when the read is correct, but that requires a whole lot of reps, and a great understanding of both the offense and of what a defense is showing.

We saw that all year at Ohio State with Dwayne Haskins. The offense was at its best when he was just firing and trusting his instincts. The same can be said of Oklahoma State under Yurcich, as we see on this touchdown pass against Texas.

Cornelius progresses through his reads right on pace with the play design, and by the time he gets to the post, Tylan Wallace is exactly where Oklahoma State needs him to be, giving Cornelius a small, but doable, throwing window. Even without a ton of velocity, Cornelius’ accuracy and timing lets him put the ball on the money, and Wallace is able to make a play.

Again, this play is a result of great design, and solid, concise execution by Cornelius. He sells the fake well, stays calm in the backfield, and hits his target exactly when he’s supposed to, in the no man’s land between the flat zone and deep zone, and outside of the linebackers.

Hell, the throw is actually pretty bad here, but because Cornelius knows when and where to throw the ball, so it still works.

Ohio State is going to be doing a ton of quick-hit passes this year, with very specific cues and tells for a quarterback to notice. The offense isn’t complex, but it’s designed to look complex, which means that the quarterback has to be able to sell it, while having a full understanding of what he’s actually looking for.

Expect a ton of quick passes on early downs, wheel routes, posts, and screens. Expect a heavy dose of mesh, and quite a few “air raid” concepts that’ll make Woody Hayes roll over in his grave.

Depth chart projection

  1. Justin Fields
  2. Matthew Baldwin
  3. Chris Chugunov

Nothing too complicated here. Fields is accurate, smart, and will be able to run the offense well. His strength and mobility are a huge bonus for sure, but in terms of actually running the offense, Fields has everything that Ohio State needs.

Matthew Baldwin is an excellent choice too, and would excel in this offense, but Justin Fields didn’t come to Columbus to watch from the bench, and his talent is just too much to pass up. The chance to put a quarterback of his caliber in an offense like this is rare, and Ohio State will take advantage for the next two years.


Running back

The most radical change in Ohio State’s offense during this transition from Meyer to Day may be at halfback. Meyer — especially later in his tenure in Columbus — was a huge proponent of the more typical “workhorse” backs, or guys that sacrificed a bit of elusiveness or speed for size and power.

We saw it with Carlos Hyde (who, to be fair, Meyer didn’t recruit), Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Weber, Master Teague, and now Steele Chambers. Hell, we even saw it a bit with J.K. Dobbins, who was asked to play above his comfortable playing weight this past season to better fit the offense.

Generally, Meyer’s faster, smaller running back recruits were moved to the H-back spot, while he used bigger backs as his featured running backs. That won’t be the case under Day. The new coach’s offense makes much more sense with a speedy, capable receiver out of the backfield, because so much of his offense is centered around quickness and speed on the edge.

The same can be said for Yurcich, who, despite his title, will almost certainly impact the running game in at least some way. Oklahoma State used running back Justice Hill as their main ball carrier in 2018, despite his far from large 5-foot-10, 190 pound frame (for reference, Dobbins is the same height, and was listed as 24 pounds heavier in 2018). What Hill lacked in weight he made up for in speed, and because Oklahoma State was all about speed, explosiveness, and making plays in open space, Hill’s size was no issue for the Pokes.

Ohio State may operate in a similar way this season. Far more outside runs, sweeps, and passes out to the back in space; far fewer runs up the middle, which, fittingly, was an enormous challenge for Ohio State last season because the offensive line wasn’t coached to block up the middle.

This offense works much better with an outside rushing threat, and when given the controls, I imagine Day will implement that fairly quickly.

Now, the question isn’t so much how the running backs will be used (we’ve got a pretty good idea of that answer), as it is which running backs will be used. Ohio State has a lot of talent at running back this season even after the loss of Mike Weber to the NFL, and there will be a lot of players battling to fill the hole left by Weber.

Depth chart projection

  1. J.K. Dobbins or Demario McCall
  2. Master Teague
  3. Marcus Crowley

My first real hot take of this piece may be my hottest of all. Fans have been clamoring for Demario McCall for years now, and I think this season is the one in which he finally breaks through, not as a receiver, not as an “H-back,” but as an actual, honest-to-goodness running back.

McCall is the perfect fit for Day’s offense, and while Dobbins gives the Buckeyes a solid six-yards-every-play style back, they need someone with burst and speed on the edge. That’s Demario McCall. Maybe not as a full time back, but as a consistent contributor out of the backfield. Oh, and just look at this play from Justice Hill against Texas last season.

Now, who does that remind you of?

That’s right reader. You know in your heart that’s it’s true. It’s time to #FreeDemario.


Wide receivers

Like quarterbacks, Ohio State’s receivers will be doing mostly the same thing moving forward as they were in 2018. Day’s offense calls for — as mentioned — a lot of quick hitters, and that means that receivers have to be precise with their routes, and be ready to make plays quickly. It also means getting clean releases off of the line, and a constant attention to detail.

In 2018, under the tutelage of Brian Hartline, the Buckeye receiving corps had all of that. The routes were clean and precise, every receiver improved their catch-rate considerably, and there never seemed to be a time where a receiver looked lost or confused on the field.

Despite some pretty major losses of Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, the Buckeyes return a ton of production, and honestly, I see little-to-no drop off in production from this group under this staff.

The only real change that we might see at receiver under Day and Yurcich could be the use of a true number one receiver; or to put it another way, a shift from the evenly spread out distribution in Meyer’s offense to a more star based attack.

During Yurcich’s time at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys had a receiver top 1,000 yards receiving each of the last four seasons (James Washington x3, Tylan Wallace), and most recently, we saw Wallace hit 1,491 yards on 86 receptions.

In contrast, the Buckeyes have had just one 1,000 yard receiver since 2002, and it was Campbell this past year. That likely changes under Day and Yurcich. Ohio State’s heavy passing attack isn’t going anywhere, and the Buckeyes are likely going to look for a star receiver to handle quite a bit of the main workload.

When you look at Wallace and Washington, it’s pretty easy to draw a comparison between their styles and the styles of two current Buckeye receivers. The easy comparison, and the most likely breakout star on this roster is Chris Olave (we’ll have much more on him in a dedicated piece tomorrow).

Olave, like Wallace and Washington, isn’t a very big guy, but he’s extremely quick, smooth, and has fantastic hands.

The less likely option is one that I know fans would love to see breakout immediately: Garrett Wilson. Wilson fits this offense perfectly, and could see quite a few targets as soon as the season starts, despite the fact that he will be a true freshman.

Depth chart projection

  1. Austin Mack/Chris Olave/ K.J. Hill
  2. Binjimen Victor/Garrett Wilson/Jaelen Gill
  3. Jaylen Harris/Kamryn Babb/Jameson Williams

The starting spots are pretty obvious. Each of those three players fit in their respective spots pretty perfectly, and save for maybe Victor vs. Mack, I don’t expect a battle for any of those main spots.

Past the first line though, things get a bit more difficult. I think Wilson and Victor see the field quite a bit, but I am less confident on Gill, and think he may eventually end up in the running backs’ room.

Beyond that is essentially just a who’s who of what’s left. Harris may see some garbage time snaps, and I think Babb is going to be great, but is still rehabbing his ACL injury, so it may take a while for him to be comfortable again. Williams is raw, but a great athlete that should see the field late in blowouts as well.


Tight end

While we’ve talked about a few major differences in style requirements from Meyer’s offense to Day’s, each position so far has had the personnel to fit the new looks, or at least versatile enough players to make the adjustment.

I’m not so sure that that’s true of the tight ends. Meyer used his tight ends almost exclusively as blockers for the running game, and very rarely looked to pass to them. Buckeye tight ends had just 30 total receptions in 2018, roughly eight percent of Ohio State’s total completions.

On those 30 receptions, Buckeye tight ends averaged 9.8 yards. That’s where the main change will come. Meyer used tight ends as blockers and safety outlet passes, Day and Yurcich use them as big play threats, vertical options, and much more versatile athletes. Look at a player like Blake Jarwin; while he only had 19 receptions in 2016, he racked up 309 total yards (16.3 yards per catch), because he was used primarily on downfield passes.

We’ll likely see similar numbers in Columbus. I don’t expect the volume of passes to tight ends to increase a ton, but I think that we’ll see far more tight end integration; primarily as vertical-threat receivers, rather than fullbacks on the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately for Day and Yurcich — and for quite a few of the tight ends on this roster — Ohio State doesn’t currently have a ton of players that fit that billing.

Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry, last year’s starting tight ends, simply don’t fit this new style. Farrell isn’t the kind of athlete this new take on the position needs, and Berry doesn’t have the hands to serve as any kind of consistent threat.

Behind them, Jake Hausmann likely falls into the same category as Farrell, and incoming freshman Cormontae Hamilton, while athletic and sure-handed, seems like much more of an H-back (in the Jordan Reed style, not the Percy Harvin style) than a tight end.

That leaves Jeremy Ruckert, who, to his credit, is seemingly designed for this exact style of offense, and with a year of experience under his belt — mostly in garbage time — he may be ready to take a step forward.

Hell, he may have to, because short of moving Blue Smith to tight end, Ohio State doesn’t have a ton of options. Ruckert is essentially a really big receiver (he actually just was a receiver in high school), and while he’s not a great blocker, he really doesn’t need to be under this new staff.

Depth chart projection

  1. Jeremy Ruckert
  2. Rashod Berry or Luke Farrell
  3. Jake Hausmann

This would obviously be a pretty huge jump for Ruckert. He had just one reception in 2018, and no matter how talented, you don’t usually see such an unproven player starting at Ohio State.

However, he’s the only one in the TE room that truly fits the position as the new coaches seemingly see it, and that has to matter. Farrell and Berry will still see the field, mostly in running situations, but Ruckert’s athleticism and big-play ability should win him the majority of the playing time in 2019.


Offensive line

The last piece of the offensive depth chart could be the most problematic for the Buckeyes in 2019. With four starters gone from the 2018 roster, Ohio State has a ton of replacing to do, which, in turn means that Greg Studrawa has a lot of work to do. He could still turn it around, but in the past, that hasn’t exactly been great news for the Buckeyes.

We’ll start with the good news. Thayer Munford is back, and should be the most stable part of the line, at left tackle, where you really need stability. Unfortunately, he will be sitting out spring practice due to injury, robbing the newly formed o-line of a chance to gel.

Jonah Jackson, grad transfer from Rutgers is in, and will likely fill the gap at guard that Ohio State didn’t really have a good answer for otherwise. Wyatt Davis was good in limited time last season, and Branden Bowen was good in 2017 prior to a season ending leg injury.

The bad news is equally plentiful. Munford wasn’t all that good in 2018, and needs to improve this offseason. Davis has only two starts under his belt. Bowen hasn’t played in nearly two seasons, and the Buckeyes have exactly one legitimate center on the roster, true freshman Harry Miller.

All of this is paired with the fact that with a more experienced group than this one, the Buckeyes were unable to run the ball consistently in 2018, and the line coach responsible for that is still running the show in Columbus.

So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a lot of potential to be excited about, and a ton of talent in the group, but very little depth, experience, or proven leadership. The pass blocking should be fine once again, but if Ohio State can’t run in 2019, they’ll have the same red zone and short yardage woes that we saw in 2018.

Depth chart projection

  1. Thayer Munford/Wyatt Davis/Josh Myers/Jonah Jackson/Branden Bowen
  2. Joshua Alabi/Matthew Jones/Harry Miller/Gavin Cupp/Nicholas Petit-Frere

The only battles on the line are likely at center — between Myers and Miller — and at right tackle, between Bowen and Petit-Frere. Of those, I think the latter is far more likely to be an actual battle than the former, because despite his immense talent, Miller is still just a freshman, and center at Ohio State is a tall task for any first-year collegiate player.

The latter operates much more in hypotheticals. If Bowen is back to his 2017, pre-injury self, then he likely gets the job, because he was really good in 2017.

However, NPF was a highly rated recruit for a reason, and if Bowen isn’t where he once was, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s surpassed by the redshirt freshman.