“It just feels natural out there. (I have all these) playmakers around me and all (these) different ways we can get what we want.”
It has been convenient that, leading into the final game of the regular season, Ohio State has been able to rely on the Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan offense being notoriously underperforming and outdated. Unfortunately, Jim Harbaugh seems to have noticed that this could be a problem moving forward. And it looks like the offense might be about to change as first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, fresh from Alabama, looks to revamp what has become a reliably stagnant offense. Chief among the changes for the fall include that Harbaugh has given up play calling duties on offense.
The change has been a long time coming, especially since it was in fact last year that was supposed to be “Michigan’s year” as the Wolverines attempted an ill-fated revenge tour that died at the doorstep of the Horseshoe last November. With quarterback Shea Patterson transferring in from Ole Miss, Jim McElwain coaching wide receivers and Ed Warinner managing the offensive line, all with Pep Hamilton in his second season as assistant head coach, it certainly looked, at least to Harbaugh (probably,) that all the pieces were in place.
The offseason moves speak for themselves, however. While Wariner is sticking around for another season (which makes sense -- Michigan’s running game gained strength behind a much-improved offensive line), Hamilton and McElwain are both gone. Patterson, meanwhile, opted to return for another season in Ann Arbor. Then with the high-profile hire of Gattis, who had been at Penn State before Bama, and the adjustment of play-calling duties, it is obvious that Harbaugh recognized the need to adjust his offense to compete with the strengthening defenses of the modern Big Ten.
What do these changes mean for Ohio State? Maybe nothing. After all, Michigan’s adjustments last season proved easily diverted. But Gattis is no fool. And the fact he is now in control of the offense means serious and substantive changes — the kind that could give opposing defenses a serious challenge — could be afoot.
“They’re still a work in progress. They’re still growing. They’re still making mistakes. To say where they are as a finished product, it’s hard to tell. We still have a long way to go.”
Beyond the obvious head coaching change, the transfer of quarterback Justin Fields from Georgia has been among the biggest news of the offseason for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Given Fields was the nation’s top recruit last year, it makes sense that all eyes would be on the 20-year old now filling the shoes of a Heisman-finalist in Ohio State’s first Urban Meyer-less offense since 2011.
Despite his shaky start, the incoming transfer did not disappoint — though the numbers might tell a different story. On the day, Fields completed less than a third of his passing attempts, finishing 4-of-13 for 131 yards. For better or worse, 98 of those yards came on a beautiful touchdown pass to Binjimen Victor in the second quarter. By comparison, Matthew Baldwin, who backed up Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell last season, was 20-for-36 passing for 246 yards on the day, balancing his two touchdowns with two picks. Ryan Day acknowledged that both have a long way to go and that no decisions have been made regarding who will fill the starting quarterback role come the fall.
It would have seemed that once Martell (who had a somewhat disappointing outing in Miami’s spring game over the weekend) opted to enter the transfer pool at the conclusion of last season, that Fields would be the de facto quarterback heading into the fall. However, Day looks to be taking his time in determining who his first starting quarterback will be in his first year as head coach. It seems to be a responsible approach: Neither player has significant gametime experience, especially as a starter, and both have spent just a year in a college program. In the case of Fields, the transfer is tasked with learning a new system at a new program. And both must manage changes coming from a new coaching staff.
“I wouldn’t mind if he went to any other school. But this (crap) kind of hurts.”
It is natural that coaches will move to new positions at new schools over time, especially early on in their careers as they work to simultaneously establish themselves as experts in certain schemes and expand their responsibility beyond their initial position groups. While it is not ideal for a coach to leave in the middle of a player’s time with the program, in general, those players do understand how the game works. However, that grace does not always extend — especially when that coach leaves for a rival institution.
By objective standards, Greg Mattison’s move to Ohio State makes a lot of sense. After serving as defensive coordinator under Brady Hoke’s regime at Michigan, Mattison was moved to defensive line coach at the onset of Jim Harbaugh’s reign. Mattison’s role in Columbus means a promotion back to co-defensive coordinator and a pay raise equivalent to double the salary he made at Michigan. Given the bad blood between the two schools, however — especially given the role that coaches switching allegiances has played in its perpetuation — this pill has been a tough one to swallow for current Wolverine players.
After Michigan’s spring scrimmage Saturday, defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson spoke out about his former coach, stating that “you get a big feeling of betrayal” as a result of Mattison’s actions. Hutchinson alluded to statements from Mattison, during which the coach allegedly stated that he would either renew his contract or retire.
Nonetheless, from a broad perspective, Mattison has ties to about half the schools in the Big Ten. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, two of Mattison’s first three collegiate coaching stops were at Illinois and Northwestern. His son, Bryan, also played at Iowa in the mid-2000s, and was a captain during his senior season. So adding another program to the list isn’t that big of a surprise.