We are back in football mode. Tuesday brought the first of Ryan Day’s weekly press conferences heading into game week. On tap for the Ohio State Buckeyes: Florida Atlantic.
Before Saturday’s kickoff, questions still linger about the team. From the offensive line to offensive strategy, bits and pieces have been assembled since the start of camp. But, Day took the time to answer some of the most pressing questions as the Buckeyes make the final preparations leading up the 130th season of OSU football.
Day spent a while at the podium talking, and some points were more important than others. Let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from the presser.
1) “He’s practicing at a high level. And when you are go against Chase Young and Coop and those guys every day in practice, if you’re blocking them you’re doing a hell of a job. And he has. He’s done that. And he’s taken a mature approach to this thing.”
While the official depth chart won’t be released until Friday, we have some answers already as to who will be starting against FAU. One of the big burning questions throughout August’s camp was at quarterback. Once Justin Fields was named starter, the next big question for starters rotated to right tackle.
Day unveiled that Branden Bowen would be the guy at RT, with Nicholas Petit-Frere seeing some playing time, too.
This is big news in multiple ways. The first is that Bowen has spent the better part of two years recovering from injuries and surgeries. A broken leg sidelined him in 2017 — a season where he saw time as a starter. His climb back to the top of the mountain shows his determination, and that’ could light a spark on the offensive line.
Second, he’s one of the seniors on the squad. While not selected as one of the seven captains, he may very well be the leader of the O-line. Third, I think this shows the potential of how good Petit-Frere is, and not the other way around. NPF came to OSU as a five-star prospect, but hasn’t seen much playing time (getting redshirted last season). He’ll get his shot at some point, and I think he’ll absolutely be a star on the line.
2) “I think we try to find the plays that give us the best schematic advantage to score. And then as we start to play these games I think we’ll get a feel for his creativity as plays break down, what he can handle in terms of route combinations, his progressions, the way he sees things in a game.”
It’s just a fact that Fields hasn’t seen a lot of in-game action. At Georgia, he was used sparingly in his freshman season. Even though he played in 12 games, Jake Fromm was the go-to QB. Fields showed flashes of what he can do — both in the air and on the ground. For the Bulldogs, his lone year produced 296 rushing yards and 328 passing yards.
Now at Ohio State, he’s the guy that will be starting. But, there’s still a lot of unknowns. How does he get out of jams? What does he do when the game is on the line?
Day showed what the approach will be for Fields, and I like it. Putting him in a position to succeed, and letting him figure out what to do, I think, is the best strategy when you have a dual-threat QB. If the pocket collapses, he has the ability to take off; if he gets away from pressure and the play begins to break down, he has the ability to make a throw.
Not confining Fields into a creative box may pay big dividends for the Buckeye offense.
3) “That’s something we’ve spent a lot of time on in the offseason and figured out a way to do that. It’s a plan to win; you’ve got to score touchdowns when you’re in the red zone.”
Speaking of the Buckeye offense, the Urban Meyer era was filled with players that could help move the ball downfield. Between J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, to Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State could gobble yards via ground or air. But when they got to the red zone, snags would occur. Last season was a big year for those snags, as the Bucks scored on only 77 percent (54-of-70) of their red zone attempts. In comparison, their opponents scored on 90 percent (38-of-42) of their opportunities deep in Scarlet and Gray territory.
Getting touchdowns in the red zone was happening at a 63 percent (44-of-70) clip for the Meyer offense. While that was enough to win the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl, there’s things to improve upon in 2019.
Day’s acknowledgement of the problem, and his desire to fix it shows that we may be seeing a more aggressive OSU offense inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Does that mean passes outside the hash marks, or spreading the defense out wide? Not sure. But we’ll get a nice glimpse of what the strategy is that weekend against Florida Atlantic. The Buckeyes should be able to move the ball, and with the playmakers like Fields, J.K. Dobbins and K.J. Hill, the possibilities are endless at what plays/schemes can be incorporated in the red zone, but having a running quarterback while close to the goal line sure won’t hurt.
4) “I think they do a nice job with disguising things and giving you a picture and doing something else, but more importantly, I think they’re taking a lot of pride in being able to play fast and getting their cleats in the ground and playing tough and playing the run and making sure they’re clean on their assignments and then playing with great passion.”
The brain trust on defense is different this season. The additions of Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison bring new approaches for a Buckeye squad that got carved like a pumpkin at Halloween throughout 2018.
Predictability, missed tackles, and blown coverages were sprinkled throughout games — and became glaring issues against Purdue, Maryland and in the second half against Washington.
The bullet position may help mask the coverages, and Day’s comment on pride in playing fast leads me to believe that we’ll be seeing guys flying around the field. Whether that be Shaun Wade or Brendon White, or whomever is seeing time on the field, a resurfaced passion on the defensive side of the ball may be all that’s been missing for a unit that lost its soul in 2018.
5) “But he’s going to have to have some 20-carry games. He’s been practicing with his pads down and practicing tough. He’s gotten stronger. He’s lost, like, 4 percent body fat, which for him is tremendous.”
Dobbins is the focus of this answer. We knew he’d be RB1 in 2019, but how many touches he’d see in a game remained a mystery. Twenty carries is a good number, and you’ve got to figure Fields and Demario McCall will get some handles too.
A balanced attack also comes to mind with this. There’s a multitude of weapons on offense, and it doesn’t make sense to overexert Dobbins. Keeping him healthy will be a big part of the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff equation, and 20 carries seems like a sweet spot.