It feels like these days Ohio State has little trouble replacing departing talent on the offensive side of the football. Just look at the quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and offensive linemen that have come through Columbus over the last decade.
This year is no different. While Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Cade Stover, and a number of others remain from last year’s team, Ohio State will have to replace quarterback C.J. Stroud and three starters on the offensive line.
Head coach Ryan Day hasn’t made an official announcement yet on whether Kyle McCord or Devin Brown will replace Stroud behind center, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Day didn’t name a starter after Saturday’s spring game even though it sounds like McCord is trending towards winning the battle with Brown.
McCord does have a bit of an edge, not only having one more year at Ohio State than Brown, but he also was Harrison’s quarterback in high school, so there is more of a rapport between McCord and the star receiver.
Even though Ohio State will have a new quarterback as well as some new starters on the offensive line, one thing the Buckeye offense will have entering this season that they didn’t over the last half of last season was a lot more stability at running back. Not only will TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams enter this season healthy after battling injuries for much of last year, Evan Pryor will also return to the fold after missing all of last year with a knee injury.
With all three of those running backs sidelined for at least a portion of last season, it allowed Dallan Hayden to see some carries late in the season, which he might not have seen if Henderson and Williams were available to play.
Ohio State has become a lot more pass-happy since Day arrived in Columbus, and it’s not that playing that style of football is a bad thing. Relying too much on the pass can get teams into trouble when they only need a few yards. Had Henderson and Williams been healthy in the second half of the season, you likely don’t see the amount of bubble screens that we saw run by the Buckeye offense. It’s understandable to want to try and easily get the football into the hands of guys like Egbuka and Harrison, but I can’t remember one bubble screen that worked last season.
Unlike last year when Notre Dame had to come into Ohio Stadium with a new starter in the first game of the season, Ohio State will have a couple games to get McCord or Brown comfortable with game speed before throwing them into the fire in South Bend at the end of September. Even though the Buckeyes do open up the season on the road against Indiana, it’s not like Buckeye Nation doesn’t fill up Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, so it’s not like they are going to see a real hostile environment against the Hoosiers.
The smart move for Day, Brian Hartline, and Justin Frye this year would be to lean on the running backs a little more, especially early on in the season. Unlike the last few years where Stroud was so accurate that some passes were essentially a long handoff, I think it will be better to use the run game to open up the pass for McCord or Brown. Don’t ask either quarterback to do too much early on, instead allow them to have some success on the field and gradually build on what you are asking them to do.
There is no question that both quarterbacks have tremendous talent, but you don’t want to shake their confidence by expecting them to do too much early on and then get down on themselves if things don’t click immediately.
Another reason to feature Henderson, Williams, and the rest of the running backs a little more this year is because they definitely have something to prove. Following a tremendous freshman campaign, Henderson didn’t live up to expectations last season because of the injuries he was dealing with. The junior running back is hoping he can replicate the same type of success J.K. Dobbins had. Following a great first year in Columbus, Dobbins struggled in his sophomore season before exploding in his junior year for 2,003 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns.
Henderson doesn’t have to go quite as wild as Dobbins did since there is a ton of talent in the backfield with Henderson. Last year we saw Williams tie a single-game school record with five rushing touchdowns against Rutgers. “Chop” also had a number of other strong performances, as he led the team with 825 yards rushing in the 11 games he appeared in.
Along with the duo, there’s a reason why Evan Pryor was such a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. If he is fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered before last season, Pryor could be a real sleeper this year. All this and we haven’t even mentioned Dallan Hayden yet, who was thrown into the fire a few times last season and was able to hold his own in his freshman year.
Not saying that I need the offense to return to “Tresselball”, but I do like it when football teams have a little more balance. Urban Meyer had the right idea at the college level when he wanted his teams to run for 250 yards, as well as pass for 250 yards. I know the Buckeyes have enough talent in the passing game to rely more on the pass, I just think they’ll be better off if they feature the run more this year now that their primary backs will enter the season healthy.
That ability to mix the run and the pass could be the difference that puts them over the top this year in their quest for a national title.