Jeff’s Weekly Sports Rapp: Boom Goes The Dynamite
By Jeff Rapp
(Editor’s Note: Jeff Rapp has covered Ohio State athletics since he graduated from the university more than 20 years ago. He currently serves as a voting member of the Heisman Trophy Trust and is a longstanding member of the Football Writers Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).
Ohio State has amassed more yardage, more first downs, more highlight-reel plays and certainly completed more passes in a game than it did last Saturday night in the 63-38 win over Nebraska.
However, it was the score – actually the glut of touchdowns – that grabbed the attention of the record crowd of 106,102 at Ohio Stadium as well as the remainder of Buckeye Nation.
Nevermind that one of the TDs was a 41-yard interception return by Bradley Roby and another was a 76-yard punt return by Corey Brown. The fact is, Ohio State crossed the goal line nine times and further asserted a take-no-prisoners approach under head coach Urban Meyer.
The Buckeyes were stagnant for the entirety of the first quarter, with just 17 total yards – heck, Ben Buchanan’s punt fake and 6-yard run that failed to pick up a first was the team’s top rushing play of the period – but rattled off four scoring drives in the second.
The onslaught continued in the second half. Meyer still had his starters on the field and applauded when tailback Carlos Hyde scored from 16 yards out with just 48 ticks left. It seemed to make for a frosty handshake at midfield with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, a former Buckeye who never would have believed he’d be on the wrong end of a horsewhip.
The eyebrows of poll voters were raised as well, and the explosion against a ranked conference foe caused the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 in the Big Ten) to move into the top 10 of The Associated Press poll at No. 8.
This is what Buckeye fans have awaited – even many of those who staunchly defended the more conservative approach of Jim Tressel.
Touchdowns, not field goals, to punctuate drives. Backbreaking plays that display a killer instinct. Scoring outputs so impressive they even cover up defensive shortcomings and make the country take notice.
Playmakers Starting to Emerge
Quarterback Braxton Miller, an emerging Heisman Trophy candidate, was a modest 7 of 14 passing for 127 yards and one score. However, he crushed his own school mark for a QB with 186 net yards rushing, including a 72-yard burst and a 31-yard scoring sprint just before halftime.
Also, the Buckeyes finally found a durable tailback who could carry the mail in Carlos Hyde. With Jordan Hall now out with a knee injury after nursing a surgically repaired tendon in his right foot the fist couple weeks of the season, Hyde took a whopping 28 handoffs and rumbled for 140 yards and four scores.
That emergence has been crucial and should allow Miller to absorb fewer hits in the second half of the season.
“Carlos Hyde is the one who has really stepped his game up,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “He’s answered the bell, he’s tried to become a leader of that group with Jordan out, and he’s really brought a physical element to his game that we all enjoy. Plus, he’s really set the bar for those younger backs.”
Drayton characterized Hyde as “a little lazy” before he found the urgency to be a power back this season.
“He has really escalated his value to this football team,” Drayton said.
Miller’s lone TD pass was to tight end Jeff Heuerman. Fellow tight end Nick Vannett had a 32-yard grab. With Jake Stoneburner shifted out to receiver – a move that has paid off in the form of three touchdowns – that tandem has shown it can still affect defenses.
Corey Brown has been a reliable possession receiver with 35 receptions for 352 yards, while Devin Smith has been the big-play receiver on the opposite side. He has 19 catches but for 351 yards, an average of 18.5 per catch, and has hauled in four TDs.
It All Starts Up Front
At the halfway point of the season, the Buckeyes are averaging a healthy 38.5 points per game and rank 10th among all FBS schools in rushing yards per game at 248.7.
Much of that credit goes to a sturdy offensive line and fullback Zach Boren, one of the best lead blockers around.
“If there’s a category for All-American fullback, Zach has got to be one of those guys,” fullbacks and tight ends coach Tim Hinton said. “He’s a tremendous, tremendous football player. There’s no question about it.”
The line came through in the win at Michigan State, figuring out a way to push around the conference’s top defense at the outset and in the final minutes of a tight contest.
If this is going to be an elite offense, the line will have to deserve lots of kudos. Even though the depth is still minimal at this point, the front five of left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley, junior guard Marcus Hall and right tackle Reid Fragel has managed to get into laudable shape and mesh correctly. While Fragel, a converted tight end, was adding weight and strength, the remainder of the group was trimming down to keep up with plans to run a no-huddle offense.
Plan in Motion
Speaking of the no-huddle, it is another major factor in the offensive resurgence for the Buckeyes. Through six games, OSU was averaging 68.3 offensive plays per game and 6.3 yards per play. That compares very favorably to last year’s marks of 62.2 plays per game and just 5.1 yards per play.
Meyer could have gone with someone with whom he’s well-acquainted or a bigger name to run his offense, but he chose Iowa State coordinator Tom Herman specifically to inject life into the unit and implement the no-huddle.
“Our offense was very successful down there in Gainesville,” said receivers coach Zach Smith, who was previously attached to Meyer. “But when you do that at an up-tempo and a higher pace, it can just be more dynamic. That’s one thing we tried to do at Florida a couple times and we really didn’t know it. Coach Herman is kind of an expert at it.
“It’s something we always talked about doing but never really did. He’s brought that. It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s go run a no-huddle offense.’ Just don’t huddle and run it. But then all of a sudden you’re going slow and it’s not very efficient. He’s a guy who has done it successfully, he’s developed it and he’s an expert at it. I could have put it in, but I sure don’t know it like he knows it.”
Smith is also a fan because the quick pace has helped open up the field for his receivers, a maligned group last season after no one on the team was able to record more than 14 receptions.
Now Brown looks comfortable going over the middle of the field and Smith has the energy to reach over defenders to make huge catches.
“The natural thing for a receiver who is running a lot is to not like the no-huddle, but my guys kind of see it as another weapon,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity for us to impose our will on a defense. When they’re tired, we’re not tired, because we do it every day.
“Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to get open against a guy who’s blown out when you’re not, because we’re so well-conditioned. So our guys just buy into the toughness aspect of it.”
With the front line no longer a source of frustration, the tight end position well-stocked, receivers who have become playmakers, a tough-as-nails fullback, tailbacks who are finally finding their footing and a quarterback as dynamic as any in the country, the Buckeyes now possess a truly multidimensional offense capable of ripping through most any defense, at least in the Big Ten.
It all raises the following dual question: Is this becoming a great Ohio State offense and how does it compare to others of the last couple decades?
Of course, all devout Ohio State fans have favorite seasons, players they remember most fondly and offensives they most enjoyed watching. I’m well aware how far back the program’s tradition stretches and that there were many dynamic Ohio State teams before Meyer every took over the program.
Certainly, Francis Schmidt and Paul Brown were groundbreaking offensive coaches and the Woody Hayes era was loaded with offensive superstars including the Archie Griffin-led teams of the 1970s.
And I have a lot of regard for the Earle Bruce era, especially the 1984 team that featured Heisman Trophy runner-up Keith Byars, wideouts Cris Carter and Mike Lanese and a dominant offensive line that included Jim Lachey.
But I was a kid when Archie played, didn’t watch games with the same discerning eye in the ’80s and wasn’t around in those developmental years. So for the sake of argument and comparison, I am postulating that this year’s offense has a chance to go down as one of the five best of the last 20 years, which is still noteworthy given the time frame.
Which Ohio State offenses already are on that list?
Well, I present these four (and they’re going to be awfully hard to beat):
Team Record: 11-2
Final Ranking: 6th in AP and UPI
ey Wins: 45-26 vs. No. 15 Notre Dame, 28-25 at No. 12 Penn State, 27-16 at No. 21 Wisconsin, 56-35 vs. No. 25 Iowa, 30-20 vs. No. 18 Washington, 38-6 vs. No. 22 Boston College (Kickoff Classic).
Key Losses: 31-23 at No. 15 Michigan, 20-14 vs. No. 4 Tennessee (Citrus Bowl).
Offensive Starters: QB Bobby Hoying, TB Eddie George, FB Nicky Sualua, FL Terry Glenn, SE Buster Tillman, TE Rickey Dudley, LT Orlando Pace, LG Jamie Sumner, C Juan Porter, RG LeShun Daniels, RT Eric Gohlstin.
Coordinator: Joe Hollis
Awards: Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Doak Walker, Walter Camp POY (George); Lombardi (Pace); Biletnikoff (Glenn); Draddy (Hoying); Silver Football (George); 1st-team All-America (George, Glenn, Pace); 1st-team All-Big Ten (Dudley, George, Glenn, Hoying, Pace); OSU MVP (George).
Draft Picks: Not surprisingly, the NFL took notice of the offensive firepower and three Buckeyes went in the first round: Glenn seventh overall to New England, Dudley ninth to Oakland and George 14th to Houston. Hoying was a third-round selection of Philadelphia. Pace would go on to win both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award at the end of the 1996 season and became the top overall pick of the 1997 draft, going to the St. Louis Rams. Sualua was selected in the fourth round by Dallas that year.
Vital Statistics: George was a marked man all season but came through with awe-inspiring performances seemingly every week – 212 yards and two TDs vs. Washington, 207 yards and two TDs vs. Notre Dame, 105 yards and the game-winning score at Penn State, a backbreaking 51-yard TD at Wisconsin, and a school-record 314 yards on 36 carries in the snowflakes vs. Illinois in the home finale. He finished with 1,927 rushing yards, another OSU record, and 24 TDs on the ground. Glenn broke a school record with 253 receiving yards against Pitt and he also tied the single-game mark with four TD catches. Hoying threw for five scores in that game and OSU amassed 636 yards of total offense. Glenn ended up breaking Carter’s seasonal record with 1,411 yards receiving. Hoying also set new school standards with 3,269 passing yards and 29 TD tosses. He was 211 for 341 (61.9 percent) on the season. He led the Big Ten in total offense and placed second in the nation in passing efficiency. As a team, the Buckeyes amassed 6,222 yards and 6.6 yards per play, both all-time OSU standards.
Overview: This offense basically rewrote the OSU record book and was a site to behold when it was revved up. Much of the credit went to quarterbacks coach Walt Harris but Hollis was a huge proponent of offensive balance and also was very successful at scripting the team’s first 15 offensive plays, which usually paid off with touchdowns at the end of opening drives. The Buckeyes outscored their opponents 475 to 220 on the year. This team could absolutely ram you with the run, especially with George following Pace and Sualua, but it also carved teams in the air. No one, it seemed, could slow down Glenn and double-teaming him only opened up the middle of the field for Dudley, who came through with several big catches. Hoying simply had one of the best seasons on record for an Ohio State QB and also was a very well-respected leader. He and George were the captains of the offense. The line wasn’t littered with All-Americans but was tough and had the game’s ultimate anchor on the left side. George is a College Football Hall of Famer and Pace is a shoo-in to be enshrined as well.
Team Record: 11-1
Final Ranking: 2nd in AP and USA Today/ESPN
Key Wins: 24-14 vs. No. 8 Texas A&M (Sugar Bowl), 28-9 vs. No. 7 Penn State, 34-17 at No. 11 West Virginia, 35-14 vs. No. 21 Missouri, 31-16 vs. Michigan, 45-14 at Iowa.
Key Loss: The 28-24 loss vs. Michigan State at Ohio Stadium still lives in infamy.
Offensive Starters: QB Joe Germaine, TB Michael Wiley, FB Matt Keller, FL Dee Miller, SE David Boston, TE John Lumpkin, LT Tyson Walter, LG Rob Murphy, C Kurt Murphy, RG Ben Gilbert, RT Brooks Burris.
Coordinator: Mike Jacobs
Awards: Silver Football, Big Ten Offensive POY (Germaine); 1st-team All-America (Boston, Rob Murphy); 1st-team All-Big Ten (Boston, Germaine, Rob Murphy, Wiley); OSU MVP (Germaine).
Draft Picks: Boston had the talent and size for the pro game and, sure enough, he was gobbled up with the eighth overall pick of the 1999 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Joe Montgomery, OSU’s power running back, actually was the next offensive player to go when the New York Giants took him in the second round. Germaine was a fourth-round pick of the Rams and became Kurt Warner’s backup. Miller went in the sixth round to the Packers. The following year, Wiley was a fifth-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys.
Vital Statistics: No longer sharing time under center with Stanley Jackson, Germaine had the reins, was voted a team captain, and put up numbers every week. He completed 230 of 384 passes (59.9 percent) for a school-record 3,330 yards, 25 TDs and just seven interceptions. Meanwhile, Boston destroyed OSU single-season marks with 85 catches for 1,435 yards and added 13 touchdowns. He had eight 100-yard receiving games that season, also a school record. The offense averaged 497.6 yards per game, which is a school best. The team passing marks of 247 completions, 419 attempts and 3,576 yards are all high-water marks for the program. Wiley’s season of 1,235 rushing yards on 198 attempts (6.2 per carry) was one of the most overlooked in OSU history. The Buckeyes scored 430 points and logged 24 to 49 in all 12 games.
Overview: Boston finished strong by torching Michigan with 10 catches for 231 yards and two TDs and being named MVP of the 1999 Sugar Bowl. He bolted after the season and put up three-year marks of 191 receptions for 2,855 yards and 34, all school records. With Boston a constant threat, Miller was able to work against single coverage much of the year and provided Germaine with another big and agile body at which to throw. Wiley was a perfect complement on the ground, a home-run hitter who could break off big gains and also catch the ball out of the backfield. Lumpkin was a poor man’s Dudley who also happened to double as a member of the basketball team. And Matt Keller was another versatile weapon and outstanding teammate who would go on to a co-captain role the following year. The line did well to shake its image as being soft, although the feisty Rob Murphy certainly was never part of that accusation. This was a truly dynamic offense that could sling it on anybody and Montgomery added the bull to the backfield when needed. Now if only Germaine could have found someone open in the end zone against the Spartans …
Team Record: 14-0
Final Ranking: 1st in AP and USA Today/ESPN (national champions)
Key Wins: 31-24 (2OT) vs. No. 1 Miami (Fiesta Bowl), 14-9 vs. No. 12 Michigan, 13-7 vs. No. 18 Penn State, 26-7 vs. No. 10 Washington State, 10-6 at Purdue, 19-14 at Wisconsin, 23-16 at Illinois (OT), 34-3 vs. No. 23 Minnesota, 23-19 vs. Cincinnati (at Paul Brown Stadium).
Key Losses: None.
Offensive Starters: QB Craig Krenzel, TB Maurice Clarett, FB Branden Joe, FL Chris Gamble, SE Michael Jenkins, TE Ben Hartsock, LT Ivan Douglas, LG Adrien Clarke, C Alex Stepanovich, RG Bryce Bishop, RT Shane Olivea.
Coordinator: Jim Bollman
Awards: 1st-team All-Big Ten (Clarett); OSU MVP (Gamble, Krenzel).
Draft Picks: OSU lost five members of the 2002 team to the draft, all defenders, but a majority of the key offensive contributors went on to the NFL after the 2003 season. Gamble was a first-round pick of Carolina but as a defensive back. Jenkins went 29th overall, one pick after Gamble, to Atlanta. Hartsock was a third-round pick of the Colts and wide receiver Drew Carter (Carolina) joined Krenzel (Chicago) in the fifth round of the 2004 draft. Three OSU linemen also were drafted in ’04 – Stepanovich (fourth, Arizona), Clarke (seventh, Philadelphia) and Olivea (seventh, San Diego). Denver took the troubled Clarett with the last pick of the third round in the 2005 draft and Nick Mangold, who started at center in the 2002 national championship game, went on to a terrific career and was a first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2006 (29th overall).
Vital Statistics: This group hinted at what it could do right out of the gate with a 45-point outburst against a respectable Texas Tech squad. Clarett did much of the damage with 175 yards rushing and three TDs. OSU also blasted Kent State with a 51-17 win in Week 2. But as the games increased in importance, Tressel and Bollman tightened the screws and asked Krenzel to be sure and steady leading the offense. OSU often played field position and averaged under 30 points per game (29.3) but averaged 364.5 yards per game and did display versatility. Eight rushers played in 11 or more games. Clarett led the way with 1,237 yards (5.6 per carry) and 16 TDs but had help from Lydell Ross (619 yards) and Maurice Hall (370), who added 10 more TDs on the ground. Jenkins was sensational with 61 catches for 1,076 yards (17.6 per reception), six scores and several clutch catches. Thirteen other Buckeyes caught passes, including Gamble’s 31. Krenzel’s highest passing total on the year was 241 yards vs. San Jose State but he completed 59.4 percent of his passes on the season and had a knack for moving the chains.
Overview: Go back and stare at that record above. This was not a dynamic offense. In fact, the Buckeyes failed to put several teams away or simply weren’t built to pull away, but the ’02 offense still deserves to be in this discussion because of the star power on it and the fact that it figured out a way to come through virtually every time it had to produce points. The offensive line developed throughout the season and showed great depth with frosh Mangold and Rob Sims eventually rotating in with regularity. Placekicker Mike Nugent also should be remembered as a key offensive weapon as he produced an All-American season as a sophomore by knocking home 25 of 28 field-goal attempts. The offense made the plays at key times, which is why we still remember the “Holy Buckeye” fourth-down pass at Purdue, Clarett’s wheel route and Hall’s TD run off an option pitch against Michigan, and Jenkins’ 17-yard catch on fourth-and-14 vs. the Hurricanes. Krenzel’s reputation as a fiercely intelligent QB was confirmed as the molecular genetics major won the prestigious Vincent DePaul Draddy Trophy, the “academic Heisman” now known as the William V. Campbell Trophy, at the end of his career in 2003. Hoying had won it in ’95.
Team Record: 12-1
Final Ranking: 2nd in AP and USA Today/ESPN
Key Wins: 42-39 vs. No. 2 Michigan, 24-7 at No. 2 Texas, 38-17 at No. 13 Iowa, 28-6 vs. No. 24 Penn State.
Key Loss: 41-14 vs. No. 2 Florida (BCS National Championship Game), which allowed Meyer to hoist the crystal football.
Offensive Starters: QB Troy Smith, TB Antonio Pittman, FB Stan White Jr., FL Ted Ginn Jr., SL Anthony Gonzalez, WR Roy Hall/TE Rory Nicol, LT Alex Boone, LG Steve Rehring, C Doug Datish, RG T.J. Downing, RT Kirk Barton.
Coordinator: Jim Bollman
Awards: Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien, Walter Camp POY (Smith); Silver Football, Big Ten Offensive POY (Smith); 1st-team All-American (Smith); 1st-team All-Big Ten (Smith, Ginn, Gonzalez, Datish, Downing); Academic All-American (Gonzalez, White); OSU MVP (Smith).
Draft Picks: The Buckeyes lost five first-round picks in the 2006 draft including WR Santonio Holmes (25th overall to Pittsburgh) and center Nick Mangold (29th overall to the New York Jets) yet still fielded one of the best offenses in school history. Wideouts Ginn (ninth overall to Miami) and Gonzalez (32nd to Indianapolis) went in the first round the following spring. Four other members of the offense joined them in the draft as Pittman went in the fourth round to New Orleans, Hall (Indianapolis) and Smith (Baltimore) went in the fifth round, and Datish in the sixth to Atlanta. Boone also would go on to play for San Francisco.
Vital Statistics: OSU’s season averages of 34.6 points and 384.5 yards per game don’t live up to the reputation this unit rightfully earned as one of the most lethal in the country. OSU finished with 4,999 yards of total offense on the season but hit a brick wall in the season finale with the title on the line. Smith was sensational throughout the regular season and proved he could stay in the pocket and damage foes with his arm. He racked up 2,542 passing yards, 30 TDs and completed 65.3 percent of his passes.
Pittman logged 1,233 yards rushing, 5.1 yards per carry and 14 TDs while freshman Beanie Wells was a nice complement who averaged 5.5 ypc. Ginn (59 catches, 781 yards, 9 TDS) and Gonzo (51, 734, 8) had nearly identical outputs and left defenses guessing. Future pros Brian Robiske, Brian Hartline and Hall combined for another 59 catches nine scores.
Overview: The Buckeyes, of course, nearly went wire-to-wire in their pursuit of a second national title in the Tressel era, that is until it all came crashing down vs. the Gators in Glendale, Ariz. Still, they had the look and feel of a top-ranked team throughout the season thanks in large part to a forceful offense that not only befuddled elite teams but also put up 44 points on Illinois and Minnesota and 54 on Northwestern. With Smith as a centerpiece, the Buckeyes were good theater and apparently good for TV ratings as OSU games were featured for ESPN’s “Gameday” program five times. SI cover boy Datish, a co-captain along with Smith, also had an outstanding season in the middle of the offensive line and was a finalist for the Rimington Award. Not many of these offensive players have lit it up in the NFL but Smith’s legacy is cemented. He will become a College Football Hall of Fame member some day.
Smith also will be remembered for taking the Ohio State offense into the stratosphere. Will Miller do the same before he is done?
*This is the latest installment of Jeff Rapp’s Weekly Sports Rapp on The-Ozone.net. He is a regular voice on 610 WTVN in Columbus and long-time reporter covering the Buckeyes. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out more of Jeff’s work on SportsRappUp.com.