Liberal Substitutions Likely to Continue for Buckeyes
By John Porentas
The Texas games produced some strange numbers.
We're not talking about statistics. We're talking more along the lines of 67,63, 54, 71, 79, 13, 6, 51 and 55. Those are the numbers of players like Kyle Mitchum, Ben Person, Tyler Whaley, Steve Rehring, Jon Skinner, Andre Amos, Larry Grant, Ross Homan and Curtis Terry, none of whom are starters this season, but all of whom saw action at critical moments in OSU's game against Texas last weekend.
We heard all fall that the Buckeyes would roll a lot of players through their lineup. We hear that a lot of years, but last Saturday the OSU coaching staff proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that when they say they are going to substitute freely, they mean it. Players like the ones listed above didn't just get into the game, they were inserted into the game at critical moments, and more importantly, they all made plays and contributed to a win that has to be one of the bigger non-conference regular-season road wins in the last 20 years or so.
What makes all that possible is confidence. The OSU coaching staff has enough confidence in their backups that they are able to throw them into games no matter what the situation, and according to Luke Fickell, the game experience they get breeds more confidence. Once the cycle begins, it perpetuates itself and leads to a far better football team in both the short and long run.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"That's how you learn, and it helps you so much in the long run because you don't wait until it's their time to start before they've had any playing experience," said Fickell.
"For team morale it create a feeling that guys have a chance, have a shot, they're getting an opportunity, and that's all you can really ask for," Fickell said.
"It does a great job for morale and if guys perform and they're playing well, they deserve to play. That's what we keep trying to tell them," Fickell said.
The practice is relatively new to Ohio State, but in other parts of the country where heat is a factor, liberal substitutions have been the norm for quite some time.
"I remember back when I was in school we were in a bowl game against Alabama and about 30 plays into the game here come guys with brand new white pants that weren't even dirty," Fickell recalled.
Against Texas, the OSU offensive coaching staff substituted the entire offensive line following Donald Washington's return of a fumble to the 50-yard line. The second team offensive line was in for the whole drive which resulted in a touchdown. It not only was the first score of the game, but for the players on the field, it was a highlight moment.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"That was probably my favorite part of the game," said OSU wide receive Anthony Gonzalez.
"Once they went in we drove down and scored, that was awesome.
"I just think of guys like a Tyler Whaley who I came in with and has worked so hard and done more-than his fair share when it comes to the things necessary to be a successful player and just to be out there with a guy like that and see him in the endzone with you after a touchdown is scored. It's a lot of fun, it really is.
"That's what kind of makes it all worth it, to celebrate with these guys who you've worked with so long and so hard and who you have such high respect and admiration for," Gonzalez said.
OSU tight ends coach John Peterson shared Gonzalez' happiness for the success the second line had in such a big game.
"I just know how hard those guys work and the unsung heroes who practice every day and it was great to see them have success on such a tremendous stage that we've had," Peterson said.
Peterson said that not only did that drive help those players, but helped the regular starters play better throughout the course of the rest of the contest.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"It gives the guys who are in the heat of the battle some time to kind of settle their emotions down sometimes before they get into the thick of the game again. It works a lot different ways," Peterson said. "I know it definitely was a great opportunity and it worked out wonderful. I think it was a boost to everybody."
Over on the defense the OSU staff has substituted liberally along the defensive front for quite a few seasons, but this year they are also doing it at linebacker and in the defensive backfield. The assumption might be that no one has yet separated to become the clear-cut starter, but according to Fickell, there is more to it than that.
"It's just the right thing to do," said Fickell. "Those guys have earned the right to play and deserve a chance, so they are getting onto the field."
Fickell rotated his linebackers liberally against Texas, and much like the offensive line, at times substituted for the entire group, bringing in three new linebackers to replace the three starters. Fickell says he is doing it that way at the moment, but hopes to evolve to the point where he can mix and match all six of his linebackers as the situation dictates.
"You like to keep some guys in with others that have played more just for experience, but the more experience these guys get, they get interchangeable. By the end of the year you can save some wear and tear and be strong in the end," Fickell said.
Return to the-Ozone Columns and Features