Bench the quarterback! No, it’s the offensive line! Actually, the receivers are to blame! You’re all wrong – it’s just bad playcalling!
Everyone from Youngstown to Portsmouth had a theory about why Ohio State’s offense had been so lethargic in the Buckeyes’ 31-16 loss to Oklahoma.
At that point, the unit had looked somewhere between lethargic and non-existent for 4.5 of its previous five games stretching back to the previous November, and it wasn’t clear if an offseason overhaul of the coaching staff had improved things at all.
Since then, the Buckeyes have topped 500 yards of total offense in five consecutive games, the first time they’ve done that in school history. They have also scored more than 50 points in their last four games.
It’s certainly fair to point to the quality of competition; Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska won’t be confused with Oklahoma, Michigan or Clemson any time soon.
However, the Buckeyes say the biggest change is that they’re keeping things simple.
“We’ve talked about just making sure guys aren’t thinking so much and just go play,” said senior center Billy Price. “Go play fast, put the ball down, snap the ball, let’s go. I think the biggest thing is just as soon as you start thinking and making sure, ‘I have to have this guy’ or ‘I have to have this guy’ or you’re trying to dissect things, that’s when players start to play slow. And that’s what our focus is: don’t play slow.”
For the Buckeyes, keeping things simple means giving everybody fewer decisions to make on every play.
“I think the biggest thing for (OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett) is making it one read, not two or three. Make it one read and say ‘if they do this, this is where the ball goes.’ And that allows us as an offensive line to play really, really aggressive, just start blowing guys off the ball and just moving them, which is fun for us,” said Price.
“As a tackle or a guard or a center, whoever you are, if you’re thinking and making sure that you’re identifying defenses and what that blitz is exactly to make sure you block it perfectly, you’re not coming off as aggressive as you need to be. Playing offensive line is a game of aggression. Go out there, have some fun, get after someone.”
OSU head coach Urban Meyer said he’s seeing the results in every segment of the attack.
“I think our quarterback is playing at a very high level. His confidence level is elite right now and we practice that way,” said Meyer. “That’s what I like to see is the tempo in practice. Our quarterback runs the show, but the offensive line, I see them coming on. I see receivers, and that’s a good time to be getting that feeling within the offense.”
Meyer is generally a harsh critic of his own team, and sets very aggressive benchmarks for his offense. Right now he sees them being met week after week.
“When you look up at the scoreboard and see a very balanced offense, that’s what our goal is,” said Meyer. “Our goal is a 250 (yards rushing) 250 (yards passing) game and we’re getting those kind of performances the last few games. We’re very well aware what’s coming down the pipe here.”
As the Buckeyes and their fans know, Penn State is next on the schedule, and the Nittany Lions’ defense should present the toughest challenge of the year so far for the OSU attack.
As the legal disclaimer on investing ads says, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. The 2016 Ohio State offense hung back-to-back 62-3 beatdowns on Maryland and Nebraska immediately before its ugly stretch to close the year. However, the Buckeyes say the changes they’ve made in the past month are a reason to think that this year’s explosion will last.
“I think the biggest thing is making sure that we’re aggressive, we’re playing fast, and just the philosophies and the ideas that our offensive coaching staff believes in. I think that’s probably the biggest difference,” said Price.
Meyer agrees – not necessarily because of what he sees not on Saturdays, but during the week.
“I feel that we’re a good team because I like our practice habits, I like the clean living that we have, I like the fact that it’s all good guys,” Meyer said. “This is a good football team. How good? We’re going to find out down the stretch run.”