Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Ohio State Buckeyes, Part 2, Offense
Last week, I got my feet wet with Ohio State, looking at the program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Buckeyes will do this season.
This week, I'll look at the 2012 Ohio State offense.
2010 stats are included in these numbers even though they were officially vacated
2011 scoring offense: 24.5 PPG (eighth in the conference), total offense: 317.9 YPG (11th), rushing YPC: 4.42 (fourth), passing efficiency: 127.80 (sixth)
Average scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 4.4
Best scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: second (2010)
Worst scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: eighth (2011)
Returning starters: QB Braxton Miller, FB Zack Boren, RB Jordan Hall (injured), RB Carlos Hyde, WR Chris Fields, WR Verlon Reed, WR Corey Brown, TE Jake Stoneburner (currently off scholarship), OT Andrew Norwell, OG Marcus Hall, OG Jack Mewhort (currently off scholarship)
Open Positions: OL
Offensive Formation: Spread
Offensive Philosophy: Create mismatches
Passing Scheme: West Coast
Rushing scheme: Zone read option
Contrary to what some believe, Urban Meyer did not invent the spread offense. He also didn't invent the shotgun or the triple option.
More than anything else, Urban Meyer and the offense for which he's famous took bits and pieces of successful past offenses and pieced them together to form a—if not entirely new then certainly unique and ultimately influential offense.
Obviously, that offense is pure spread. Meyer's offense will have nothing to do with power formations in which the quarterback is under center, a fullback and tailback are in the backfield, and there are two tight ends on the line.
Meyer wants to spread the field in order to make it easier for the quarterback to get the ball into his playmakers' hands, open up rushing lanes for every offensive skill-position player and create mismatches.
His offense operates strictly out of the shotgun, the base play of the running game is the zone read option, and the basics of the passing game owe their beginnings to Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense (explanation per Footballoutsiders.com).
Meyer's offense is ideally rush-first. His offense, working with three different starting quarterbacks, ran on 57.7 percent of its plays during his time at Florida. In two years at Utah, during both of which Alex Smith was the starting signal-caller, the Utes ran on 61.3 percent of their plays.
What makes it unique is that the rushing game comes from all different angles and all different positions. Obviously, the quarterback and running back are threats to run, but running backs and receivers line up all over the field. A receiver out of the slot is just as likely to take a handoff as a tailback lined up next to the quarterback.
In other words, Meyer has broken down the barriers between running back and receiver.
This philosophy, in effect, maximizes the offense's ability to get the ball into the hands of its best playmakers, which, as Footballtimes.org notes, was Meyer's goal in putting together his offense.
I suspect that volumes have been written about Meyer's offense, and two particularly good ones include OSU blogs Eleven Warriors' "Installing an Offense," and Alongtheolentangy.com's "Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Offense."
What matters most is that it works, it's difficult to defend against, and if necessary, as with Florida in 2005 and 2006, Meyer can adjust the offense to fit his personnel.
However, he won't have to do much adjusting with Ohio State's personnel, most notably, the quarterback.
True freshman Braxton Miller became the full-time starter following last season's offensive no-show against Miami (FL),
He didn't do badly, but OSU became decidedly one-dimensional with him under center.
He finished the season with 157 passing attempts—the fewest of any Big Ten quarterback that started nine games or more.
Miller completed 54.1 percent of his passes for 1,159 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 715 yards, 4.50 YPC and seven touchdowns.
In 2012, more will be expected of Miller as a field general and a passer.
It's hard to imagine that he won't have an impressive career, especially now that he will run Urban Meyer's offense.
According to Meyer, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Braxton Miller is the most dynamic player I've ever coached. I've had first-rounders all over the place. But Braxton is strong, he's 215 now, and his acceleration is just off the charts. He also has a degree of humility that you almost never see in quarterbacks at Top 10 programs.
It's impossible to say if this is typical coach hyperbole, but one thing is certain: Miller is a great talent and an ideal fit for Meyer's offense.
Ohio State will get quarterback play at or near the top of the conference if he reaches his full potential this year. However, that is still an "if."
Ohio State's running back fortunes took a hit in late June when senior and probable starter Jordan Hall suffered a foot injury that will keep him out, according to ESPN, until at least Week 3 of the regular season.
In all likelihood, this will also leave him playing catchup as the season goes on, as he has to get acclimated to the new offense.
OSU has other talented backs on its roster, but Hall was the lone shifty back and thus the most ideal fit for Meyer's offense.
Last season, Hall had 100 carries for 408 yards. If he gets healthy and up to speed, look for Meyer to find ways to get him involved in the offense.
All of the other tailbacks on the roster—junior Carlos Hyde, sophomore Rod Smith and true freshmen Bri'Onte Dunn and Warren Ball—are power-oriented backs, with their average weight at 221 pounds.
Hyde is the most experienced, having logged 106 carries for 566 yards and six touchdowns last year. Smith grabbed 29 carries in 2011, but all of them came in the out-of-conference part of the season.
Meanwhile, Bri'Onte Dunn graduated high school early in order to participate in spring practice.
However, any early playing time for Dunn may have flown out the window with the news of his recent arrest (per SBNation). The charges were lessened, but he will still have to answer to Meyer.
Though Urban Meyer isn't known for making extensive use of his fullbacks, he's got a good one in senior and returning starter Zach Boren.
Up until this point in his career, Boren has 21 touches—20 receptions and one carry—but he told LimaSports.com, "There’s a bunch of stuff that will be happening with me. I’m excited to see what will happen. I guess we’ll see come Game One."
Needless to say, Ohio State has talented running backs. The question is how they will fit into Meyer's offense and if depth will be an issue until Hall gets back.
There are three commonly known elements with regards to Ohio State's 2012 receivers.
Firstly, OSU is almost always the most inherently talented team in the Big Ten, and wide receiver is one of the most talent-intensive positions on the field.
Secondly, OSU has many great talented and highly recruited receivers on its roster.
Thirdly, we barely know anything about OSU receivers because OSU rarely passed last year, though when Ohio State did pass, the receivers weren't spectacular.
In effect, there is a good deal of projection concerning the Buckeye receivers. The top returning receiver is Devin Smith, who caught 14 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns, yet he never officially started a game.
The official returning starters—i.e. they started at least four games—are juniors Chris Fields and Corey Brown and sophomore Verlon Reed.
Sophomores Evan Spencer and 6'5", 230 pound T.Y. Williams also earned playing time last year and will be in the mix.
DeVier Posey is the only receiver to have graduated, but he barely played last year. On the other hand, it says a great deal that Posey caught 12 passes in five games, thereby almost eclipsing the team lead of 14 receptions held by Smith and tight end Jake Stoneburner, each of whom played a full season.
In other words, the lack of production in the passing game wasn't due to just the play calls and inexperience at quarterback.
According to Meyer and receiver coach Zach Smith, via The Columbus Dispatch, the receivers are "not to the level we want them to and need them to" play at.
As for Stoneburner, he was in line to have a big senior season, but, due to a run-in with the law, he was stripped of his scholarship and suspended from all team activities.
He can earn his place on the team back, but, according to Meyer per CBS Sports, he "will continue to be suspended from team activities until stipulations are successfully met."
Despite the harsh words, look for Stoneburner to miss minimal, if any, game time this year.
His backup will be sophomore Jeff Heuerman, but there will be more receiver-heavy looks if Stoneburner does miss time.
The pass catchers still have to answer a number of questions, but this group will be one of the most improved in the conference and country this year.
Big Ten Position Ranking: Five
The offensive line will undergo a personality shift under Urban Meyer.
Unlike Jim Tressel's O, which featured "big uglies" in the classic Big Ten mold, Urban Meyer wants faster and more athletic linemen. For this reason, Reid Fragel's move (via Buckeye blog, the Ozone) from tight end to tackle makes perfect sense, and it is why Fragel will have a legitimate shot at a starting right tackle job in his first year at the position.
The starting left tackle will be returning junior Andrew Norwell.
The only other returning full-time starter is junior Jack Mewhort, but he was involved in the same incident as Stoneburner and is in the same situation as the tight end. Furthermore, as with Stoneburner, it is unlikely that Mewhort will miss much, if any, time.
After Norwell and Mewhort, there isn't much experience up front.
Assuming Norwell and Mewhort grab two starting positions, the other guard and tackle spots will be between Fragel, junior Marcus Hall, sophomores Antonio Underwood and Darryl Baldwin and true freshman Taylor Decker.
Finally, via the Columbus Dispatch, junior Corey Linsley has "emerged as a leader," and the starting center.
Needless to say, there is plenty of heavily-recruited talent, but stars, ratings and recruiting mumbo-jumbo from scouting services aren't as accurate about offensive linemen as they are about receivers and running backs.
Much of this group's success lies with how quickly Braxton Miller grasps what is expected of him, and how quickly the talented, though inexperienced, offensive line can come together.
It is Ohio State, so, as previously mentioned, there are plenty of athletic playmakers—albeit inexperienced playmakers—at receiver and running back. Meyer will find a way to get the ball into his best playmakers' hands.
Last year's offense was underwhelming, and there will be a learning curve with this year's O. Nevertheless, it is also a safe bet that this year's offense will easily outperform last year's.
In 2012, the Buckeye offense will have some early-season hiccups that could result in a number of sacks, turnovers, etc. that ultimately cost the Bucks a win or two.
However, if Miller figures things out, the Buckeye offense will be one of the three best in the conference by the end of the season.
If he doesn't, it will still be one of the five best.
Coming next Wednesday, an overview and breakdown of Ohio State's defense.
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