When it comes to building a highly successful offense, coaches usually have one of two options: Either do one thing so well that opponents can't stop it (Wisconsin and the power rush, Texas Tech and the four verticals), or be so versatile that game-planning is an exercise in futility (Boise State with Kellen Moore and OC Bryan Harsin, Auburn with Cam Newton and OC Gus Malzahn).
Historically, Ohio State has been much more the former than the latter. It's hard to think of a great Ohio State team that didn't have a workhorse in the backfield, the guy you could count on for 150 yards and a score or two no matter who was lining up on the other side of the field. "Three yards and a cloud of dust" typified the Big Ten for decades, and that's because Woody Hayes kept making it work extremely well.
Oh, but change isn't coming to Columbus—it's already here. Thanks to one position change by Urban Meyer and another potential move, Ohio State will have the most versatile offense in the Big Ten, and that should be frightening news for the rest of the conference.
Last week, Meyer announced that Jake Stoneburner was moving from the No. 1 tight end position to wide receiver (though Urban Meyer compared his role to Aaron Hernandez at Florida). That, by itself, dramatically changed the look of the OSU offense, giving the Buckeyes as much size among the skill positions as virtually anybody in the nation.
A few days later, Corey "Philly" Brown, Ohio State's presumptive top wideout, told reporters he was trying to get into the backfield. Here's more from the Columbus Dispatch:
Obviously, Brown thinks he is fast, but he also thinks he can fill the void at the pivotal running back/receiver position, with projected starter Jordan Hall’s return still several weeks away as he recovers from a cut foot that required surgery. “I would love to do that,” Brown said. “Obviously, having Jordan out is bad, but hopefully I can step in and fill in for him.”
Brown starred as a do-everything running back in high school outside of Philadelphia in Upper Darby, Pa., where he also was all-state in track. At 6 feet and 186 pounds, he is never going to be confused for the 5-9, 198-pound Hall, but there is a chance he could be a capable substitute as the hybrid, or H, back.
“The ‘H’ is coach (Urban) Meyer’s guy, the person that’s our man (coverage) beater, or just the person we’re going to go to,” said Brown, who added that he and Jake Stoneburner had been spending time at the spot, depending on the formation.
The problem for Brown is that position demands a player who can often line up on the wing and be an effective runner inside and outside, as well as being a quality receiver.
“I’m not sure how many carries he can withstand inside the tackles,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said of Brown. “But he could certainly motion into the backfield and become a pitch guy on the option because he does have some acceleration and some speed.”
In other words, we're looking at more of a Chris Rainey role than Chris Wells. And this move is both unofficial and likely temporary. But if the coaches are talking about it, there's something to it. Moreover, Brown isn't going to unlearn those added responsibilities once Hall returns from injury. If anything, Hall's return is just going to add even more dimensions to that offense.
So here's what Ohio State can now bring to the table:
Stoneburner, a TE-turned-WR who can create mismatches on the outside or motion back to TE or into the backfield.
Brown, a WR-turned-H-Back who can provide speed on the edges or as a weapon in slow-developing rushes and misdirections in the backfield.
Hall, a RB-turned-H-Back who has extensive experience as a starting tailback and should also be able to work on the edges.
And to top it all off, Braxton Miller, a lightning-fast quarterback who must be accounted for in rushing situations.
The amount of formations, base plays and situational adjustments Ohio State can execute on offense now without switching personnel packages is now mind-boggling. Now, Ohio State can make adjustments based on the defense's personnel; usually it's the other way around.
Third and 2 and the defense is going heavy? Motion into a straight I-formation and exploit a linebacker on the outside. Defense playing back on a four-wide? Bring Stoneburner and Hall back between the tackles and take your five yards every time.
This offense isn't perfect now, of course; Miller's going to need to keep improving as a passer, and there isn't a great tailback on the roster yet, no go-to guy in the clutch as far as we can tell.
But this offense is dangerous. And it's still learning.