Better or Worse in the Big Ten East in 2016: Ohio State Offense
Players and coaches come and go every year in the Big Ten, but oftentimes trends continue on offense even with the new faces. This week at Land of 10, we are going to take a look at every offense in the league and compare it to a year ago, making a determination if they should be better or worse in 2016. We will assess a team a day in each division, with the Ohio State Buckeyes up next.
With a boatload of underclassmen off to the NFL, it’s not hard to see why 2016 could end up being a down year for Ohio State football.
While that’s especially true for the defense, the offense is also looking to replace a number of playmakers, including running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receivers Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall and tight end Nick Vannett. And that’s to say nothing of the offensive line, which will be without left tackle Taylor Decker, center Jacoby Boren and right tackle Chase Farris.
Luckily for Ohio State, the Buckeyes do return quarterback J.T. Barrett, who will no longer be burdened by a quarterback battle or an injury recovery that both seemed to contribute to a rocky 2015 campaign. It will also be Barrett’s second year of working with Tim Beck as quarterbacks coach and Ed Warinner as the offensive coordinator.
“Coming in the first time and going through it, every coach has different ways of doing things all the time, and there’s a learning curve that goes with that as well,” Beck said. “I know what to expect more, and then we can dive into J.T. and really push him.”
Ohio State’s offensive replacements may be relatively inexperienced, but there’s no shortage of talent. Running back Mike Weber, H-backs Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson, tight end Marcus Baugh and offensive tackle Jamarco Jones were all four-star prospects who ranked in the top 100 of the 247Sports composite rankings in their respective recruiting classes. Whether those players can seamlessly transition into the roles of their predecessors will go a long way toward determining the success of the team in 2016.
Here’s what you need to know about Ohio State’s offense:
Ohio State by the numbers
Total yards per game: 434.1 (3rd in Big Ten/No. 41 nationally)
Rushing yards per game: 245.2 (1st in Big Ten/No. 11 nationally)
Passing yards per game: 188.8 (12th in Big Ten/No. 100 nationally)
Key players lost: RB Ezekiel Elliott, OT Taylor Decker, RB Bri’onte Dunn
Key returning players: RB Mike Weber, C Pat Elflein, RG Billy Price
The skinny: Replacing Elliott is not going to be a fun task for OSU, and it became even less so when fifth-year senior Bri’onte Dunn was dismissed from the team right before fall camp. Ohio State has what many believe to be a dangerous skilled player in Weber, a player nicknamed “Baby Los” during last year’s fall camp for his resemblance to former OSU running back Carlos Hyde. There’s also a chance the Buckeyes get creative with their options and use Wilson and Samuel as backfield threats more often. Look for the possibility of true freshman Demario McCall contributing as well, especially if he shows flashes in the return game and forces OSU coaches to give him a look in the backfield.
Key players lost: WR Michael Thomas, WR Braxton Miller, TE Nick Vannett, QB Cardale Jones, WR Jalin Marshall
Key returning players: QB J.T. Barrett, WR Corey Smith, WR Noah Brown
The skinny: It’s never a good sign when two of the key returning players are coming off broken legs, but that is Ohio State’s situation right now. With that being said, the first name on the list is still a pretty important one. If Barrett can make a leap after a subpar 2015, the ceiling for this offense will be awfully high. How high? That will depend on the development of the wide receivers. In addition to Smith and Brown, the Buckeyes will also be counting on Baugh to become a reliable threat at tight end and take pressure off the receivers.
One stat that must improve
The passing game has to be better than it was in 2015, when the Buckeyes averaged only 188.8 yards per game. Barrett is due for a bounce-back season in the accuracy department after his completion percentage fell by more than 1 percent from 2014 to 2015, but an even bigger concern for Ohio State was the lack of a deep ball threat.
The departure of Devin Smith hurt, but there are more than enough explosive players on the roster. The Buckeyes need someone like Austin Mack or Torrance Gibson to step up and haul in some deep passes that might give Barrett more possessions in the red zone, where he’s been a wizard. There’s no reason why this offense can’t produce around 230 passing yards per game, much less 200.
Right now, the biggest concern seems to be whether the offensive line will be able to hold it together in time for the Sept. 17 showdown against Oklahoma. With Malcolm Pridgeon now out for at least three months with a knee injury, the offensive tackle spots appear to belong to Jamarco Jones (left) and Isaiah Prince (right).
Pat Elflein is playing a new position, Billy Price switched over from left to right guard and Michael Jordan might become the second freshman offensive lineman to ever start for Urban Meyer. All of those players were incredibly well thought of coming out of high school, so it’s conceivable that the unit gets it together in a hurry.
Better or worse in 2016?
BETTER: This might sound like crazy talk given some of the losses that Ohio State sustained, but I think the defense will feel the brunt of the NFL departures more than the offense. At the end of the day, Ohio State still has Barrett at quarterback and Elflein at center. I also think it’s reasonable to expect continued success from the partnership of Warinner and Beck up in the booth given that the Buckeyes looked like a completely different offense during the routs of Michigan and Notre Dame after Warinner moved upstairs as offensive coordinator.
Furthermore, they’re probably aiming for a lower ceiling than they should be. The 2015 Buckeyes ended up being a great team, but the offense didn’t consistently produce the numbers it should have. OSU scored just 20 points against Northern Illinois and also failed to eclipse 30 points against Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State. Despite some personnel losses, this year’s group will do better than that.