How a November loss and a January conversation sparked Ohio State’s record-breaking performance
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The numbers were almost too big to believe.
In addition to scoring 70 points on 10 touchdowns, the Ohio State offense rolled up 776 total yards of offense – surpassing the previous best of 718 set against Mount Union in 1930. And this came after having lost star running back Ezekiel Elliott, both offensive tackles and five of the six leading receivers from last season.
So where did the Buckeyes go right? It might help to look at where they went wrong. The Buckeyes sputtered on offense most of last season, capping their struggles with a 17-14 loss to Michigan State in one of the ugliest offensive showings in recent memory. Against the Spartans defense, almost nothing went right. The execution was so poor, however, that Ohio State was forced to change.
Offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, who also coached the offensive line at the time, moved from the sideline to the coaching booth and took play-calling duties from quarterbacks coach Tim Beck. The move sparked two offensive outbursts, a 42-13 rout of Michigan and a 44-28 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
Warinner and head coach Urban Meyer wanted to make sure the offense didn’t regress, and those plans began immediately after defeating the Fighting Irish.
“We started back in January with a plan of how we wanted to do this,” Warinner said. “Coach talked to me on the airplane on the way back from the Fiesta Bowl. We had momentum in the last two games of last year and wanted to carry that into the offseason and then build on it this year. He’s the architect of it and a lot of really good coaches and a lot of really talented players worked hard over the last so many months.
“Coach Meyer had a vision. We talked about it. The coaches did a great job all offseason, and then it’s all about the players. We have great players here, talented players. They responded, were receptive and worked hard. They want to play fast and be explosive, and I think we showed we could do that.”
Warinner said he started to notice the offensive potential during spring practice and then again in fall camp. In particular, the Buckeyes’ first scrimmage of fall stood out to him as an example of what the offense might be able to do. But still: How did this happen after so many talented players walked out the door?
It didn’t hurt that quarterback J.T. Barrett looked like his old self – even better, actually – passing for six touchdowns and rushing for another to become the first player in program history to account for seven touchdowns in one game. Mike Weber was an absolute force, carrying the ball 19 times for 136 yards. And the receivers stepped up in a way few could have imagined after losing Mike Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall, with nine different players recording catches and four different receivers finding the end zone.
But, perhaps, none of that happens without the tempo that Ohio State can utilize when Warinner is in the press box. He said in the postgame press conference that he was as comfortable as he’s ever felt during a game, and it certainly showed.
Ohio State’s offense was so dominant that Meyer was almost apologetic after the game, sheepishly explaining that he tried to step off the gas midway through the third quarter, only to watch as true freshman Demario McCall sliced and diced his way to two more scores when his chance came.
“Sometimes, I hate when I see that score, where that’s not what our intent was,” Meyer said. “We do like to score a lot of points, but we wanted, I think in the middle of the third quarter, (to take) the offensive line out and everybody out. Everyone started to get comfortable and confident in the system. We had a lot of young guys who were excited to be out there.”