COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s kickoff struggles last season were well-documented, and the Buckeyes’ attempt to improve in that area has been made more complicated by proposed legislation that would turn fair catches inside the 10-yard line into touchbacks.
For now, though, Ohio State is approaching kickoffs the same way it always has — by trying to land the ball in a corner of the field just short of the goal line to try to force a return out of the opposing team. Neither kicker was made available during specialist interviews after practice on Wednesday, but long snapper Liam McCullough said he didn’t anticipate a change in Ohio State’s approach if the rule change is passed.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a dramatic change in strategy,” McCullough said. “Ohio State has been so successful in kickoff coverage in the past. I think it’s more just getting the kickers comfortable in the scheme. As a freshman, that’s a big adjustment [for Blake Haubeil in 2017] coming into this really tough scheme. But I don’t think there will be any changes to our strategy.”
The proposal is scheduled to be discussed on April 13, which means the Buckeyes will go virtually all of spring practice without having any updates on the likelihood of the rule being implemented. When spring practice began, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said there had been no decision made on what to do.
“Haven’t given it a lot of thought,” he said. “It’s the toughest play probably in sports and in football. I haven’t given it enough thought because I think it just came out. I haven’t really thought about it. And I’ll have an opinion at some point. I know Coach [Greg] Schiano and I have already talked briefly about it.
“But kickoff, the history lesson around here, kickoff has been dynamic. I know we’ve had a couple of bad ones, but when you start talking about the accumulation of yardage gained by pinning the team down around the 10-yard line, we did a five-year, six year study of it, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. So that’s a weapon we’re having taken away from us.”
If the Buckeyes are confident in Haubeil’s placement and the kickoff team’s coverage, however, it would make sense to keep the same approach even if the rule change takes effect. Touchbacks would become more common, but placing it in the corner next to the goal line would still be the best way to try to force a return and get a stop deep in opposing territory.