COLUMBUS, Ohio — Brace for impact. There’s some hard truth coming for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are going to be really good on offense. One more thing: They were already pretty damn good last season, too.
Whew. Feels good to really get something like that out in the open. It might sound pretty controversial when it comes to last season, not so much when it’s projecting success this year with so many experienced weapons coming back. But just hear me out.
I know that there are still bad memories from the relatively toothless performance against Oklahoma. And the nightmares remain from the turnover problems and issues with the offensive game plan at Iowa that contributed to the embarrassing collapse that ultimately cost the Buckeyes a shot at the national title. And sure, coming off the semifinal shutout the year before, maybe Ohio State lost a little benefit of the doubt.
But it feels at times this spring like the Buckeyes are being raked over the coals and forced to find answers for problems that don’t really even seem to exist. Like, for instance, in digging deep through the statistical leaderboard from last season, I discovered that Ohio State actually topped the Big Ten by scoring 41 points per game — and was the only team in the league to average more than 500 yards of total offense. Good thing the Buckeyes are being asked so frequently about what’s going to change with the system this year, right?
Look, I get that the struggles in big games stand out, and there’s no question that they’re important. It’s also fair to wonder if the Buckeyes will look different if Ryan Day does perhaps wind up with more influence along with his new title this season, and certainly breaking in a new quarterback with J.T. Barrett now gone will provide a different dynamic to the offense.
But Ohio State doesn’t need an overhaul. The Buckeyes can still improve, but that should be viewed as an encouraging sign and not a concern since they already are one of the most potent teams in the country. It’s just a matter of subtle tweaks, though, and not a completely new system.
Can the Buckeyes throw the football better? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean they need to start airing the football out 50 times per game. Simply having the top 6 receivers coming back should boost that aspect of the attack on its own. Assuming Dwayne Haskins or Joe Burrow potentially can bring more accuracy to the quarterback spot, executing the throws already in the playbook should be enough without adding a bunch of new concepts. But Ohio State under Urban Meyer at heart is always going to be based around a powerful rushing attack, and it can’t forget that at the expense of chasing a few more passing yards.
It’s certainly fun to debate play calling, and Ohio State definitely, undoubtedly left itself open to criticism in the losses last season. Arguing about who should be playing quarterback is one of the game’s best traditions and a fun way to pass the time in the offseason or get through the week between games. Identifying the guys who theoretically need more touches is right up there with the best parlor discussions as well.
Maybe I’m off base with all of this, but it just feels as if the conversations are coming from a place where Ohio State has a problem that needs to be solved. And the reality is almost every offense in the country is just trying to find a way to come close enough to sniff the production the Buckeyes are already getting.
“Well, I mean we didn’t win every game, so you’ve got to take ownership of that,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “You can always point fingers at this, this or this. But last year, we were first in the conference in basically every stat. … To me, it was a very, very good offense. We got a Big Ten championship, don’t minimize that. We got a Cotton Bowl championship, had some significant wins — also came up short.
“When you come up short, you can sit and point fingers. I always took it from years past where if we didn’t win, we didn’t score enough points. So at the end of the day, as good as we were and with a lot of great stats, we didn’t score enough to be where we wanted to be. So we’re pushing to find a few more points.”
OK, so maybe the Buckeyes weren’t perfect.
But they’re starting a lot closer to it than most of the country, and the guess here is that it’s not going to take many changes to find those extra couple of points this season.