The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the offense in Year Two with Justin Fields? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
What type of offense will Ryan day run this season will it be 2018 Haskins offense or the 2019 dual one??
— Trey hawk (@saleenbai) February 8, 2020
Ryan Day is serious about his willingness to tweak his system to feature what his quarterbacks do best, and that was quite clear when Ohio State went completely pass-happy two years ago with Dwayne Haskins leading the attack.
But the pendulum also seemed to swing too far and came at the expense of a reliable, hard-nosed ground game, which was adjusted a year ago for several reasons. So, the Buckeyes aren’t likely to go back to airing it out quite that frequently, even if the arm talent of Justin Fields remains a bit underrated as he’s proven more than capable of winning games as a passer.
First of all, Haskins leaving early for the NFL meant there had to be a change. The arrival of Fields and his dual-threat ability also opened up more options since his predecessor largely wasn’t a factor as a rusher. And the Buckeyes not only wanted to feature J.K. Dobbins in the backfield more often, but the previous season’s breakdowns in short-yardage and red-zone situations made it a necessity since there is no on/off switch for a successful rushing attack — it either exists or it doesn’t.
Ohio State isn’t going to forget about that lesson. There’s no reason to anticipate that Fields will be throwing 40 times per game next season, even if there is currently some uncertainty about who be taking over the primary rushing duties at tailback. Yes, the Buckeyes have an athletic, talented group of wide receivers and tight ends returning along with a quarterback who can make every pass required at the position. But the Buckeyes are definitely going to need Master Teague, a healthy Marcus Crowley or potentially even Steele Chambers or freshman Miyan Williams to step up and maintain the offensive balance.
Where it gets more interesting with Fields heading into his second season leading Ohio State is how much more of that rushing load he might shoulder. For all of the attention on his blazing speed, spin moves and a remarkable toughness after contact, Fields typically wasn’t turned loose all that often by the play-calling — and also tended to scramble more to throw than to call his own number on the ground. He has a rare skill set, there’s no doubt. And while it requires a delicate balance to keep him protected from unnecessary hits, without one of the most productive running backs in school history in the backfield with him, it’s possible that Fields might help reshape the offense with his legs to make up for the loss of Dobbins.
The beauty for Day is that he’s finally got a chance to coach the same starter for two years and fine-tune the offense around his abilities. And for Fields, he’s going to be even more comfortable and involved in the process now that he’s got a full year under his belt in the system and a Heisman Trophy-finalist campaign that serves as a clear reminder that he’s a fast learner.
“I thought from game one all the way to the last game he really improved,” Day said. “So it’s exciting that we’re going to have him back. That’s what’s so exciting. With so many quarterbacks I feel like over the last eight years, I haven’t had a quarterback that’s started and then come back and had another year with them. This is the first time I’ve had it, since I can remember. So that’s exciting.”
Justin Fields instantly brought a new, different level of excitement to the Ohio State offense. This season will require a few tweaks, but there’s no reason to really mess much with a good thing.
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