Buckeyes have enough talent, creativity to do anything on offense

Tim May11/12/20
Article written by:On3 imageTim May


Ohio State plays Rutgers on Saturday, November 7,2020.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day and quarterback Justin Fields have a deep playbook. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

COLUMBUS — The Ohio State scoring barrage is on hold, this week’s scheduled game at Maryland canceled due to a breakout of Covid-19 among the Terps.

But there’s no doubt that deep within the almost hermetically sealed Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ryan Day and his staff already are scheming what they’re going to toss offensively at Indiana in next week’s surprising Big Ten East showdown.

They won’t be revealing the plan ahead of time, of course. But one aspect of it seems obvious: It will be multi-faceted. As in, it will have myriad formations, rarely running the same play twice — and if they do, it likely will be from a different look.

It’s been that way through the first three games of this abbreviated season, and quarterback Justin Fields can point to at least one reason why: The extended time for preparation due to the quarantine-like conditions before the season started last month.

“I just think we’ve had so many reps at these certain types of plays,” Fields said. “I think this quarantine, since we weren’t able to practice, I think we got in the most amount of plays we’ve ever gotten in.”

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has been picking apart defenses. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

Take the first half last week against Rutgers. In building a 35-3 lead at the break, the Buckeyes ran 38 plays (21 runs, 17 passes) for 353 yards (232 passing, 121 rushing). Of those plays, there appeared to be formation duplication on just a few. A couple of those, for example, were from empty sets with four wide receivers and one tight end — and even those had spacing differences.

Long gone, indeed, is the approach of, say, the mid-1970s when the Woody Hayes-inspired offense was usually variations on a theme – the I formation – while jumping down into the Robust T when the goal line was near.

Oh, this year’s offense revealed it has a T, by the way, quarterback Justin Fields at shotgun depth flanked by a running back and a tight end. It has the I, but it’s Fields at Pistol depth with a running back behind him; and a Power I with the same look augmented by a tight end up at quarterback depth on one side or the other.

But then there are so many other formations and schemes.

“There’s a good amount of plays we have to remember, but I think those plays become easy to remember … because of the amount of reps we do and the amount of time we put in studying those plays,” Fields said. “I pick up on things pretty fast. I might only have to run it once or twice to get a good feel for the play.”

Having a veteran quarterback is key for Day. Then having a dual-threat quarterback such as Fields who seems as comfortable executing pass plays on the roll as from the pocket takes it up a notch in terms of diversity.

“Certainly it’s different when you have a quarterback who has been here for two years,” Day said. “He now has a Rolodex and catalog of plays that he has. Really, the way we do it is we have our core concepts that we just rep, rep, rep, rep, rep so that, really, you feel confident calling at any time — even if we haven’t practiced it that much that week and we need it, based on what we’re seeing.

“And then we have game plan things that are specific to that opponent, and then, based on what we’re seeing, we try to adjust from there. I’d say it’s rare that we’re going to get exactly what we expect.”

Ryan Day-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State coach Ryan Day will have an extra week to prepare for Indiana. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

For example, last week when Rutgers was having success attacking the middle of the Ohio State offensive line, one play Day would bring a tight end into the backfield to help with pass protection; the next play he rolled Fields out on the edge to avoid the pressure.

Day calls that simply moving to one of “the buckets” of schemes the Buckeyes have. In the case last week, “to change the launch point” in the passing game “is always good,” since it takes pressure off the line, and helps extend pass routes among other things.

The ability to find answers within the playbook seems limitless.

“That just speaks to how great of a football mind Coach Day and [offensive coordinator Kevin] Wilson are — and all of our offensive coaches, really,” tight end Luke Farrell said. “They scheme better than anybody I’ve seen. I think we have complete faith in them to give us a plan every week that’s putting us in a great position to win.

“[Fields] opens up any possibility. It gives Coach Day and Wilson free rein to do whatever they want, having complete confidence in Justin that he’ll get the job done. His production has spoken for itself on that.”

Fields has faith in Day, too, to keep spinning the dial.

“Coach Day has been doing this for a long time, so of course he knows a lot about the game of football,” Fields said. “So I think he has an answer for about anything.”

If there is a theme this year, it’s that Day, Wilson and company are going use the tight ends – usually Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert — for the major spice kick to their recipes. From flanking them out, to bringing them in classic tight to a tackle, to having two of them on the field at the same time, to, as previously pointed out, using them in the backfield in place of a classic tight end, they are the wild cards.

Jeremy Ruckert-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert is an emerging weapon. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“If you had told me that, coming out of high school, that I would be playing a little fullback at Ohio State, I would have looked at you kind of sideways,” Ruckert said. “But being able to switch up those looks and being able to go all over I think might play with the defense a little more and give them more stuff to kind of prepare for. Whatever is best for them for me to do, I’m on board for it.”

From game to game, sometimes from play to play, the ride varies, too.

“Each week is different; we don’t have, like, a base game plan,” said Ruckert, who happens to be the team’s third-leading receiver with nine catches, three for touchdowns. “We have obviously our base plays that we can run in any game, but most of the plays we run are based off of the teams we’re going to play, and we try to get ready with that.

“Every week it changes, and it shows how we good we are at taking the meetings to the field. We only get one shot at most plays so we just try to execute it in practice so we can execute it in the game.”

So what possibly could be coming next?

“I would say Coach Day has many things from every formation,” Ruckert said. “Just leave it like that.”