Since this week is Ohio State week I figured that just a regular Q&A with an Ohio State blogger wasn't sufficent. This is Ohio. That Team Down South. This is the Pride of Colum---no wait, that's Trey Burke.
Anyway, I figured that the only way to go is to ask more questions and talk to more people. One of those people is SBNation's own Luke Zimmermann who not only helps steer the ship over at EDSBS, but is now running the network's Ohio State site, Land-Grant Holy Land, a recent start up that took the place of Along the Olentangy. LGHL has been doing some great work thus far, so be sure to stop over there and learn a little about that team you love to hate.
And since you can't talk about Ohio State football without acknowledging the stellar work of Eleven Warriors, I also sent the questions to Ramzy Nasrallah, who was kind enough to add his thoughts as well.
Since this ran so long I decided to make it into a two-part piece. Part two (the defense, recruiting, and the future) will run tomorrow morning. Today let's talk about what the future has in store for Ohio State's offense.
Few teams in the Big Ten put together a more up and down season than Ohio State in 2011. There were putrid efforts (at Miami, vs. MSU), unnecessarily close games (vs. Toledo, vs. Indiana), late collapses (at Purdue, at Nebraska), and the inexplicable win against conference champion Wisconsin. So, like, what the hell man? Was the coaching situation to blame or was it something about the offense that caused the uneven play from game to game? Are you worried about this going into next season, or was the schizophrenic nature of the season an anomaly caused by the perfect storm of unfortunate events off the field?
Luke - It's easy to forget that multiple times as late as November there were scenarios where if Ohio State kept winning and the right combinations of auxiliary events transpired, the Buckeyes would've won the Leaders division.
I think it was a perfect storm of a younger than usual team (maybe the youngest Jim Tressel would've had since 2004), the tumult of the previous rocky offseason, and as you alluded, a coaching staff that was so used to operating symbiotically, or perhaps more apropos, like drones to a singular controlled hive mind, that once that "head" had been removed, the rest of the body simply didn't know how to function autonomously. The uncertainty of the quarterback situation early in the season didn't help and coupled with the growing pains of starting a freshman quarterback in the heart of conference play was just too much for an already shaky offense to bear. You also have to consider that said freshman was being "coached up" by a copy boy who's highest level of division one coaching experience prior to inexplicably being handed the reigns (in title only at the time) of "Ohio State quarterbacks coach" was being an assistant video coordinator.
So as far as it trickling into next season, I think some, though certainly not all trepidations, are very valid. The shell of that hot mess of an offense will be a year older, but it'll also be adjusting and having to assimilate an astronomically different offense. Some of the problem parts (e.g. noted war criminal Joe Bauserman) are long gone, but there's still no perceived consistent threat at wide receiver in an offense that necessitates balance. The running game should be quite strong, though there's still room for concern in what will likely be an average very green offensive line.
Ramzy -Think about summer camp as a child: There was always that one authoritarian headmaster who supervised a bunch of high school camp counselors that ran the entire operation and kept them in line. Now imagine if the headmaster was suddenly eaten by a bear prior to camp and the best counselor was thrust into his position.
That best counselor - now in charge - is a fine leader. But the absence of the now-eaten headmaster has a chilling effect: 1) One of the counselors who has always been terrible - let's call him "Jim Bollman" is fully exposed. 2) The headmaster's charity hire who basically allowed him to still be a counselor (which he always was at heart - we'll call him "QB Coach") is left alone in charge of a small group of campers who have never camped before.
The kids are shaken and the entire culture of the camp disintegrates. The staff is fragmented and the entire program falls apart. Once the disastrous camp is finished the vast majority of the counselors either fail to find work or end up at decidedly shittier camps.
I'm not worried about this season: Ohio State got another great headmaster and the campers have always been solid. And this metaphor is now exhausting.
Going forward the offense will be radically different from what Ohio State fans are used to. Urban Meyer runs a power-heavy spread-rushing attack that has shown the ability to be devastating given the right talent. The most important piece of the puzzle seems to be in place with Braxton Miller returning after starting the latter half of the 2011 season. I think Miller will eventually be a great quarterback, but I am curious to hear what the opinion of him is for 2012 from someone who follows the program closely. Is there going to be a big adjustment period? Will Ohio State still struggle with the passing game again this year? Will Miller surprise everyone with a great sophomore campaign in an offense more suited for his skills?
Luke - There definitely will be an adjustment period and honestly it might even frustrate those that have seen the flashes of Braxton at his best this early in his young career. Unlike previous Utah or Florida quarterbacks who had a year to understudy (at minimum) to learn the system, Miller will have to undo a season of bad habits and pray for a retroactive memory block that keeps old terminology from overriding new knowledge. I think Miller will be better than he was in year one and (with no real threat to his throne) more confident in himself, but he also won't be the all-conference caliber weapon many scarlet-colored-glasses wearing types out there are hoping he'll be.
Ramzy - Ohio State always played some elements of spread. The biggest adjustment will be competent line and QB coaching (the latter was prolific where Jim Tressel and the late Joe Daniels were involved; Nick Siciliano's only purpose on the Ohio State staff was to allow Tressel to coach QBs if/until Daniels recovered from cancer, which he did not). The fact that Miller was as good as he was without a lick of coaching is astonishing. I think he has a big year.
There has been a lot of ink spilled this year in the discussion of Urban Meyer's search for a Percy Harvin-type do-it-all receiver/running back. While this role is important, Ohio State still has some serious questions on the outside as well after losing DeVier Posey. Who do you expect to step up for the Buckeyes on the outside? Is there anyone on the roster who is going to be able to fill that Harvin role?
Luke - Herman's touches on the offense (and simple evolution over time coupled with personnel) might not make it as perfectly analogous to Meyer's previous schemata as many covering Ohio State are making it out to be, but I think there will be guys who can make plays in space. Jordan Hall showed the ability to both play a more traditional single back role while also get out on the edges and move the yard markers last season. Corey "Philly" Brown has all-world speed and should also be able to do things on reverses and screens that few other players in the Big Ten have the ability to. Is there going to be someone who can take over games when everyone else is out of sync and get Ohio State easy points when all else fails? Probably not. I don't think Ohio State's coaching staff are looking for another Percy Harvin, either; they're looking for the first Jalin Marshall, the first Marquez North. Few players are once-or-twice-in-a-generation freaks of nature like Harvin was, but fortunately this staff has a recruiting body of work that suggests if they're out there, they'll be in the mix for them.
Ramzy -Jordan Hall is a poor-man's migraine-free Percy Harvin. They have athletes in bunches; part of the reason the Buckeyes' WRs were so terrible last year is the offensive strategy was disastrous: Braxton Miller behind a garbage OL reading defenses and waiting for routes designed to take a half-hour to develop didn't work all year, but when Miller bailed out on the play and improvise - shocker - he often made something happen with his feet and his arm. Ohio State was far better ad-libbing on offense than it was running what Bollman scripted.
I liked Verlon Reed a lot going into last year but he was knocked out for the season very early with an injury. Freshman Michael Thomas looked beastly in the spring game with obvious confidence I haven't seen from a Buckeye WR since Santonio Holmes. Evan Spencer and Devin Smith are both solid; they shouldn't be discounted just because the offense was so bad last year. I know Philly Brown is a great athlete but he seems to have feet for hands. Jake Stoneburner, who like every TE in the Tressel era has been criminally under-utilized, stands to benefit the most from this offense once he finds a proper bathroom.
Any transition between the pro-style and spread offense ends up eliciting questions about whether the existing players are square pegs to the new offense's round hole (this was my life from 2008 to 2011). It seems on the surface that Ohio State is loaded up with bigger backs that people tend to peg for pro-style offenses. However, Urban Meyer's penchant for running power out of his spread formations could be a boon for guys like Carlos Hyde and incoming Bri'onte Dunn. What do you see the running game accomplishing this year (will it be one of the best in the Big Ten or merely average in conference as Urban works out the kinks)? Is there one running back that you expect to carry the bulk of the rushing load?
Luke - As you pointed out, this version of Meyer's offense ultimately may look very little like many of his bests at Florida in part due to dramatic personnel differences but also partially because of changes in the times. If you want to know the kind of power running things Carlos Hyde can do in the offense, it might make more sense to go back and check out the likes of Matt Asiata in a similar system for Utah post-Urban (admittedly minus the Tebow-y jump pass and half back throws they leveraged out of him). Hyde has great high end speed for a back that big and should by and large be the horse. Fortunately for his endurance's sake, Ohio State is rather deep at tailback with the aforementioned Jordan Hall, Dunn, and Rod Smith all expected to see their fair share of snaps. Ultimately after Ohio State realizes they can't pass the ball with as much consistency as they'd ideally like, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them running a disproportionate amount out of sheer necessity. The Buckeyes could very easily rank in the top 3 or 4 in conference in rushing as a result.
Ramzy - If Ohio State was returning John Navarre or Ryan Mallett at QB it would definitely be a problem. I see Miller carrying the bulk of the rushing load, followed by Hyde, Hall and Dunn. Rod Smith has at least one foot where a hand should be (so did Eddie George at the same point in his career, but I'm not good at clinging to optimistic precedents) and Zach Boren should get significant H-back work.
The offensive line was an issue last year thanks to a suspension for Mike Adams and not a lot of experience past the starters. This year Ohio State loses three starters from the already thin unit. Will the offensive line be a big issues in 2012, and do you see any true freshmen stepping in to playing time for depth reasons?
Luke - I think it'd be pollyannaish to presume it won't be an issue. Perhaps more so than losing guys, the lack of depth could really hurt Ohio State's ability to perform consistently come late October/early-to-mid November. Freshman Taylor Decker could very easily ultimately be the team's almost-every-down right tackle with his primary competition being first year offensive lineman former tight end Reid Fragel. True frosh Jacoby Boren (and brother of famous Michigan turncoat Justin) also should be in the mix at center and guard. Besides merely learning their roles in the offense, the key to the Buckeyes' offensive line play could very easily be staying healthy.
Ramzy - Well, they'll actually be competing for playing time which has hasn't happened for a decade now. Bollman was keen on doing and thinking as little as possible, which is why Ohio State has had so many four-year starters recently. This produced entitled and grossly-underperforming lineman who were never threatened by the depth chart. Eric Decker, whom Bollman didn't offer, will play as a true freshman. The first line should actually be decent. As a unit this group will be better than last year: Adams is a big loss, Shugarts was mostly-lousy and Brewster should bring Bollman up on charges for mismanaging his development.
Look for part two coming tomorrow morning.