Let's Go On A Journey
On one hand, watching Ohio State's season implode was wonderful. All the quarterbacks in the world weren't enough to hide the absence of one good offensive coordinator (seriously, great coaches are so much more important than great players), while a coach as revered as Urban Meyer somehow couldn't diagnose his team's problems before fans were shouting them at the TV ("use your great players better, fergodsakes!!").
But on the other hand, Tim Beck and Ohio State robbed us of a rare opportunity to see so much talent unleashed on college competition. The explosive plays. The mature, hard-working players. Watching defenders try to guard Braxton Miller on a jet sweep while he throws it to a wide-open man downfield (which still hasn't happened yet, by the way). Such a blown opportunity of a veteran roster of play-makers. Such a waste.
So, to give you just a little taste of what Ohio State's offense might have looked like if things had gone a little differently, I decided to do some tinkering in the garage. Nothing grandiose - just tinkering. For one, let's assume that J.T. Barrett was the starting quarterback for most of the season, except for that rain-soaked affair with Michigan State. And then, let's assume that Zeke Elliott was leaned on more, especially late in the year against Minnesota, Michigan State, and Michigan. A couple other repairs - getting the ball more consistently to Braxton Miller & Co., especially deep shots down the field. Miller hasn't been sufficiently established in this offense in any meaningful way, Michael Thomas is the team's best all-around receiver, and Jalin Marshall offers a lot of toughness and speed.
At its best, Ohio State would challenge defenses between the tackles, horizontally, and deep, which made simple plays so much more deadly. With an efficient approach, an offense can stay on the field for extended periods while flirting constantly with the big play.
With the above, you can see Percy Harvin flex into a running back role and then follow a lead blocker into the secondary. Great play design, add explosiveness, leave for ten seconds, and you have your own touchdown. Braxton Miller has done his share of running between the tackles - but always as a Wildcat quarterback. Creativity like this has been absent.
So, what might have happened if this offense hadn't suddenly gone flat? The following is a journey of imagination, a series of assumptions based on hypotheticals, and a trip through a very, very different Ohio State season.
J.T. Barrett: 11 starts, 7.60 yards per play, 64.0%, 2631 pass, 508 rush
Last year, J.T. Barrett averaged 7.77 yards a play. This year, his rushing average has ticked up slightly, while his passing numbers have dropped off precipitously. The fact is, Ohio State isn't completing nearly as many deep passes as it was before. However, since Barrett looks about the same as he was last year, and assuming this offense is able to get a couple deep threats established, let's tab J.T. Barrett's 2015 production at a pretty similar level to last year: 7.60, much higher than its current mark of 6.41.
Let's also say that Barrett gets 75% of the quarterback's snaps, and that 2015's version of this offense is a little more pass-heavy than last year's 37.2%. The benefit to ~75% is that you can establish Barrett's strengths - efficiency, accuracy - as the base of the offense while regularly challenging defenses to prepare for Cardale and Braxton.
Zeke Elliott: 300 carries, 1890 rush, 35 catches, 300 receiving
Feed the beast. Elliott's per-carry numbers have dropped from 6.9 in 2014 to 6.3, but we'll keep that figure since more carries can sometimes mean more stuffs. Also, an offense determined to use three running quarterbacks will usually be getting eight in the box.
On the other hand, how do you not use Elliott in the pass game? Until recently, he hadn't dropped a pass all year. His catch rate for the last two years is above 91%. Leak this guy in the flat, please. Give it to Cardale with Braxton on one side, Elliott on the other, then leak them both. Just get him the ball.
Cardale Jones: 4 starts, 7.10 yards per play, 62.5%, 1050 pass, 249 rush
One benefit of the number of quarterbacks is the ability to protect each from wear and tear, while still operating a run-QB offense. Meyer loves running his quarterback up the middle, and Cardale is darn good at it. So with his 25% of the quarterback's snaps, go with some runs up the middle, jet sweeps to Braxton, hand-offs to Zeke, and more deep routes with Braxton and Michael Thomas. Throw in some four-receiver route trees for good luck. Hand off to Zeke for more good luck.
With Jones, I'll assume a bump from this year's 6.89 yards a play and last year's 7.05. After all, Cardale has gotten better and more accurate from last year to this, even if it's not always apparent.
Braxton Miller: 900 receiving, 15.0 yards a catch, 506 rush, 150 pass
I'll defer to LGHL's description:
Miller is the de facto Wildcat and change of pace quarterback for the offense. They typically use this formation after a big play, after the defense is gassed and cannot substitute. They use tempo to hurry to the line and basically allow Miller to do what he does best, improvise. Yes, there is usually a designed play, it is not backyard football, but Miller tends to bounce the run outside and makes the play on his own.
When Miller is lined up at quarterback, a zone read or some sort of fake pitch/handoff to Elliott is involved. It may be called a zone read on the field, but I do not think Miller has actually executed a proper zone read this season. He keeps the ball. Every time.
Long, long ago, I had feared the combination of Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller on the field at the same time. With a zone read, pairing J.T. Barrett at quarterback with Miller as the pitch option offers the most tantalizing prospects for big plays - Barrett has more experience making decisions in the zone read, and defenses would either overcompensate on Braxton or be frozen towards the middle while Miller found a crease on the edge.
Right now, Miller is averaging 14.1 yards a catch, a number that three Ohio State receivers beat last year. That number could use some more punch; there are few athletes as dangerous in space, and few contenders who need a deep threat as badly as Ohio State. Assuming better per-play production (15.0 seems reasonable) with more targets (why has he been targeted about three times a game??), you get some decently impressive numbers.
Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall: 1120 receiving and 705 receiving
To this point, I've avoided talking about how long this imaginary Ohio State season would last. The 2014 team played in 15 games and broke a program record for total plays. With the defense that's continued to flourish and a rare amount of talent, I've taken the liberty of assuming this kind of offense would drive Ohio State to another 15-game season - because it would. But instead of national champions, this 2015 team has been reminiscent of John Cooper's Buckeyes. All the talent you need, but somehow disappointing.
|Passing Leaders||Rushing Leaders||Receiving Leaders|
|J.T. Barrett, 2631 yards||Ezekiel Elliott, 1890 yards||Michael Thomas, 1120 yards|
|Cardale Jones, 1050 yards||J.T. Barrett, 508 yards||Braxton Miller, 900 yards|
Hitting the Links Is Imaginary
In the long run, having success in California, Texas, and Florida will pay bigger dividends. Michigan needs to 'expand the pool,' so to speak.
This is a look at the personas and personalities of each man and how they translate to recruiting. A great piece by ESPN.
While somewhat on the subject, credit to Adolphus Washington and Tyquan Lewis for making pretty great seasons in 2015. They haven't gotten a lot of love, but this line is a good group of guys.
The MSU game, with the coaches obviously worried about weather conditions, were a good opportunity to give it to your fullback quarterback and play-action a few times to Braxton Miller, who I'm sure has some good double-moves to try to trip up DBs. But alas, the Buckeyes did not.
Well-managed programs are hard to find. LSU is certainly making life hard for itself with its direction and execution.
Syracuse head coach, and former Michigan Man, Scott Shafer got fired this week. Other ACC coaches offer their thoughts. This is relevant to Michigan because, if D.J. Durkin does get a head-coaching position, Michigan will be in the market for a D.C. and Shafer will be near the top of the list.
It's a good way to be. This team has blended the even keel of Ferentz and the youth and hope and passion of the players into a winning combination.
I've said it before, but Clement is an easy guy to root for. Everything I've seen of him suggests he'll be very successful.
This game will get lost in the shuffle, but it's an underrated Big Ten rivalry. This game will be taking place in Soldier Field, home of the Bears.
Regarding Bill Cubit: this Illinois team has shown some nice things this season, and UI finished about exactly where I expected them to under Tim Beckman. I don't think Cubit is a great coach, but this staff has settled into a nice groove with Cubit's offensive contributions and Tim Banks and Mike Phair doing some good work on the defensive side.
If Illinois does opt to scrap the staff and start fresh - which certainly seems to be what the fans want - they need to invest in filling out the staff with good assistant coaches, from the coordinators on down. Those hires will be almost as important as the head man in determining where the team goes from here.
Perfectly blocked. Athletic runner. Way too easy.
Iowa's gotten steady play out of the linemen and tight ends, positions they're famous for. But they've finally got some stars at running back (AIRBHG, where are you??!), a play-making quarterback, and great corners to complement them. I remember feeling frustrated at Ferentz for getting his team to work so hard carving out holes in the line of scrimmage and then running Mark Weisman through them for 3 yards. Now, finally, this team is reaping the benefits of its own hard work, and the results are obvious.
Put this on the end-of-year highlight reel. (In fact, that's exactly what I'll be doing.) Godwin's catch may have come against Michigan, but it's impossible not to admire the throw, the run after catch, and the heart.
Last year, it was easy to point to the Big Ten's talent at running back. (While you were having a conversation about it, Melvin Gordon was probably running past you to score against Nebraska.) This year, the overall talent isn't worse, but carries have been split up a lot more into committees. Maryland's Brandon Ross (with 790 yards heading into the final week of his season) won't catch a lot of eyes on the stat sheet, but he's been a great part of the Big Ten run game regardless.
Meanwhile, it's exciting to see the wide receiver talent growing in the league.
Minnesota-Illinois was a one-point game with two minutes left, but Minnesota didn't have to worry about keep-away. Brooks, it's worth noting, was a mid-three-star recruit according to Rivals. He has 636 yards and 6.4 yards per carry on the year. Not bad for a true freshman.
A "concussion spotter" in the press box is as helpful as a turkey in the Arctic. Seriously, who came up with that idea? How much do they get paid?
This is a very, very sad development. There's already been an ongoing debate over continuing the Mirror Lake Jump, which a lot of people enjoy but has also caused some injuries (no deaths) before Tuesday night.
Some good alternatives: staging the jump earlier in the year, or trying smaller-scale water-related feats of strength at different places. It's a shame this had to end, though.