Thinking Out Loud About the Offense
By Brandon Castel
What is wrong with the Buckeyes?
We knew there would be growing pains on offense as Urban Meyer tries to fit a square peg into a round hole. Fortunately for him, Braxton Miller slid right in, but so far we have only seen glimpses of what the offense can and should be when it eventually gets rolling.
It has still been exponentially better than the offense Ohio State put on the field a year ago, which by most accounts had to be one of the worst in the school’s history.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes only had a few years under Jim Tressel were they were a really good offense team. His best offense was the 2006 group with Troy Smith, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez and Antonio Pittman. It’s surprising none of them have gone on to become much of anything at the next level.
The 2002 team had a headsy quarterback, a star freshman at running back and an NFL receiver in Michael Jenkins, but it’s a little bit of a stretch to remember them as an offensive juggernaut.
The end of the ’05 season was probably the second best offense Tressel had at Ohio State, and it set the tone for 2006, but the first half of that year was nothing to get excited about.
Looking back, Tressel’s second-best offensive team may have been the 2010 group that won the Sugar Bowl with at least two guys who should have missed part of that season. That team averaged over 38 points per game that season, which is right around what this 2012 OSU squad is after four games.
That number is probably going to take a nose-dive after this week’s trip to East Lansing, unless the Buckeyes somehow put it all together for one triumphant performance against probably the best defense they will face all year.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Even if they struggle against the Spartans, however, this offense has the potential to be as good as that ’05 group by the end of the year. That doesn’t mean Devin Smith and Corey Brown are on the same level as Ginn, Gonzalez or Santonio Holmes, but those two are developing into a solid duo with a bright future.
Smith has to find a way to bring it every week, but he looks like a guy who could be Ohio State’s most dynamic “go-get-it” guy at wide receiver in quite some time. The Buckeyes have had some good ones over the last few years – DeVier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie – but none of them were quite as dynamic as Smith, if he can put it all together.
If the Buckeyes can keep those two rolling and add Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas into the mix as the season progresses, they could have a pretty good arsenal of weapons by the end of the season. They also need to figure out a way to get Jake Stoneburner involved on a weekly basis.
He’s probably not the game-breaker people were hoping he might be in this offense, but he’s a steady pass-catcher who has a knack for finding a soft spot in the defense, especially around the goal line.
Photo by Dan Harker
Braxton Miller is as dynamic as any quarterback to play at Ohio State, probably ever. That includes Cornelius Greene, Troy Smith and even Pryor. That doesn’t mean he’s better than those guys, but in this offense, Miller could put up mind-boggling numbers, if they let him.
The key, in my opinion, will be the running game outside of Miller. They can’t run him 20-25 times a game. It just isn’t smart. He may not be as fragile as some have made him out to be based some of his past injuries, but Miller isn’t going to be as dangerous on his 25th carry as he is on his 10th.
They need to find a way to run the football with Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde – and maybe Rod Smith – so that it takes some of the pressure of Miller. That way, when he does run, it’s not as obvious that he’s going to have the football. If teams have to respect Hyde and Hall on the read-option plays, Miller should get more one-on-one situations, which is where he really thrives.
The most important thing for him will be to continue to develop his ability to read that play. He’s got to make a split-second decision to either keep the football or give it to the tailback, and right now he’s not very good at making the right choice.
For all his struggles as a passer, Denard Robinson is light years ahead of Miller when it comes to the read-option plays. He’s able to get into the open field and take off because he’s making good reads on when to keep the football and when to give it up.
I think Miller is already a much better passer than Robinson will ever be as long as he plays the game of football. That was obvious this past week, when Robinson was throwing the ball up for grabs against Notre Dame.
Michigan was forced to do that because the Irish with loading the box and keying on Robinson. Teams have tried that numerous times before, but this time they were able to force the Wolverines to throw the ball.
When this Ohio State offense will really start rocking is when Miller can make teams pay for taking that approach. He has the arm strength and the deliver, but right now he’s not a very good passer under pressure. He loses his fundamentals and the ball tends to flutter out of his hand.
The good news is that Smith and Brown are routinely getting behind the defense. Miller has struggled to put the ball where it needs to be, but as he develops that ability, it will create big plays in the passing game.
If this team hits a couple of those, it changes everything about the way opposing teams can defense the Buckeyes, and specifically Braxton Miller.
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