Thanks to Heuerman, Buckeye Offense Doesn’t Miss a Beat
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Zach Boren couldn’t win for trying against Indiana this past Saturday.
Photo by Jim Davidson
In his first game in four years taking reps on the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes allowed more points (49) than any Ohio State team in nearly 20 years. And without him, the offense didn’t seem to miss a beat, as it plastered over 500 yards and 52 points on the Hoosiers in a road night win under the lights in Bloomington.
Those numbers downplay the significance of Boren’s role in the offense before he moved over to help the Buckeyes at linebacker during practice last week, but they highlight the emergence of another young player in the OSU offense. One which allowed Urban Meyer to make a bold decision to switch Boren after three-and-a-half years as the team’s lead-blocker.
“That move could not have been made if you didn't have (Jeff) Heuerman,” Meyer said Monday during his weekly press luncheon.
“Just can't do it, as much as you'd want to do that. Heuerman has been coming on. He's been playing 10 to 15 plays a game, and now he played 50. Same with Nick Vannett. He's really coming on. Good thing is those guys are around here for a few years.”
Heuerman is a true sophomore out of Barron Collier High School in Naples, Fla., while Vannett is a redshirt freshman from Westerville Central High School right here in Columbus.
They were both a part of the 2011 recruiting class and are listed as co-starters on Ohio State’s official depth chart this week. The two have combined to make 10 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown this season, including a couple of big grabs down the middle in the game against Nebraska.
“I’ve been working on the passing game and it showed in the Nebraska game with both Nick and I,” Heuerman said this week.
His 18-yard touchdown catch gave the Buckeyes a 21-17 lead over the Cornhuskers early in the second quarter but Meyer was even more impressed with what No. 86 was able to do as a lead-blocker this past week against Indiana.
“Jeff Heuerman played his best game as an Ohio State Buckeye, and I'm proud to say that,” Meyer said of his 6-5, 250-pound sophomore, who graded out 88 percent on 48 plays against the Hoosiers.
“Lot of plays, most he's played, a very good job finishing plays. He will play more.”
And not just Heuerman. With Boren’s move to defense being called “temporarily permanent,” the Buckeyes are going to rely on both Heuerman and Vannett to fill the role of the H-back in Meyer’s spread offense over the next few weeks, and possibly for the rest of the year.
“It feels good,” Heuerman said Wednesday after practice.
“Zach’s been running the pulling plays he’s done in the past here as the fullback, but it was just time to step up. He went to defense for the better of the team and I had to step up and help this team by playing 50 or 55 snaps.”
The door has really been opened wide for Heuerman, who could have been buried on the depth chart this season if not for some key personnel decisions by Meyer and the new coaching staff.
First, Reid Fragel moved from tight end to offensive tackle back in January. Then Jake Stoneburner moved from playing the traditional tight end position to more of flex receiver role in the offense.
The Buckeyes still have senior Adam Homan and freshman Blake Thomas in that tight end/fullback/H-back room, but with Boren’s move over to defense – where he will stay at least until Etienne Sabino returns from a broken leg – the primary role of lead-blocker now belongs to No. 86.
“That’s kind of what I’ve always been known for,” said Heuerman, who is considered to be an excellent point-of-attack blocker in the run game.
“It was nice to get in there against Indiana and play a complete game instead of 20-25 snaps a game. To get in there for 50 or 55 snaps, it was nice to get back in that feel of banging heads ever play.”
Stoneburner Starting to Emerge
Photo by Dan Harker
One guy who isn’t banging as many heads this season is Stoneburner. When asked about the play of his friend Jack Mewhort at left tackle this season, Stoneburner couldn’t even give an accurate answer because he hasn’t spent enough time lined up tight to the offensive line.
A guy who used to play the traditional tight end position in Ohio State’s old pro-style offense, Stoneburner is still playing a little bit of flex tight end in the new system, but he had not really come on the way the coaches were hoping when they gave him more of an opportunity to play wide receiver as a fifth-year senior.
That is until recently.
“Jake Stoneburner played his best game since our staff has been here as an Ohio State Buckeye,” Meyer said of the Dublin Coffman product who earned an 88 percent grade against IU.
“He's not been grading that high. Four receptions, 41 yards, very good blocking and his aggressiveness and toughness really excelled in that game.”
Those last three things aren’t as exciting as catching touchdown passes, which Stoneburner has done plenty of during his career, but it’s exactly what the offense will need from all three of these guys now that their senior captain is over playing on the defense.
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