It took 15 games for Ohio State’s offense to look the way Urban Meyer designed it.
Now, with the final piece of the puzzle to be added this week against Florida A&M with the return of running back Carlos Hyde and presumed return of quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes truly will be complete.
With a few exceptions last year, particularly the Nebraska game, Ohio State’s offense was fairly plodding. It was heavily reliant on Miller’s legs and the consistent surge from the offensive line.
The passing game was inconsistent, the pace tepid. The hybrid position, a key component of Meyer’s spread offense, was mostly unfilled after the early season injury of Jordan Hall.
The Buckeyes worked hard in the offseason and during camp to develop consistent playmakers and increase the offense’s tempo. Ohio State had stretches early against Buffalo and San Diego State that showed its offensive potential. But it wasn’t until last week’s game at California that it was really put on display.
“That was the first time that I saw what you guys probably saw,” Meyer said. “We are going at a very good tempo. I think Tom Herman feels better now. Last year we didn’t feel that way.”
Herman, the offensive coordinator, was hired in part because Meyer liked his fast-paced offenses at Rice and Iowa State. But personnel and inexperience issues a year ago caused the Buckeyes to put that style of offense on hold. Now they believe all the pieces are in place to put pedal to metal for good.
“It’s a lot better than last year,” receiver Devin Smith said. “Everyone in the offense knows it a lot better. We’re not thinking as much and we’re just out there going full speed every play.”
With Kenny Guiton at the controls, the Buckeyes hummed against Cal, in production (608 yards) and pace. Cal often didn’t have time to substitute personnel, and the Buckeyes took advantage. Only two of Ohio State’s seven touchdown drives took longer than three minutes.
Granted, the Buckeyes’ offense has thrived against defenses weaker than those they will face later in the season.
But the offense should gain potency this week. The return of Hyde gives the Buckeyes the one element they have lacked this season — a power runner who can consistently move the pile. Hyde was suspended for three games after an altercation at a Columbus bar, though charges were not filed. He has practiced, serving as the scout-team running back.
“He handled this in a very unselfish, selfless manner,” Meyer said. “It was made very clear to him that it had to be this way.”
With all of the key players now available, the challenge for Herman and Meyer is to figure out how to get all the playmakers enough touches.
Hall could shift, at least some of the time, to the hybrid position.
Dynamic freshman Dontre Wilson, who has been a shoestring tackle away from long touchdown runs a few times, won’t be cast aside. Smith and fellow receivers Corey Brown, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields have improved their games.
Guiton has proved that no one needs to fret if he is needed for extended action. Meyer said that coaches are even discussing a way to get him and Miller on the field at the same time on occasion.
Such matters are good problems for coaches to have. It beats the alternative.
“Last year, our breakaway talent was only No. 5,” Meyer said, referring to Miller.
“Now, there are some other guys.”