Examining the Buckeye Offense at the Midpoint

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braxtonhallA year and a half into the Urban Meyer era, and the Buckeyes are still yet to taste defeat.

The 2012 season was glorious. In spite of a nonexistent postseason, I’ll never forget watching Ryan Shazier house that interception at Beaver Stadium, the emotional roller coaster in Madison, or Carlos Hyde grinding the Michigan defense into submission. The 12-0 record is something to be celebrated, in spite of the fact that Ohio State fans had to watch December and January games from the couch.

However, the Buckeyes offense was borderline unwatchable at times last season. In the first year playing in Urban Meyer’s spread attack, Ohio State occasionally devolved into the Braxton Miller show. The Buckeye quarterback racked up almost 1300 yards on the ground, but only 2039 through the air. Philly Brown was the leading receiver with just 669 yards. Carlos Hyde totaled 970 yards on the ground, but the next leading rusher behind him and Miller was Jordan Hall with just 218.

This year, all that is different. The Buckeyes are averaging 46.8 points a game, almost 10 points better than last season’s 37.2, and there’s a tangible energy whenever the offense is on the field. Any play could go for a touchdown and everyone knows it – the offense, the fans, and especially the opposing defense.

When healthy, Braxton Miller has looked like the Heisman candidate he was projected to be entering the season. In the almost three games where backup Kenny Guiton was forced into action, the offense hasn’t missed a beat. Both quarterbacks have made noticeable improvements in their passer. Miller has jumped from 140.5 to 168.1, while Guiton has boosted his rating from 127.3 to 154.6 in spite of his increased playing time1. Guiton has actually more than doubled Miller’s touchdown passes (13 to 6), and led the country for a time. In spite of not playing for the past two weeks, the Buckeyes backup – who would surely start for almost any other program in the country – is still tied for 18th nationwide in passing touchdowns.

The Buckeyes rank just 78th in the country with 212 yards passing per game, but they still have two receivers – Philly Brown and Devin Smith – who have already recorded over 300 yards. Add the 19 touchdown passes (fifth in the nation) that Miller and Guiton have combined for and that low yardage ranking becomes much less meaningful.

Regardless of what the numbers say, the Buckeye aerial attack has been downright frightening at times. Consider three of Miller’s touchdown passes against Wisconsin – the perfect across the body throw while rolling to his left to Evan Spencer, the back shoulder dime to Devin Smith, and the 40-yarder to Philly Brown to end the first half. There’s only a handful of quarterbacks nationwide who can make all three of those throws.

But it’s on the ground where Urban Meyer’s spread attack is most deadly. Eight players have carried the ball at least ten times for the Buckeyes, and of those only Braxton Miller has an average under five yards per carry. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, the undisputed top two backs, are each averaging more than six yards per attempt. The Buckeye rushing attack can beat you in any way. Opposing defenses must prepare to see Hyde or Rod Smith pound the ball up the middle on one play, only to have Hall or freshman speed demon Dontre Wilson burn them around the edge on the next. That terrifying combination has helped Ohio State average 280.7 yards per game on the ground, good for 10th in the nation.

My one area of concern for the offense is in their somewhat lackadaisical care for the football. While the team has only turned the ball over eight times (four interceptions and four fumbles lost), it has seemed like those miscues have come at pivotal points.

After not coughing the ball up against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes gave it away three times in the Northwestern game. Miller was responsible for all three turnovers, throwing an interception and adding two lost fumbles. The first fumble quickly turned into an early Northwestern touchdown, while the interception ended a late second quarter drive that could have given the Buckeyes a tie game and momentum entering the half. It may be recency bias, but I’d like to see Miller be a bit more careful with the football, especially when he’s scrambling and trying to create once plays break down.

All in all though, the turnover complaint is microscopic when compared to the immense strides this offense has made since last season. Last year’s offense was good enough, but this year’s unit is just good. With two solid receivers, a pair of quarterbacks running at peak performance, and a veritable arsenal in the backfield, the Buckeyes offense looks like it can score with anyone in the country. That’s a good thing, because if Ohio State hopes to accomplish their goals for this season, they just might have to.

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Footnotes:

  1. For reference, Russell Wilson set the NCAA record for passing efficiency in a season when he posted a 191.8 for Wisconsin in 2011. []
  • mgbode

    it is downright criminal that the odds of the Buckeyes making the championship game despite a potential 25-0 stretch are minimal. and, I cannot even complain that loudly about it (outside here) because of the schedule.

    if this was 2010 where Wisconsin and Michigan State were top10 forces, then we’d be assured our place. but, the entire conference has fallen off and it is absolutely killing our chances.

    I would definitely take my chances with this Buckeye team against anyone in the country. Not like I feel we would definitely win, but I would give us a fighting chance. Instead, we may be playing against a possible 2-loss Washington or UCLA team in the Rose Bowl.