Between injuries to key players, a lack of depth at several positions and installing coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, Ohio State football’s offensive unit has been slow to acclimate itself for the new season.
A Saturday OSU scrimmage might have provided a glimpse of offensive outbursts to come for Buckeye Nation, Meyer and the entire country.
OSU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman has helped lead the overhaul of a Buckeyes’ offense that ranked 108th in total offense in the country in 2011. For Herman, the scrimmage was evidence that after 15 spring practices and three weeks of fall training, the Buckeyes’ offense was finally catching up to its defensive counterpart – his unit was finally wearing down a Silver Bullet defense that had grown accustomed to victory in practice.
Coaches and players of both units joked about the ongoing battle between the two units Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, but all agreed that OSU’s new up-tempo, spread offense had finally arrived.
Meyer used the spread offense to propel Florida to two national championships, and the evolution of installing the system at OSU began as early as Herman’s interview for the offensive coordinator job.
“I think (Meyer) said, ‘Here’s what I’ve done. Here’s what’s time tested. Here’s what’s proven. What have you done that can enhance this without wholesale changes,’ and then, obviously, bring in the up-tempo stuff, was a big part of that,” Herman said. “A few minor tweaks and adjustments here and there to enhance the offense, but I think when we first got here he said, ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I believe in. If you have ways to enhance it, tweak it, make it better, great. But let’s not stray too far away from the core.”
OSU might still be attempting to live down its 108th-ranked total offense from a year ago, and Herman got to see evidence of his unit’s successful adaptation to the new system Saturday.
During the scrimmage, there were moments when the offense was snapping the ball before the defense even had time to a hand on the ground, Herman said, adding that those are the moments when players buy into the concepts he’s been selling.
“I see our defense tired, which is the biggest thing,” Herman said. “We’re not perfect yet, we’ve got a long way to go in terms of the crispness that we want it at, but at least it was at the speed for moments of that (Saturday) scrimmage.”
OSU players and coaches on the defensive side of the ball pushed back, if only jokingly, at the notion that the spread has taken hold and made for more competition in practice.
For one, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell chuckled while noting that Herman had only brought the offense’s progress to light when no other coaches were in the vicinity.
The suggestion was lighthearted, though, and he eventually agreed with Herman’s assessment of the offense’s progression.
“Obviously, they’ve had to install a completely different offense and you really see it starting to come together. That’s what’s great,” Fickell said. “You know, it’s been exciting out there and it’s been tough on our guys. I hope they are (catching up).”
Junior defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins was second in tackles for the 2011 Buckeyes with 67, 11 of which were for loss, and three sacks. He wasn’t as complimentary as Fickell while remarking on the offense’s improvement.
Rather than the offense perfecting its plays, Hankins smiled while suggesting they had merely become more familiar with the defense’s schemes.
“We’re just going to have to work harder and give a better look and kind of change some things up,” Hankins said.
Bearing a wide grin, Hankins finally relented and fell in line with what appears to be the growing consesus within the team regarding the growth of the offense.
“It’s getting more competitive,” Hankins said. “They’re learning.”
Less than two weeks remain until OSU is scheduled to open the 2012 season against Miami University (Ohio). As game time nears, Herman said he expects the foundation that has been laid to support additional growth within the new spread offense, and he expects it to happen faster.
“I think the kids are buying in,” he said. “Which makes the teaching that much more accelerated.”