In 2019, the Buckeyes boasted the Big Ten’s top offense, and although they have lost key pieces at their skill positions, Ohio State’s expectations are set to exceed the bar set by their predecessors from a season ago.
With the losses of running back J.K. Dobbins and three of its top five receivers, Ohio State’s offense is much younger and more inexperienced than last year’s group. Despite the turnover at the skill positions, senior tight end Jake Hausmann said that this offense has the potential to be the best he’s played with in his Ohio State career.
“We have all the weapons we need to be putting up crazy numbers and winning games by as much as we want to,” Hausmann said Friday in a conference call.
The Buckeyes will look to fill the void left by Dobbins with a committee approach with graduate transfer Trey Sermon and redshirt sophomore Master Teague.
Teague used the offseason to return from an Achilles injury that he sustained during the opening spring practice in March while Sermon has come in from Oklahoma looking to carve himself a role.
“Master Teague has done an unbelievable job of getting himself healthy again in such a short period of time,” head coach Ryan Day said Sept. 17 on “The Ryan Day Show” on 97.1 The Fan. “Getting Trey (Sermon) in here is really great for us. He’s a really good young man who understands football.”
One of the constants in this offense is junior quarterback Justin Fields, who is coming off of a stellar 2019 campaign in which he finished third in Heisman Trophy voting.
With the extra year to develop, Fields is expected to make another strong case for the Heisman Trophy. However, his on-the-field development pales in comparison to the strides he’s made as a leader for the team.
“Definitely physically, he’s doing anything and everything he can to get better,” senior tight end Luke Farrell said. “He’s made huge strides in being an outspoken leader of our offense and on our team and I think that has just rallied everybody around him.”
In terms of on-the-field improvement, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said that Fields looks much more comfortable and that he’s turned to a vegan diet in order to be leaner and maximize his ability on the field.
“Here’s a kid that wanted to become a great player and part of that was taking care of his body,” Wilson said. “He made a commitment because he wanted to be leaner, take care of himself even better.”
Tasked with protecting Fields is the Buckeye offensive line which lost an interior presence in left guard Jonah Jackson and help on the outside in Brandon Bowen at right tackle. The previous incarnation of the offensive line led the Buckeyes to the most rushing yards per game in the Big Ten as well as a 2,000 yard season for Dobbins.
Freshman tackle Paris Johnson Jr. is battling redshirt sophomore Nicholas Petit-Frere and sophomore Dawand Jones for the starting tackle spot, while sophomore Harry Miller looks to lock down the left guard spot with sophomore Matt Jones expected to make a run at the position. However, Day said that competitions on the offensive line are still largely undecided due to the fact that the Buckeyes are yet to participate in a padded practice this season.
“Once we get the pads on we’ll have a better feel. It’s been hard because we haven’t really hit since the Clemson game,” Day said. “We’ve been doing stuff with helmets, but as you know, with the O-line, you don’t really know until those shoulder pads come on.”
Ohio State also held onto their top three tight ends heading into this season, as the trio of Farrell, junior Jeremy Ruckert and senior Jake Hausmann all returned to Columbus.
Wilson, who also serves as the tight ends coach, said that the unit has shown growth over the offseason in both physical and mental aspects, especially in their confidence.
“They’re all older. They’re more confident,” Wilson said. “It’s a great group of guys and I just think you’re going to see them playing faster.”
Alongside the tight ends in the passing game is Ohio State’s new-look receiving corps which is headlined by returning junior Chris Olave and sophomore Garrett Wilson.
The headliners are also supported by a deep cast of young talent in sophomore Jameson Williams and four true freshmen – five-stars Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba and four-stars Mookie Cooper and Gee Scott Jr.
Day said that the freshmen have been impressive to this point in the preseason.
“The young guys have really shown out, seeing some of those guys come in and step in,” Day said. “It’s a good group.”
While the offense bolsters plenty of individual talent, Kevin Wilson said that if the group wants to reach the next level, they’ll need to buy in and play together as a unit rather than individuals.
“We had a lot of guys opt in. The key is guys need to make sure we keep buying in because I think that’s the key, buying into what it takes to play as a group,” Kevin Wilson said. “We’re trying to convince the guys, ‘If we can play as a group collectively, you can always get more than you will individually.’”