Ohio State's Offense Will Look Completely Different This Season
Their prolific run game propelled their entire offense to average 45.5 points per game, the third highest total in the FBS.
When the 2014 season kicks off in Baltimore against Navy on August 30, I expect an entirely new strategy from coach Urban Meyer. He and offensive coordinator Tom Herman must get more creative with their screens and sweeps, and rely on more of an aerial attack with less of a smash-mouth run game from a year ago.
Here is why I expect significant changes from what we've seen from the first two years of the Meyer era:
1. No More Carlos Hyde
For the last two years, despite a three-game suspension at the beginning of last year, Hyde has been the heart and soul of the Buckeye offense.
Although they were good in his absence, Hyde elevated the Buckeyes to one of the premier offenses in the entire league with his relentless between-the-tackles style of running. With his departure to the NFL, however, Meyer and Herman will have no choice but to shift their game plan to make up for his absence.
While Ezekiel Elliott and Bri'onte Dunn are talented running backs in their own right, I don't think any of us are naive enough to believe that either will be capable of taking on 30-35 carries a game that were routine for the 240-pound Hyde.
The identity of the Buckeye offense in 2014 will no doubt be in something other than a power running attack.
2. Protect Braxton Miller
Did anybody else see Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in the spring game this past weekend and then have nightmares later that evening? No? Just me?
Well, if you're a Buckeye fan, the thought of either one of them seeing action in a key spot in 2014 is absolutely terrifying. No disrespect, but they just aren't anywhere close to being ready to lead a national title contender yet.
That means that Miller keeping out of the trainer's room and staying on the field is more important than ever. The best way to do that is to make sure he takes way less of a beating than he did his first three years in Columbus.
Braxton will never be a pocket passer, and it would be foolish to try to turn him into one. His speed and athleticism is what makes him great. But that doesn't mean he has to take the violent licks that he has been.
I expect him to throw it more than we've seen in recent memory, but for Meyer and Herman to roll out of the pocket often to keep him comfortable. With the question marks along the offensive line, this will also allow him to use his own quickness to keep pass rushers off of him.
I also don't think we'll see as many designed runs from him as we've grown accustomed to. Many of these plays ended with Braxton getting taken down by a lineman or linebacker that has at least 40-50 pounds on him.
It may not make for as flashy a highlight reel, but it will keep him from getting beat up and allow him to perform as close to full strength as possible.
3. Weapons. Weapons. Weapons.
There's a whole lot of them in Columbus this season, and they will most certainly be utilized.
First and foremost is Dontre Wilson. He was used mostly as a decoy last year, as he didn't really fit into the power-run gameplan that the Buckeyes built themselves on.
This year, Meyer has made it very clear that Wilson will be the focal point of the offense, and will be getting the ball in his hands early and often.
There's plenty of other players that can used in a similar way as Wilson: Curtis Samuel, Jalin Marshall, and Johnnie Dixon all have tremendous speed and quickness, and are at their best in the open field.
Using screens, slants, sweeps, reverses, and any other creative plays are perfect ways to get these guys the ball in space and then let their athleticism take over.
They will embody a game plan in 2014 that is more centered on speed and finesse and less on size and strength. The Buckeyes will probably look a lot like the Oregon Ducks of the Midwest this upcoming season, and it will make for an exciting fall in Columbus, Ohio.