Buckeyes hope new pieces coming together as Big Ten play begins
Ohio State has a lot of skill, but putting it all together can be easier said than done.
Take September in Columbus for example. (Or, some Buckeye fans might argue, most of the Jim Tressel era for that matter.)
After an explosive opening night at Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes spent much of the next two weeks spinning their wheels offensively before getting some traction last week against Western Michigan.
That came as a surprise to many because although Ohio State lost former four-star recruits Devin Smith and Evan Spencer at wide receiver and three-star Jeff Heuerman at tight end, they were able to turn to a pool of roughly a dozen receivers who were all at least four-star prospects as well for this season. And stepping in for Heuerman? Two more four-star guys.
Of course some of those receivers are true freshmen and two were recruited as quarterbacks, but seniors Michael Thomas and Corey Smith, sophomore Jalin Marshall and junior Dontre Wilson have all played significant snaps in the past. The same is true of senior tight end Nick Vannett.
But while the Buckeyes returned a handful of veterans and added another group of talented young players to the mix, head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinators Ed Warinner and Tim Beck had plenty more to do before dreaming of having the same type of offense Ohio State enjoyed last season.
Because for all the familiar names, many of the players who left had different types of games.
A player who is not only fast but can make plays down the field like Smith has yet to emerge, though Marshall and Thomas have provided flashes in differetn ways.
Can anyone turn into the type of blocker Spencer was on the edge? That remains to be seen.
Vannett might not turn out to be the same type of powerful edge blocker Heuerman was, either, and that likely has to happen before he and Baugh can turn into the type of tandem the coaching staff could deploy together last year to give defenses yet another look to try to defend.
But that is just one way the 2015 Ohio State offense is different from the 2014 unit — at least so far.
"Nick’s getting better," Warinner said right after the Buckeyes beat Western Michigan on Saturday. "They’re not the same guy. Nick is not Jeff Heuerman, so they’re different, and that’s where the pieces are different. There are other receivers we’ve lost. We lost Evan Spencer. We lost Devin Smith. There are pieces but they do different jobs in different ways and we just have to figure that out."
That means what the offense did well as a whole last year might not necessarily turn out to be the same things it does this year even if it gets back to producing similar numbers.
Given time to review the film, Meyer said Monday that Baugh had graded out to his first "champion" performance. He identified Curtis Samuel, a young player who played mostly running back last year but is seeing most of his time at receiver now, as one of the players of the game on offense.
Those are two sophomores who might not bring to the table the same things last year’s seniors did but give the coaches weapons they can use in unique ways in 2015.
How long will it take for them to sort those things out? That remains to be seen.
Quarterback Cardale Jones is a piece to the puzzle, too, but even in some of the potential big plays that went for naught against the Broncos — when players were open but Jones couldn’t get them the ball — Meyer saw reason for optimism in the long run.
"When you have that many underthrown passes, that’s, I guess, if you had to pick your evils, if you are not executing down-the-field throws because your guys can’t get open, that’s a major problem," Meyer said. "That’s a recruiting error, an effort error (or) something, and that wasn’t the problem. Underthrown balls are just a matter — especially if you can do it — it’s just a matter of execution."
If September was about figuring out what they can do, the Buckeyes hope the next few months will be more about simply getting it done. It’s a process Meyer has been through before.
"If there is a critique on our offense over the last 13, 14 years, whatever it’s been, it’s the early-in-the-season funk that you’re in sometimes, and a lot of it is because of the maybe new defenses, or you take a couple key players out of that lineup for us," Meyer said. "Jeff Heuerman was a real guy. You take (graduated right tackle) Darryl Baldwin out of the lineup, and there are a little bit of growing pains.
"So I would have expected us to play a little better, but I hope no one here felt a sense of panic. It’s normal growing pains for early in 2015."