Balance

By Johnny Ginter on August 6, 2010 at 6:59a
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Yes, we can do this too

As mentioned in the Good Shizzy and the recent poll, Jim Tressel has recently said that

...he expects [Ohio State] to be a "25 to 35 passing team,"

Which is pretty hilarious, and I am mostly confident in telling you that this is very unlikely to happen. For a variety of reasons. Most notably, in the past five seasons (which include the Troy Smith "watch me do this  ridiculous thing and be totally nonchalant about it" years), there have been ZERO seasons in which a Buckeye QB has averaged more than 25 passing attempt per game. The last group to do it over the course of one season was the 2004 team, which for the first pass happy half of the season was Tressel's absolute worst squad offensively. In addition, Pryor threw for approximately 160 yards per game last year, the lowest full season average since, well, the year before that, where  he and Todd Boeckman combined to throw 150.2 per game. In fact, if you look at the Big Ten from last year, Ohio State was not just the worst passing team in terms of frequency throwing the ball, but averaged a full 20 yards less per game than the team occupying the number 10 slot, Illinois. There were of course many reasons for this (Purdue Harbor, Pryor's injury, etc.), but one thing is clear: if Ohio State is throwing the ball 30 to 35 times a game this season, something way, way more unprecedented than a QB throwing the ball a lot has happened with our offense. Which brings me to the title of this post. Jim Tressel's offensive philosophy has been, for nearly a decade as the coach of Ohio State, about balance. This has been the official story on the dude and the media's go to description when talking about us offensively.  It is both the truth and a lie.

  • In 2009, Ohio State passed for 2250 yards and rushed for 2547.
  • In 2008, 1953 passing and 2502 rushing.
  • In 2007, 2558 passing and 2560 rushing.
  • In 2006, 2791 passing and 2208 rushing.
  • In 2005, 2708 passing and 2360 rushing.

2007 is obviously especially astounding in terms of symmetry, but overall these are some incredibly even numbers that suggest that Jim Tressel's offenses are not the stone age, ball control, grind out the clock throwbacks they initially seem to be. But as astutely pointed out in an ESPN article by Bill Curry in 2003 (previewing the then hyped showdown between #4 ranked Ohio State and #10 ranked Purdue):

Listen carefully to commentary by stat-spouters and you will detect a robotic adherence to the term when very few actually understand it. There are a surprising number of subtle differences in virtually every coach's use of the term ["balance"]. For our purposes I will offer four definitions: 1. Balance is the even distribution of play calls, with half being running plays and half being passes. 2. Balance is the even distribution of productivity, with half the yards being generated by the running game and half by passing. 3. Balance is the use of a team's less emphasized dimension in a simplified fashion to set up the aspect that is preferred. ... 4. Balance is the capacity and willingness to run or throw the ball from anywhere, anytime, in any situation. Implicit in this definition is the ability to execute either phase of the game in all situations. This is the best form of balance for most teams, the most difficult to master and the hardest to defend.

Curry goes on to say that Tressel fits into definition 3, and he's absolutely right. Because despite all of that statistical balance listed above, in terms of actual playcalling those years are still skewed with a hard bent toward the ground game.

  • In 2009, 64%  of the plays were rushing plays.
  • In 2008, 67%.
  • In 2007, 63%.
  • In 2006, 59%.
  • In 2005, 63%.

What is interesting about this is that even during Peak Beanie and Peak Troy Smith years, these numbers stay relatively constant. Last year the Buckeyes averaged 68 plays a game. If Pryor is throwing the ball 30 to 35 times a game, that would mark for perhaps the first time in the entire Tressel regime that the passing game has supplanted the rushing game as the main focus of "balance," as Curry has defined it. In all honesty, I am extremely curious to see how this would play out. We certainly have the personnel for it, as both Saine and Herron have proven themselves to be capable pass catchers, and Stoneburner is sitting at TE with unquestionable raw talent. The real test, as intimated in the poll, is if Tressel will have the patience to deviate so far from his bread and butter. History suggests he won't, but recent history in the Rose Bowl (where only 57% of the plays were runs, many of them scrambles off of called passes) suggests... well, maybe. In any case, this could be a very interesting year, and the chaos might give us a chance to bust out one of my personal favorite OSU offense related pictures.

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