With the 2013 season nearly upon us, the Ohio State offensive system and lineup are largely set. Position battles heading into fall camp have largely been settled, such as Taylor Decker entrenching himself at right tackle.
A few questions remain, however, questions that will perhaps be answered against Buffalo. Questions like how will Ohio State utilize explosive freshman Dontre Wilson, who emerges at the H spot, and just how different the offense will look from last season's run-first unit.
How will the BUckeyes Utilize DOntre WIlson?
It is not a stretch to assert that Dontre Wilson, the speedster from Texas, is entering the season with more hype as a freshman than anyone since Terrelle Pryor burst onto the scene in 2008. But it is still somewhat unknown how Urban Meyer and his staff will get the ball into Wilson's hands. Will he play in the slot as the H receiver? In the backfield at tailback? The answer is likely both.
Look for Ohio State to utilize Wilson similar to Oregon's use of D'Anthony Thomas. From the slot, Wilson will be featured on wide receiver screens and underneath throws such as H Option. He will also be brought into the backfield on "Hic" motion. At other times he may directly line up in the backfield. In such situations, watch for Wilson to be featured on jet sweeps, speed option, and the "touch" pass.
Wilson will also receive kickoffs. Meyer said as much in his presser yesterday when he mentioned that Wilson would be on the field to receive Ohio State's first kickoff of the year. The goal is simple: get Wilson the ball in space to bring an added dimension to the Ohio State offense.
Who is the H?
Wilson's emergence gets to a bigger question – who will play H, or slot, receiver?
Urban Meyer's offense features this position in the passing game, making this player of critical importance. But it is not entirely clear who will be manning the position. The Buckeye coaching staff at one point referred to Jordan Hall as the starting H. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman subsequently announced that the Buckeye starting receivers will be Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Chris Fields, and Evan Spencer, likely due to the suspensions of Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith, forcing Hall back into a bigger role in the backfield. Then there are Wilson and fellow freshman Jalin Marshall.
The answer may be all of the above, with the staff playing different individuals in the slot. Meyer likes nothing more than having players that he can mix and match and move around situationally. Expect him to do so at H. Hall will likely see time in the slot, particularly when the Buckeyes are in a passing mentality and want to utilize the H on option, cross, and pivot routes. As discussed, Wilson will man the position when the Buckeyes are seeking to quickly get the ball in space on plays such as wide receiver screens.
Herman referenced Brown as playing both inside and outside. Similar to last season, expect the Buckeye coaching staff to bump their number one receiver inside on third downs. Look for Fields to come in at the other slot when the Buckeyes utilize four or five wide receivers. The upshot is that Meyer has different options for his H-position and he will almost certainly mix and match.
Who will receive carries at tailback?
This question is necessitated by Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith's suspensions. Fortunately for Ohio State, perhaps no team is deeper at the position. Hall will likely take the first snap at tailback. Meyer declared that Hall is the Buckeyes' number one tailback and someone will have to take the position away from him. Hall is often underestimated as a runner but people forget he was the Buckeyes' number one tailback last season before injuries derailed his season. Hall also benefits from being an experienced 23-year old fifth-year senior playing against younger opponents.
But Hall will likely also play in the spot. This provides opportunities for two second year players, sophomore Brionte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball. Both are talented runners. The crucial issue is executing the other aspects of the position. If they are able to do so they can make it difficult for the coaching staff to take them off the field. In particular, Ball – a smooth, long strider who looked impressive this Spring – has the opportunity to make a name for himself.
Those three will not be the only backs with carries, however. Wilson will certainly get hand offs, as will freshman Ezekiel Elliot, another player who the Buckeye coaches may look to utilize on the edge. All will have the opportunity to demonstrate they deserve touches even when Smith and Hyde return.
Can Braxton Miller Start the Game Quickly?
By all accounts Miller is a much improved player. His mechanics are improved. His footwork is better and his arm angle higher, allowing him to deliver a more accurate ball. He also looks more in command of the offense, improving his reads both in the passing and run game.
Such improvements are easier to implement in practice then to continue in the heat of a game, however. Miller often started slowly last season. It would sometimes take most of the first half for him to get a rhythm. Buffalo will therefore be an opportunity to quickly crucial to see if Miller can quickly translate his improvements to the field.
Two less-herald issues may indicate Miller's improvements, particularly in the comfort he feels within the offense. The first is how Miller executes his reads in the run game. All too often last season Miller pre-determined whether he was going to give or keep, often leaving yards on the field when it was the incorrect read. If Miller successfully reads what the defense is providing, the offense will have more opportunities for chunk plays.
The second is whether Miller feels comfortable enough in the pocket to scramble when his reads are not available. Meyer has repeatedly emphasized that, for being such a good runner, Miller was a poor scrambler last season, often getting "cement feet" as the pocket collapsed. Miller's ability to exploit such opportunities will not only open potential big plays for the offense, it is also a good indicator of Miller's increased comfort level as a quarterback. If Miller is able to quickly get out of the game and bring his improved play to live action, the Ohio State offense will be very difficult to stop.
How "Different" will the Ohio State offense Look?
The Buckeye offense is more likely to be similar then different. That is because the core tenets of Urban Meyer's offense do not change. As Herman recently stated, it is a system predicated upon the inside zone and power run plays, with the quarterback read added to change the defense's arithmetic. The Buckeyes were able to ride these concepts to an undefeated season in 2012. Ohio State's offensive line was the Buckeyes' strength, and with four of the five starters returning Meyer's base concepts will again be the linchpin of the Buckeyes' success.
Changes will likely be evident at the margins, however. In particular, look for Ohio State to increase their use of plays that exploit a defense that is overly focused upon the Buckeye run game. As a general matter, Meyer and Herman certainly hope to more consistently rely upon the passing game. Meyer mentioned that Buffalo employs a 3-4 look where the defensive ends align on the inside leg of the offensive tackles. This is similar to a Bear look that makes it difficult to run inside zone read because the interior line cannot establish double teams.
Buffalo also utilizes an inverted cover-2, meaning that the corners drop to cover the deep halves while the safeties play robber in the underneath curl to flat area. This often provides the defense a nine-man front. The upshot is that Miller and the Buckeye offense will have early opportunities to execute a more consistent down field passing game.
But also watch for the Buckeyes to increase their use of quick edge plays, such as wide receiver screens and jet sweeps away from run action. The Buckeye coaching staff hopes to better exploit opportunities opened by a defense's intense focus on the Ohio State run game and Braxton Miller. Players like Wilson and Hall can allow OSU to take full advantage of such opening this season.