With a vanilla playbook and its returning starters largely not playing – most prominently Braxton Miller – it is dangerous to draw too many conclusions about the Ohio State offense from the Buckeyes' spring game.
Nonetheless, the scrimmage provides certain insights and areas for improvement, most notably along the offensive line.
Keeping it Simple
Given that most expected starters did not play – and the ones that did participate appeared for 1-2 series – it is not surprising that Urban Meyer and Tom Herman stuck to the basics. The Buckeyes extensively worked the short passing game, often featuring snag and other intermediate route combinations.
Packaging different concepts to each side of the field is a common tactic for Herman and Meyer. The purpose is to provide options. Pre-snap, anoffense cannot be certain what coverage a defense will use. Meyer and Herman thus put a route combination to each side that is good against a different coverage. Upon the snap, the quarterback can diagnose the coverage and then work the side of the field that best responds to that defensive look
Putting a fly route opposite a wide receiver is an easy combination. If a defense overplays the quick game it opens an easy throw down field. But the Buckeye coaching staff also like combining a concept that attacks outside the hash marks with one that works the middle of the field. The middle of the field routes are often good against man coverage, while the outside routes attack zone. Again, this provides the opportunity for an offense to adjust in the face of uncertainty.
By design, run plays during the Spring Game were few and far between. Yet as Kyle diagnosed, one run play was repeatedly used. Titled 13 Bash, the run is a tight zone play for the quarterback. The offensive line blocks tight zone towards the quarterback, while the halfback runs jet sweep away from the offensive line action. The quarterback reads the backside end to determine whether to give or keep.
The play is a constraint to the Buckeyes' base inside zone play, in an attempt to slow play the defense's inside linebacker. In addition, it attacks a backside defensive line overly focused on the quarterback. Given that defenses frequently game plan to contain Miller, the jet sweep away from the blocking action is a useful response.
Piecing together Five
The biggest takeaway from the Spring Game, however, was not any scheme issues. Rather it was Ed Warriner's continued task of replacing four offensive line starters.
The Spring Game demonstrated that the Buckeyes have numerous young linemen unprepared to play. But the positive is that Warriner does not need all his linemen ready. He needs five starters, pus perhaps two capable back-ups. Of any position, the offensive line involves the least substitution. Offensive line play is all about cohesion and working as a unit. So the ideal is to have five starters that play as extensively together as possible.
With this in mind, the Buckeyes have less holes to plug then may at first appear. According to Meyer, Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein are locked in at left tackle and right guard, respectively. The move of Evan Lisle to the left guard competition suggests that, at least for now, Daryl Baldwin is penciled in at right tackle.
That leaves two positions where competition remains stiff – center and the aforementioned left guard spot. At center, Jacoby Boren and Billy Price seemingly provide two capable – if inexperienced options. Left guard represents the most open competition. Antonio Underwood, converted defensive lineman Joel Hale, and Lisle, among others, are vying for the role. Chase Farris will also receive an opportunity when he returns this fall from injury. And Meyer may be able to resolve one of these two open spots by the Buckeyes' recruitment of former Alabama offensive lineman Chad Lindsay.
As such, the offensive line contingent may not be as thin as first appeared, as the Buckeye coaching staff's primary concern is finding five solid starters and then building depth.