Is the Offense Worse than Last Year?

By Chris Lauderback on October 15, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Despite a 5-1 start and just four points separating the Buckeyes from a 6-0 mark, there's still plenty of concern from members (you said members) of the fanbase who continue to struggle with the notion that a team with so many big time recruits can struggle to consistently move the ball both through the air and on the ground, especially against stiff competition.

Obviously, most of the criticism the last two years has fallen upon the offensive line and Terrelle Pryor, so much so that the less objective members of Block O Nation cling to reasons/excuses like a security blanket but the bottom line is the Buckeye offense hasn't gotten it done consistently enough to be considered competitive on an elite scale.

Trying to set aside preconceived notions, I decided to throw together some data comparing last season's offense to the current one to see if anything stood out. The numbers are as follows:

2009 Offense vs. 2008 Offense
Year Rush Off Rank Pass Off Rank Total Off Rank Sacks Rank
2008 192.46 24 150.23 105 342.69 76 2.23 83
2009 172.17 42 166.17 108 338.33 86 1.33 37

As you'd expect, the running game misses Beanie's production but I'm actually a little surprised the drop off hasn't been more severe. Maybe that can be attributed to the number or carries Beanie missed due to injury but another factor is the emergence of Brandon Saine. He's stepped up to the tune of 5.5 per carry while TP has increased his YPC from 4.5 last season to 5.1 thus far in '09. Meanwhile, Boom has added nothing in comparison to last season as he's seen his yards per carry drop from 4.9 to 3.7 making him probably the biggest bust on the team thus far.

Changes in personnel on the line have also likely had an impact on the rushing attack as most 'experts' would agree this year's o-line is opposite of last year's in that they are much better in pass pro than creating running lanes for Pryor and the RB's. It's hard to overlook just how much Beanie meant to the running game but my eyes say Beanie excelled despite the efforts of his line, not necessarily because of it. Obviously, Saine and Boom simply aren't in Beanie's league making it more difficult for the line to look good. Conversely, the pass pro has yielded one less sack per contest through six games this year which is mighty impressive when you consider Pryor is attempting almost 9 more passes per game. Interestingly, those 9 extra passes aren't helping the passing yards much, adding just 16 yards per game to the bottom line.

Add those extra passing yards to the rushing game deficit and the '09 offense finds itself 4 yards per game shy of the '08 season average. Staying virtually flat to last year's total offense at this point, the Buckeyes are still struggling to find an offensive identify, as their ranking of 86th clearly suggests.

Obviously, the main difference in these two offenses is the key cog in the machine. Last year, Beanie was the guy whenever he wasn't on the sidelines whereas Pryor is the man tabbed to carry the offense on his back this year.

Not surprisingly, Pryor's play has been a weekly lightning rod as critics blame everything from a possible prima-donna attitude, to hype greater than substance, to a lack of coaching while the folks in his corner cite youth and experience while reminding us of Troy's slow growth and the fact Pryor is just a true sophomore who has shown flashes of brilliance amidst rage inducing mental breakdowns and sporadic accuracy. Knowing this offense can only go as far as TP and his development takes it, let's scan his '08 season numbers in comparison to the first six games of 2009:

2009 Terrelle vs. 2008 Terrelle
Year Pass Eff Total Off Comp Att Comp% TD/INT INT% Rush APG Rush YPG
2008 146.5 149.38 100 165 60.6% 12/4 2.42% 10.7 48.5
2009 132.3 213.50 72 128 56.3% 9/6 4.69% 10.8 55.5

A few of these numbers jump off the page. First, the argument of regression with regard to his passing seems to hold water. Pryor has thrown just 37 less passes than he did all of last season however his completion percentage has dropped from almost 61% last year to 56% thus far in '09. In his defense, he doesn't have the same experience at wideout, especially without Robiskie but I'd be willing to bet TP suffered from more dropped passes last year. I simply struggle to come up with a good reason to explain this drop in accuracy. The word all off-season was how TP had made such progress in his footwork, release and confidence. I don't see it consistently when I watch his mechanics and the stats sure don't show it. In fact, I want to say most instances in which he really looks fluid stepping into a throw occur when the primary receiver is wide open. If the primary is covered, he often looks timid, feels pressure too soon and throws off his back foot abandoning mechanics.

Looking for other reasons to explain his accuracy dip, I checked to see if maybe he's throwing deeper routes but the numbers say his completions are going for 13.16 yards in '09 versus 13.11 last year. Add in the fact he's throwing INT's at nearly twice the rate this year combined with the aforementioned improved protection and I'm left scratching my head. So what's your take on the drop in accuracy?

In his defense, maybe it is unrealistic to put the load of the offense on a true sophomore QB's back and expect huge progression, especially from a kid who by all accounts already puts enormous pressure on himself to be the star of every play, let alone every game. Pryor has increased his passing yards per game from 100.8 last year to 158.0 thus far in '09, thanks mostly to an increase in attempts leading to an extra 4.31 completions per game. Maybe to the short term detriment, he's also staying true to the long term goal of trying to become a complete quarterback instead of a runner playing quarterback as evidenced by his rushing attempts staying flat to last year thus far.

With the Buckeyes at the halfway point of the regular season, how do you see TP and the rest of the offense evolving the rest of the way? With 19 games under his belt, will Pryor improve at a faster rate than what we've seen or will he continue to take baby steps?