Ohio State’s offense will look different with a new starting quarterback in 2018, but that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes are rewriting their offensive playbook.
Which plays the Buckeyes call most frequently within their playbook, however, is likely to change.
In addition to their ongoing three-way competition between Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow and Tate Martell to succeed J.T. Barrett as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, the Buckeyes are also set to have a new primary offensive play-caller this season in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day.
Though Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has said that he does not expect the dynamic between Day and fellow offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to change drastically, as offensive play-calling will remain a collaborative effort between all three of them, the combination of a new primary play-caller and a new quarterback seemingly opens the door for Ohio State’s offense to see some big changes in 2018.
Day, however, says that while the coaches are always looking for new ways to enhance the offense, the Buckeyes already have all the offensive plays they need within their playbook. They just might need to emphasize different plays this season, depending – and perhaps regardless – of who their new starting quarterback is.
"It’s not that we’re starting a new offense," Day said last week. "It’s we’re going to emphasize and utilize the plays in the playbook that fit them the best. And so every quarterback’s a little bit different that way. You always want to enhance the offense and try some new wrinkles here and there, but whatever the quarterback does well – we have a big playbook – we’re going to try to use those plays and emphasize those plays."
One can count on Ohio State’s offense continuing to be built around the spread-to-run philosophy that has been a staple of Meyer-coached teams. That said, Day said the Buckeyes are looking to find the quarterback who can best move the offense downfield, and then find the right plays to fit that quarterback and the players around him – instead of trying to force those players into plays that don’t fit their skill sets.
"It’s not so much of a system as it is we want to find the right plays that fit the guys that we have, and so that’s part of our job this year as an offensive staff," Day said. "We’re looking for competitors, guys who are leaders, tough, football IQ and decision-makers. If you hit those categories, and you have enough talent, then we’re going to find a way, and we’re going to find the right plays that fit you. We’re not looking for a certain type of quarterback."
“It’s not that we’re starting a new offense. It’s we’re going to emphasize and utilize the plays in the playbook that fit them the best.”– Ohio State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ryan Day
One of the biggest changes to Ohio State’s offense this year could be how the Buckeyes utilize the quarterback running game. While that depends on who the starting quarterback ends up being, all three potential starting quarterbacks have at least somewhat different skill sets from Barrett, which means the Buckeyes will have to adapt their offensive play calling to best take advantage of their skill sets.
"When you look at Tate’s running ability, he’s maybe a little bit quicker than J.T.," Day said. "J.T. was a little bit thicker, stronger, really good running skills. Joe is kind of more like that. He’s a big, strong guy who’s worked great in the weight room. So when you defend Joe, he can run, he can throw, he can do a bunch of things, he’s got a lot of versatility that way. And then Dwayne is a good enough runner to get himself out of trouble, gifted passer."
If Haskins or Burrow wins the starting job, the Buckeyes could choose to implement a two-quarterback system with a Martell package to take advantage of his playmaking ability as a runner. It’s also possible, though, that the Buckeyes could simply choose to emphasize passing plays over quarterback running plays to a greater degree than they did with Barrett.
That possibility has many Ohio State fans envisioning the final three games of the 2014 season, when Cardale Jones took over for an injured Barrett and a more passing-heavy Buckeyes offense – then coordinated by Tom Herman – rolled over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to win a national championship.
Presumably, the plays Ohio State’s offense utilized to win those games remain a part of the big playbook that Day references, and Day says the Buckeyes have looked back on that offense – as well as other past offenses – as they prepare for the 2018 season. But while the Buckeyes are hoping to ultimately achieve the same goal that the 2014 team, Day says they haven’t yet determined whether what worked during that title-winning stretch would work with their current personnel.
"I mean, hopefully, it looks like a team that won the national championship, we all want that, but we have a different set of players," Day said. "And so, obviously they were explosive, they were really productive and did a lot of great things, and obviously that’s what we want. The way they attack, all those things. So yeah, we go back and we watch those films all the time. Now, just because it worked for them, is that going to work for us? Well, that’s the stuff that we’re working through."