While most of what Ohio State did in its 62-39 win over Michigan on Saturday was effective, one thing that didn’t work well was the red zone package that brought Tate Martell into the game.
Ohio State substituted Martell into the game on two separate trips to the red zone on Saturday – one time for one play, and another time for three plays – and both times, the Buckeyes ended up having to settle for field goals. Ohio State ran the ball on all four of Martell’s plays in the game – twice by Martell himself, and twice on handoffs to J.K. Dobbins – and gained just four combined yards, as Michigan seemed prepared for the Buckeyes’ predictable play calls.
As such, Ohio State has to go back to the drawing board this week and determine whether continuing to use Martell in that capacity is beneficial to its offense. Starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins has run the ball more effectively in the Buckeyes’ last two games – probably not coincidentally, the first two games since Ohio State first used the Martell package against Michigan State – which gives Ohio State less reason to take its best passer off the field.
“Dwayne certainly has the athleticism to at least be a threat, and he’s done a brilliant job of that the last two weeks,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Sunday on the Big Ten Championship Game coaches’ teleconference.
Meyer made it clear on Monday, however, that he wants Tate Martell to remain a part of the Buckeyes’ offensive game plan.
“I'm a Tate Martell fan, so I'm pushing it real hard,” Meyer said. “I want him in the game.”
At the same time, Meyer said the Buckeyes are “going to do what’s best” for their offense, so the question is, does continuing to substitute Martell into the game in certain situations fit that definition?
Haskins has played well enough all season, and particularly now that he’s proven he can make a play with his feet when the situation calls for it, that there’s seemingly no need to take him out of the game in any situation. But Martell is a more dynamic athlete than Haskins, which brings some value to the running game when he’s on the field, as it forces defenses to be equally concerned about both the quarterback and running back as running threats.
Ohio State had success running the ball with Martell in the game against one of the nation’s best run defenses at Michigan State. In order for the package to continue to be effective, however, the Buckeyes might have to be willing to mix in passing plays – which they have yet to do in any of the last three games – to prevent defenses from selling out to stop the run.
“I want him in the game.”– Urban Meyer on Tate Martell
All of that should be part of the conversations that Meyer, offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson and the rest of Ohio State’s offensive coaching staff have this week. One thing Meyer wanted to make clear, however, was that while the Martell package hasn’t necessarily been effective in the last two games, that’s no fault of Martell’s own.
“It’s certainly not his doing. He’s as competitive a guy as you’ve got,” Meyer said of Martell. “To say, well, it's not working because he's not doing a good job; there's other things involved.”