Season of the Witch

By Ramzy Nasrallah on July 10, 2019 at 1:05 pm
J.T. Barrett vs. Michigan, 2017

Urban Meyer's final year as Ohio State's head coach was the coldest.

This is metaphorical, of course. The Buckeyes escaped playing in anything approaching wintery weather throughout the 2018 season - but it was the only one of his seven in Columbus where he was without his security blanket. It gets chilly without a blankie.

Now we're two metaphors deep into an offensive philosophy that's two years removed from Ohio State football. Urban's security blanket was his favorite page in the playbook. Well, part of that page. Really, just one play.

From 2012 through 2017 Ohio State ran the QB Keeper in short, medium and long-yardage situations. Urban tapped it on 3rd and two. He brought it in when the passing game wasn't quite clicking as it should. He leaned on it when he was anxious. He ordered it up in times of crisis. He called it whenever he felt like it.

J.T. Barrett racked up 3263 RUSHING yards, averaging 5 per carry. DWAYNE Haskins would have HAD to play 22 seasons at his rushing AVERAGE to TIE HIM.

No matter whom the Buckeyes faced over those six seasons, every opponent was forced to solve the disadvantageous blocker math Ohio State's head coach loved above all else. Ten blockers on 11 tacklers. If everyone does their job, all the quarterback with the ball has to do is make that one unblocked guy miss.

That's it. That was the entire basis for Urban's security blanket. Math.

Braxton Miller made a towering stack of corpses out of the One Unblocked Guy over his QB career. Kenny Guiton averaged north of seven yards per carry by gliding past him. J.T. Barrett juked him, ran around him or ran away from him. Cardale Jones just ran over him. Cardale always liked to keep things simple.

As 2017 drew to a close, it looked as though 2018 would bring more of the same with shifty Tate Martell and this guy primed to assume the role of Urban's security blanket:

Dwayne Haskins running wild in Ann Arbor

But that guy turned out to be this guy. He averaged just 1.4 yards per carry in 2018.

don't hit meeeeeee

Dwayne Haskins' predecessor had racked up 3263 yards on the ground, averaging five per carry. He would have had to play 22 college seasons at his rushing rate to tie Barrett for total yards. That's math Meyer accepted long before it was calculated, and it's why 2018 was his coldest season. Haskins ran the ball 79 times last year. Barrett finished his career with 656 carries. That's a lot of blankets.

Every coach has a playbook vice he refuses quit. Perhaps you're old enough to remember the Dave play that Jim Tressel swaddled himself in for the better part of his decade. Tressel would use Dave as a protective casing for the smallest of leads and was disciplined enough to wait until the rapture for his opponent to make the game-losing mistake.

In the meantime, he would Dave them to death. The last thing opponents would see before crossing over to the other side was Ohio State's guard pulling. Urban spread out the formations, put the QB in shotgun and deleted the handoff from the equation. Both plays were their respective coaches' blankie plays.

When Meyer was suspended to start 2018, Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson ran the offense without an in-game veto for three games. What they called a) in the absence of consistent FBS-level run-blocking, and b) with the least mobile QB since Tippy Toe Todd Boeckman (oh, everyone called him that; you just forgot) led to the QB Keeper falling out of heavy rotation, which lasted throughout the season.

If you didn't recognize what RYAN Day's security blanket play was in 2018, JUST look at who OHIO STATE IS recruiting in 2019.

This happened without much protest. Haskins was immobile and often unwilling to run the ball relative to every other Meyer quarterback until late in the season when it was apparent he was told he no longer had a choice in the matter, which was when he began running with purpose. Still, there were numerous times - usually 3rd and short - where that old blankie would have come in handy.

It wasn't exactly missed, though. Fans grew anxious watching Barrett effort for exactly three yards whenever two were needed. And Haskins' shiny NFL arm paired with a fleet of elite, well-coached receivers led to Meyer's streak of having his quarterbacks break records extend into 2018 - which means it happened in every one of Meyer's seasons in Columbus.

Tucked into where the QB Keeper used to be was what we now identify as Day's blanket. Safe passes into the flat - basically, long handoffs - along with crossing routes began to appear in traditional security blanket situations. Mesh became what the Buckeyes leaned on the most, eschewing the 10-on-11 scrimmage showdown we had grown so accustomed to seeing.

His comfort comes with a different type of math advantage. It's the philosophy that no college football team in history has five guys on the roster who can properly blanket their assignments. That assumes the fourth and fifth receiver on the field are going to draw attention from - how do we put this delicately - special teams guys, smallish linebackers or mediocre corners. Here's a good example. Start watching at...really, any point in that video.

If you didn't recognize what Day's security blanket play was going to be back in 2018, just look at who Ohio State is recruiting in 2019. Mesh will reliably appear in short, medium and long-yardage situations. He will tap it on 3rd and 2. He will bring it in when the running game isn't quite clicking as it should. He'll lean on it when he gets anxious. He will order it up in times of crisis. He will call it whenever he wants to. That's what play calling comfort looks like with the in-game playcalling veto now in Day's pocket.

Which means he won't have to experience a cold year in Columbus anytime soon.

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