Ohio State Has Been More Willing to Lean on the Passing Game Under Ryan Day, Leading to Improved Offensive Balance

By Chris Lauderback on August 12, 2021 at 11:05 am
Ryan Day

When Urban Meyer hired Ryan Day after the 2016 season, the mission was clear.

Ohio State's passing game needed a major overhaul after the final three games in particular exposed flaws in the aerial attack from design to execution to playcalling. 

Under Meyer and Tim Beck, the trio of Michigan State, Michigan and Clemson held J.T. Barrett and company to 86, 124 and 127 passing yards, respectively, as the Buckeyes gave up 14 sacks and scored exactly three offensive touchdowns in 12 quarters. (Two additional touchdowns came via short fields in overtime during the 30-27 double overtime win over the Wolverines.)

Over the full season, the 2016 Buckeyes ranked No. 81 nationally in passing offense (213.9 ypg) which was actually an improvement over the 2015 squad that ranked No. 100 with 188.8 passing yards per game. 

The struggles were eerily similar to the first two years of the Meyer era as he leaned hard on the run game, heavily involving the quarterback as he favored having an extra blocker in the form of a running back providing cover for his signal-callers carrying the rock. 

And hey, while the formula wasn't always easy on the eyes, it racked up wins in record numbers and the running game was a beast, ranking in the top-11 nationally in yards per game each of Meyer's first five years in Columbus. Yards per carry were also solid, ranking in the top 20 each of those same five seasons led by a blistering 6.8 average in 2013. 

That said, Ohio State's offensive predictability was sometimes a problem against the most elite opponents, even when the Buckeyes did escape a big game with a victory. 

Lacking a consistently lethal passing attack, Meyer's first five squads struggled to find the balance you always hear coaches tout as critical. 

Not once over those five seasons did Ohio State's passing game average more yards than the running game and often the results were pretty lopsided. 

2016 5.5 17 245.2 11 213.9 81 53% / 47% 
2015 5.6 9 245.2 11 188.8 100 56% / 44% 
2014 5.8 11 264.5 9 247.1 52 52% / 48% 
2013 6.8 1 308.6 5 203.3 90 60% / 40%
2012 5.2 20 242.2 10 181.5 105 57% / 43% 

This of course brings us back to Meyer's realization he needed to make a move and bring in a ringer like Day. Though his ringer status wasn't yet known to many in the industry, Meyer knew Day from his time as a grad assistant under Urban at Florida way back in 2005 and from his work with Chip Kelly as the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 and the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. 

Meyer not only brought Day in to tutor the quarterbacks but to also lend a major hand in reshaping and calling the plays. 

The move paid off immediately as Ohio State's 2017 passing attack ranked No. 36 in the country and for the first time in the Meyer era, the Buckeyes actually put up more yards through the air than on the ground, accounting for 52% of the total offense. 

And they did it with the same quarterback from 2016 as Barrett improved his passing efficiency by over 25 points and his completion percentage by 3.2 percentage points to 64.7%. 

The next year, Dwayne Haskins took over and things got weird, certainly weirder than Day or Meyer would've liked, as they rode Haskins' arm to the nation's No. 2 ranked passing offense (364.3 ypg), accounting for a ridiculous 68% of the team's total offense. That season was an outlier and not exactly what the braintrust preferred but it was what it was. 

The last two seasons however, with Day now as the head coach, have seemingly shown exactly what Day wants to accomplish on offense. He wants an attack with an elite quarterback that can lead with the pass but balanced in a way that it can also lean on a lethal running game capable of setting up the pass or flat out overpowering teams when matchups dictate. 

In 2019, with Justin Fields running Day's offense, the Buckeyes ranked No. 36 in passing offense at 263.1 yards per contest to augment the nation's No. 5 running game at 266.8 yards per game. The near-50/50 split had to have Day smiling. 

Last season, again with Fields orchestrating Day's playbook, the passing game (262.5 ypg) coupled with the running game (256.9 ypg) to provide stellar balance and give most defenses fits. 

2020 6.0 3 256.9 8 262.5 37 49% / 51% 
2019 5.6 6 266.8 5 263.1 36 50% / 50% 
2018 4.2 76 171.2 63 364.3 2 32% / 68%
2017 5.8 8 243.2 17 262.8 36 48% / 52%

In fact, the last four seasons with Day in the mix saw Ohio State put up no less than an average of 262 passing yards per game while basically losing nothing from the running game's production seen during Meyer's first five seasons as head coach, again save for the wacky Haskins season. 

And of course, with Day's NFL coaching pedigree and now his proven development of Barrett, Haskins and most recently Fields, he's set up to have an elite signal-caller directing his offense for years to come. 

This season, despite needing to break in a first-year starter at quarterback that's yet to throw a collegiate pass, it feels like things are set up for another well-balanced, dominant offensive attack under Day's guidance. 

Even as Day and Greg Studrawa tinker with which pieces will make up the starting offensive line, the expectation is for Ohio State to be elite in the trenches. The protection up front should not only give the new quarterback time in the pocket, reducing rushed throws and mental mistakes, it should also pave the way for the running game to enjoy success, even if Day employs a committee approach. 

The hope is that one of Miyan Williams, Master Teague or TreVeyon Henderson steps up to serve as the primary back but even if that isn't the case, it's hard to fathom Ohio State struggling to run the ball with success. 

Finally, the new quarterback should have a real good time learning the ropes while throwing to the nation's best 1-2 receiving punch in the country in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Oh, and the slot seems in more-than-capable hands with Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Emeka Egbuka. And let's not forget about the stellar Jeremy Ruckert at tight end or the roughly 37 blue chip wide receivers slotting behind Olave and Wilson. 

While Ohio State is a Nike school, the arrival of Ryan Day, first as a coordinator and now as a head coach, has it enjoying a new balance on offense. (I'll show myself out.)

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