Skull Session: Pat Fitzgerald Remembers Recruiting Justin Fields, Ohio State's Eliminated Explosive Plays, and Ranking the Buckeyes With the BCS Formula

By Kevin Harrish on October 15, 2019 at 4:59 am
Brian Hartline is coaching 'em up in today's skull session.

We're one day closer to Buckeye football, and we don't even have to wait until Saturday!


Word of the Day: Suasible.

 TOO MANY STARS. Pat Fitzgerald remembers Justin Fields fondly. So fondly, that he wishes he was quarterbacking his football team instead – but then he blew up.

Yes, if only Northwestern were able to land a former five-star quarterback transfer. That's absolutely what this team is missing. Then maybe they wouldn't have to roll with the guy who is currently completing less than half of his passes and throwing four times as many interceptions as touchdowns.

Oh, what's that?

I love when coaches pull the "if only we had good players!" card for self pity, as if recruiting isn't a substantial part of their job and something they can absolutely control, but this is even more hilarious since he's working with pretty much the exact same scenario as Ohio State.

The only difference is he's had longer to develop his five-star quarterback transfer, and the results are significantly worse.

 LIMITING EXPLOSIVES. Ohio State's break-but-don't-bend defense was one hell of a rollercoaster last year, but certainly not one that I'd like to ride more than once.

The average play was fine –  sometimes even very good! – but I held my breathe every time a mediocre scat back caught the ball on a screen pass because I knew there was always a chance he would be running forever.

Last year, Ohio State ranked 95th in the country in allowing plays of 20 yards or greater. This year, it's uh, better. And we have a new scheme to thank for that.

From Nathan Baird of

The Buckeyes were one of 10 defenses to allow eight plays of 60 or more yards, one of four to allow seven plays of 70 or more yards and one of two to allow four plays of 80 or more yards. While 119 of 130 teams did not allow a single play of 90-plus yards, Ohio State joined Georgia State and Virginia Tech as teams who allowed not one but two.

Ohio State is one of only seven teams to limit opponents to 15 or fewer plays of 20-plus yards. The Buckeyes rank in the upper third of FBS in allowing the fewest plays of 40-plus and 50-plus yards, and are one of 30 to allow either one or zero rushes of 30-plus yards.


“The number one thing we talk about when we put in new calls, when we talk about anything — and we say it over and over again — is we want to eliminate explosives,” Hafley said. "If we think a blitz is really, really good, but there’s potential for it to give up an explosive, we’re not going to put it in. If we feel like there’s a really, really good coverage that say we want to run on third and 4-6, and we really like it against what they’re doing, but there’s a chance to give up an explosive, we’re not going to do it.

“Everything we think about, we think about explosives, because our whole philosophy is, we want to make you drive the length of the field. If you can drive on us the length of the field and then put it in the end zone against us in the red zone, nice job. Then we’ve got to figure out why and we’ve got to adjust some things.”

I love the math and logic behind making an opposing offense string together a lengthy drive against your defense filled with superior players, instead of potentially allowing a score on a single play – even if that means playing more conservative defensively.

It's the same logic behind running a ton of plays when you have superior offensive talent. The more plays you run, the better chance the team with far more talent is going to come out on top.

Put it this way, I don't think many teams are consistently going to be the Silver Bullets for 12 plays in a row, but you might find one that could bust three plays of 60 yards in a game. So if you can limit those and keep everything in front of you – congrats! You're unbeatable.

 THROWING IT BACK TO THE BCS. Remember back in the olden days when computer rankings mattered and only two teams played for the title? Well if the BCS were still alive, it would still think the Buckeyes were very good.

The 2013 iteration of me would kick my ass for saying this, but five seasons into this College Football Playoff committee thing, I'm gonna be honest – I miss the BCS.

It turns out, as much as I thought I hated the old system, I actually liked how there was a rigid, predictable and fairly objective way to choose the two teams. My only problem was that there were only two teams.

I don't know how I was ever hoodwinked into believing that a small gaggle of white-collar folks with inherent biases and agendas with no oversight, rules or precedent was better than the formulaic system we had before, but I've changed my mind.

I'll keep your playoff, but give me back my computers and my polls and send the committee packing.

 THE OTHER FIRST ROUND PICK. Chase Young and Jeff Okudah are already first-round locks, but another Ohio State cornerback is looking to play himself into the first round despite flying under the radar to start the season, and really even now.

Shaun Wade is one of the players Dane Brugler of The Athletic ($) has as a player we could be talking about as a first-round option come spring.

*Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State (6-0, 195, 4.47)

Since the 2016 NFL Draft, Ohio State has had five cornerbacks drafted, including four in the first round. That impressive run will continue in April with junior Jeffrey Okudah (projected top-10 pick) and senior Damon Arnette (projected top-100 pick). But as a redshirt sophomore, Wade could also join that party. He might not have the body of work of most first-round corner prospects, but the talent is there.

A former five-star recruit out of Florida, Wade was the No. 2 cornerback in the 2017 high school class (just behind Okudah) and could have played anywhere in the country. He chose Columbus and evolved into Ohio State’s versatile nickel back, lining up both inside and outside based on the offensive personnel. An impressive size/speed athlete, Wade flies to the ball in off-coverage and his versatility will be a key selling point for the next level. As long as he continues to mature his skill-set over the second half of the season, he will have an NFL decision to make after the year.

Selfishly, I'd love to see Wade pull a Denzel Ward and come back again next season and get more experience playing outside, be that lockdown corner from the start of the season and move from fringe first-round range into top-5 pick range.

But hey, Sunday is a good day to get experience playing outside. And that way, he'd be getting paid to do it.

 IT COULD ALWAYS SUCK MORE! I've seen the comments. I know y'all are absolutely irate that probably the biggest game of the season is kicking off at noon, and I'm right there with you.

But I feel a little better after seeing this:

Still, give me Penn State in primetime, or give me death (my lawyers would like me to add that this statement is non-binding).

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