No question, the Buckeye passing game needs to get better, much better, in 2017.
But the offense didn't "flounder" in 2016. Even with the shortcomings in the passing game last year, the Buckeyes were #1 in the Big 10 in yards per game Total Offense. 31st in the nation, of the 128 FBS teams, in Total Offense, with 459.2 yards per game. 13th in the nation in Scoring Offense, with 39.4 points per game. 11th in the nation in Rushing Offense, with 245.2 yards per game behind an offensive line that, according to the Football Outsiders Offensive Line metric, ranked #1 in the nation in run blocking .
Yes, the passing offense ranked 81st in the nation, at 213.9 yards per game, and the passing blocking, according to the above mentioned metric, ranked #82 of the 128 FBS teams, but, over the course of the whole season, and forgetting the Clemson game in particular, overall the offense performed reasonably well.
But reasonably well isn't good enough for a team that annually aspires to a national championship. High expectations are the norm at Ohio State. As they should be. But let's be realistic about what the team has actually accomplished, while the Buckeye offense strives to a much improved, more balanced performance in 2017, with a greatly improved passing attack.
When you lose to a division foe -- MSU in 2015, PSU in 2016 -- the division-champ tie-breaker is no longer in your favor. A primary goal in 2017 for the Buckeyes must be to go 6-0 in the division. Then there is a much better chance of playing in the championship game.
Braxton Miller was a great athlete who could both throw the ball and run. In his final two years at QB, 2012 and 2013, he threw for 2039 and 2094 yards respectively, throwing 39 TDs with 13 INTs over those two years, completing 58.3 and 63.5% of his passes, garnering QB ratings of 140.5 and 158.1. He also rushed for 1271 and 1068 yards, scoring 25 rushing TDs, in those two years. If he had been physically able to play QB in his senior year, he very likely would have compiled the stats to make him the #1 top QB in Ohio State history.
IMO, Troy Smith and Braxton Miller are the two "top" QBs in Ohio State history. Rex Kern and Craig Krenzel deserve to be in the top 5, IMO, due to their having led the Buckeyes to National Championships. A "top" QB doesn't necessarily have to have the most impressive stat line, he produces on the field in the clutch and wins games. Both Kern and Krenzel accomplished this, as opposed to having great stats. Art Schlichter makes the top 5, but, IMO, Kern and Krenzel were higher rated "top" QBs.
One of "the reasons why" is because Ohio State's opponents relish the idea of beating the Buckeyes, especially in Ohio Stadium and especially if the team has a number of players (and coaches) on its roster from Ohio. Teams look at their upcoming season's schedule and circle the Ohio State game. Teams, players and coaches, almost always come ready to play Ohio State tough.
When you are a premier program, you engender preparation and effort from your opponents. The Buckeyes, players and coaches, must match this -- no, exceed this -- and come especially ready to play . . . every week. That's what champions are made of.
This should be the number 1 priority in 2017, absent any other consideration . . . going undefeated in division play. It's all well and good to look beyond the division, especially out of conference, and toward potential playoff match ups, but one of the biggest failures in the Urban Meyer era has been that unexpected loss within the division. That has been all too frequent, most notably in the last two years.
There are six must wins in 2017 - Penn State, TTUN, Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers. Go 6-0 in the division and a more firm foundation has been established for a playoff run and a championship season.
In May, the 5 most likely prospects at punt return in 2017 were listed as:
5 - K.J. Hill
4 - Kendall Sheffield
3 - Denzel Ward
2 - Parris Campbell
1 - Demario McCall
While speed and shiftiness are important attributes of a punt returner, so is the no-fear mindset with respect to physical contact.
IMO, these are the key attributes of an elite punt returner: (1) The ability to quickly make the right decision (fair catch vs. field the punt), given the unfolding play in front of him, (2) excellent ball handling skills, (3) shiftiness/quickness (as well as straight line speed) and (4) contact fearlessness. Who on the team can demonstrate the best skill set combination in all of these areas?
To expand the topic just a bit, while Parris Campbell is the likely kickoff returner for 2017, the Buckeyes will need to find a punt returner to replace Dontre Wilson, as well as greatly improve the performance of the punt return unit, which was ranked #105 of the 128 FBS college football teams in 2016. As the opposition (hopefully) punts very often, punt return is a major first-strike, offensive weapon that needs to be greatly improved in 2017. As an aside, defensive players, especially DBs, often make excellent punt returners, as they tend to have less trepidation of physical contact combined with excellent ball handling skills.
To expand the topic just a bit, with respect to special teams, "offensively," the Buckeyes will need sound kickoff return and punt return units next year. Last year, kickoff return was quite good, ranking # 13 nationally of the 128 FBS teams, while punt return was not, ranking #105.
A much improved punt return unit should be a very high priority.
Just as a comparison, I decided to look at the 2016 Clemson Tigers. Taking into consideration those pass catchers who were targeted more than 20 times during the season, Clemson had 37 drops in 522 targets, a drop rate of 7.1%. Similarly, for Alabama in 2016, there were 20 drops in 254 targets, a 7.9% drop rate.
According to CFB Film Room, in 2016, Marcus Baugh led the team in drops, with 7 dropped passes in 45 targets (15.6%). Next was Mike Weber, with 4 in 32 targets (12.5%). Curtis Samuel had 3 drops in 90 targets (3.3%). Noah Brown had 3 in 51 targets (5.9%). Dontre Wilson had 2 in 32 targets (6.3%).
Parris Campbell had 2 in 25 targets (8%), K.J.Hill had 1 in 23 targets (4.3%) and Terry McLaurin had 2 in 21 targets (9.5%).
Among the top pass catchers listed above, in 2016 the Buckeyes had 24 drops in 319 targets, a 7.5% drop rate. In 2015, among the top pass catchers, there were 19 drops in 249 targets, a 7.6% drop rate.
In perhaps 8 or so visits at multiple locations, I've never had anything but an excellent steak at Ruth's Chris Steak House. While a bit pricey, the steaks have always been cooked exactly as ordered and of the highest quality. If there is one near you, I suggest you try it.
Only to clarify some details, Oklahoma returns 16 starters, including 9 on offense and 7 on defense. By contrast, the Buckeyes return 15 starters, 8 on offense and 7 on defense. [And for comparison purposes, TTUN ranks dead last among the FBS teams in 2017, returning 5 starters, 4 on offense (including their starting QB) and only 1 on defense.]
The 2016 Sooner defense ranked 82nd of the 128 Division I FBS teams in Total Defense, allowing an average of 432 yards/game, 55th in Rushing Defense (162.6 yds/game) and 111th in Passing Yards Allowed (269.4 yds/game). Their Team Passing Efficiency Defense ranked 66th among the 128 FBS teams. Their 3rd Down Conversion Percentage Defense was 94th, while their 4th Down Conversion Percentage Defense was T-81st.
While it is quite possible that Oklahoma's defense will be improved over 2016, it should not provide a significant challenge to the Buckeye offense (unlike the Sooner offense will) when they play in Columbus in the season's 2nd game. If the offense responds positively to the offensive coaching changes, prepares well, executes the game plan and makes the necessary in-game adjustments, it may actually be an opportunity for JT Barrett and the offense to have a very good game on offense, particularly throwing the ball.
The 2017 Buckeyes will most likely not see a really good defense until the October 28th game against Penn State in Columbus (and that after a bye week), in the 8th game of the season, giving the offense a good bit of the season to develop before they face a more formidable defense in 2017.
According to CFB Film Room, Billy Price (RG) had a 96.5% pass protection rating in 426 pass blocking snaps in 2016. A rating above 97% is generally considered very good and the rating is calculated by taking the total number of pass blocking snaps and dividing the number of snaps without a hurry, hit or sack by the total number of PB snaps. For comparison, Jamarco Jones (LT) led the OLine with a 97.6% rating, while Isaiah Prince (RT) had the lowest rating at 90.8%. Pat Elflein (C) had a 96.9 rating, while Michael Jordan (LG) had a 94.9 rating in pass protection.
In his 426 pass blocking snaps, Billy Price was attributed with 8 hurries, 4 hits and 3 sacks and led the OLine with 9 penalties for 50 yards attributed to him. Isaiah Prince led the team allowing 24 hurries, Prince allowed the most hits, with 8 and the most sacks with 8.
Finally, for comparison, in 2016, according the Football Outsiders NCAA: Offensive Line metric, which uses the same formula for ranking NFL offensive lines, Ohio State's OLine ranked #82 of the 128 FBS teams in terms of pass protection, but was the #1 ranked team among the 128 FBS teams with respect to run blocking.
Thanks for the compliment, BuckeyeIn NY.
As for the offensive side of the ball in 2017, Coach Wilson has consistently demonstrated at Indiana that he can take predominately 3-star talent and mesh it into a productive unit. Championships are won on the basis of talent playing together as a unit, on offense, defense and special teams. The Buckeye defense has adopted this philosophy the most effectively and I am confident that Coach Wilson will bring this approach to the offense . . . an emphasis on playing together as a unit enhanced by the individual player talent level that he is now working with at Ohio State.
If the talent/playing together approach executes a well thought out game plan, the sky is literally the limit for the 2017 Buckeye offense under Coach Wilson's leadership.
Yours is a very interesting and insightful perspective.
The strength of the Buckeye defense in recent years is not primarily in individual performance nearly as much as it is the play of the defensive unit(s) as a whole. Don't get me wrong, there are, and have been, great individual talents on defense, but when asked which individual is most indispensable, I too struggle for an answer, in part, because the defense is not, at least in my opinion, centered on the indispensability of an individual's performance, nearly so much as it is centered on the performance of the unit, where individual talent meshes into the excellence of the defense as a whole. That is a key to why the Buckeye defense has become so consistently good -- the focus is on unit performance over individual performance.
As as aside, the offense could benefit from the focus on unit execution and performance, which, at least in what I have read about Coach Wilson's philosophy so far, seems to match his approach as well, as when Coach Wilson said that ". . . talent doesn't win, it's the ability to play together.” This, among other things, bodes well for significant improvement in the offense's execution and game-to-game consistency next year.
Two FSU recruiting insiders CB Taron Vincent to the Seminoles immediately after his recent visit to FSU and you're ready to throw in the towel? My, my.
I'm sure that Coach Johnson will continue to vigorously recruit the young man because he would be an excellent fit into an already very good defensive line, along with Aeneas Hawkins, if he chooses to become a Buckeye, too.
No ragrets. +1
OK, I'll take the bait (I may very well regret this), but I'm pretty sure that one of the first things that Coach Meyer, and the entire coaching staff does at the conclusion of the season, as a foundation in preparation for next year, is to study a rather detailed statistical analysis of last year, intentionally prepared by the support staff.
In order to assess how best to go forward, it would only make sense to perceive where one is and where one came from. No?
If you look at the overall season stats from CFB Film Room, the only aspect of pass protection that Billy Price had a major issue with in 2016 was penalties. In 426 pass blocking snaps, he was attributed with 9 penalties/50 yards, and led the offensive line in this area. The offensive line was called for 29 penalties over 13 games in pass protection in 2016.
Otherwise, in those 426 pass protection snaps, Price was attributed with 8 QB hurries, 4 QB hits and 3 QB sacks. This works out to a 96.5% pass protection rating, meaning that on 3.5% of pass protection snaps was he responsible for a hurry, a hit or a sack. Generally, a rating above 97% is considered very good, so 96.5% is not a bad rating. By contrast, Isaiah Prince scored a 90.8% pass protection rating, which means that in rough 1 of every 10 pass protection snaps, he was attributed with either a hurry, a hit or a sack. That is not good.
In addition, Billy Price was a member of the #1 rated offensive line in the nation in 2016, of the 128 FBS teams, with respect to run blocking. The 2016 Buckeye offensive line was top 10 in the nation in each of the five sub-categories calculated with respect to run blocking, so the unit as a whole produced very well and there was no apparent weak link in the offensive line with respect to run blocking.
Whether Price should move to center in 2017 is a separate issue, but, apparently, the coaching staff believes that this is the best move given the returning starters, the coaching staff's perception of Price's performance and capabilities, and the other offensive lineman on the 2017 OL depth chart. It is absolutely true that Price will have to improve with respect to reducing the number of penalties attributable to him, his one glaring weakness in 2016.
Buckeye, I know I'm coming to this conversation a bit late, but does the ideal 1-technique DT have to necessarily be a "big" guy, 300 lbs or more?
Can strength, both leg strength and upper body strength, substitute for size in some instances? Pure size is the obvious way for a 1-technique to clog the middle and take up two offensive lineman, but couldn't a somewhat smaller, quicker DT, who is very strong, serve that position, even in a way that makes him more valuable as a defensive lineman. The ultimate key isn't so much size as it is pure, physical strength. This means that, more than size, physical strength development is the key to developing an elite 1-technique DT. He should be spending lots of time, perhaps more than most other players, specifically in a tailored strength and conditioning regime.
Or is it a fact that, since offensive lineman are getting bigger and bigger, some in the 300-325 lb. range, this almost requires a likewise 300+ pounder? Would a survey of the elite 1-technique players in college and the NFL provide any insight into whether the "size is paramount" narrative is in fact true?
What is particularly impressive about MIke Weber's accomplishment last year . . . going over 1,000 yards . . . is that he wasn't even the team's leader in rushing attempts . . . J.T. Barrett was, with 205 rushing attempts to Mike Weber's 182. In those 182 attempts, Weber averaged 6.02 yards per carry. 6.02. This is very impressive for a first year back. And as an aside, Curtis Samuel gained 771 yards on only 97 rushing attempts, a 7.95 yard per attempt average. Overall, the Buckeyes in 2016 gained 3188 yards rushing on 583 attempts, an average of 5.47 yards per attempt and scored 33 rushing touchdowns in 13 games. Ohio State's rushing offense was ranked 11th in the nation, with 245.2 yards per game, very near Coach Meyer's goal of 250 yards per game.
In addition, the Buckeyes were #2 in the nation of the 128 FBS teams in Opportunity Rate (with 48%), the percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, #2 in Power Success Rate (with 84.6%), the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown, and #6 in the nation in Stuff Rate (with only 13.4%), the percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. This speaks even more to the overall rushing effectiveness, including the rushing blocking performance of the offensive line.
IMO, J.T. Barrett must run the ball much less in 2017, not lead the team with 35% of the rushing attempts, as he did in 2016. Mike Weber, and those behind him on the depth chart, are very capable backs who need to be utilized more.