Keeping the balance. Something every team (aside from the service academy’s) tries to accomplish with their offense in order to keep the opposing defense honest. This is something that the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes must improve if they have aspirations of winning a Big Ten and National Championship.
In 2012, Ohio State ranked 10th in the country and second in the Big Ten (Nebraska being first) in rushing yards per game with 242.25 yards. This was due in large part to a healthy offensive line which started the same five players in all twelve games last season. Not to mention of course, quarterback Braxton Miller and tailback Carlos Hyde who combined for 77% of the Buckeyes total rushing yards. The good news for the 2013 Buckeye offense is four out of the five starting lineman return along with both Hyde and Miller, who is being tabbed by many to be a Heisman finalist.
All that is well and good, but what about the Buckeyes passing game? This has been an area of concern for Ohio State the past two seasons and while there was significant improvement from 2011 to 2012, there is still more work to be done. The Buckeyes finished last season with an average of just over 181 passing yards per game which could not even crack the top 100 in the FBS. Ohio State finished 101st in 2012 in passing which was a small improvement from the 2011 season, in which they finished 114th which was the second lowest among automatic qualifying BCS teams (Kentucky of the SEC finished 116).
So how can the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes bring more balance to its offense? They can start by trusting Braxton Miller a little more with his arm. In 2012, Ohio State rushed the ball twice as many times as they threw it, rushing 559 times to just 278 pass attempts. Miller alone accounted for nearly 41% of Ohio States total rushing attempts last season carrying the ball 42 more times than starting tailback Carlos Hyde. If the Buckeyes are to keep a balanced attack in 2013, Miller will need to carry the ball less and be trusted to throw much more.
Unlike last season in which head coach Urban Meyer struggled to find a playmaker at wide receiver, the 2013 Buckeyes return multiple weapons to be on the receiving end of Miller’s passes. Corey ‘Philly’ Brown led the Buckeyes in receptions last season and enters his senior year with high expectations. Despite only catching three touchdown passes last season, Brown rushed for one score and returned two punts for scores against Nebraska and Wisconsin. Brown also finished the 2012 campaign with 60 receptions which is exactly double the amount of Ohio States second leading receiver Devin Smith. Smith led the Buckeyes with six touchdown receptions in 2012, and also led the team in yards per catch averaging just over 21 yards per reception. Smith also made what was arguably the best catch in college football last year against Miami (OH) snagging the ball with one hand while simultaneously spinning in mid-air.
After Brown and Smith, the Buckeyes are looking for the rest of the receivers to step up. Likely to fill the necessary roles are incoming senior Chris Fields and junior Evan Spencer. Despite only recording four catches all last season, Fields made what was probably the most important catch of 2012, going down low to grab a pass from backup quarterback Kenny Guiton to help send the Purdue game to overtime. In addition to that key catch against the Boilermakers, Fields scored twice in the 2013 spring game both receiving and rushing the football. Evan Spencer also has the ability to make big plays as we saw in 2011 against Akron as Spencer made a similar catch to Smith’s one handed snag. Spencer totaled 12 receptions for 136 yards in 2012 and was Ohio States fourth leading receiver.
In order for the Buckeye’s to keep a balanced offense in 2013, quarterback Braxton Miller will need to make more plays with his arm and hopefully will make a Troy Smith-like progression from his second year as a starter, to his third. If that is the case, Ohio State fans can look forward to a memorable 2013 season and an offense that is difficult to predict.