Ohio State football 2014: Preseason thoughts

The dawn of another Ohio State football season is upon us, and 2014 figures to be an unpredictable year with so much change on both sides of the ball.

Most indications are the DNA is going to be different with the offense and the defense, one change being personnel-driven and the other caused by extreme struggles of a year ago. Both ways, Ohio State is going to have to count on a new cast of characters to carry out what is in all likelihood a plan that is at least somewhat different than it was last year, for better or for worse.

Preseason practice at Ohio State. The Schottenstein Center is in the background.
Preseason practice at Ohio State. The Schottenstein Center is in the background.

Offensively, Ohio State has the best player in the Big Ten back to trigger an attack that is probably going to look more like Urban Meyer and Tom Herman intended it to when they arrived than it has for the past two seasons. They want to have playmakers all over the field, not strictly smashing people up the middle.

Of course, the last two years were historically successful for the offense, but the main reason was Miller with the support of battering rams in front and beside him. This year the offensive line is allowed to be average as long as Miller’s other weapons are better and he shows some improvement in getting them the ball. The trump card of Miller’s running ability is still there, though, and that is a great thing to have.

I still think it’s going to be interesting to see how that all plays out in actuality. The plan on paper is great, of course, but there’s still a part of me that sees it being harder to execute than what they were doing the past two years. Work that just requires a hammer is easier than something that calls for a jigsaw.

Some breakdowns in execution cost them dearly against Michigan State and Clemson last season, but still the offensive performance in both games should have been enough to win. The 35 points against the Tigers are the most Ohio State has ever scored without winning, after all.

And of course that is where our attention turns to the defense. That unit cost the Buckeyes the Big Ten title for sure and probably a national title game appearance that could have been as epic as the clash with Miami in January 2003. (Of course the way the defense looked at the end of the season had Ohio State fans rightfully wary of facing Florida State, but if the unit had been halfway decent we probably could have had another epic type of conflict considering both teams would have been unbeaten and largely unchallenged. But there’s no sense in spending any more time thinking about that what with all the new footballing on tap beginning Monday.)

While the offense may have a more new-school feel than it has the past couple of years (when it was a purely power attack dressed up in spread formations), the defense is hoping for a back-to-the-future experience with an attack more like the one that served it well in the late ‘90s than what was seen over the past few years.

Defensively there is a lot of new blood in the coaching staff and on the depth chart. The No. 1 thing the former can do is get the folks making up the latter to execute their assignments better. For all the chatter about playing too soft last season, that misses the biggest issue. Nobody around these parts ever got truly comfortable with seeing teams try to dink and dunk their way down the field after watching the way Fred Pagac Sr.’s original Silver Bullets bludgeoned opponents at the line of scrimmage, but the fact remains the zone-pressure scheme first brought to town by Mark Dantonio then continued by Jim Heacock (after a pretty poor one year under Mark Snyder) was very effective even if it didn’t quite have the same level of aesthetically pleasing violence.

The football world changed a lot from the time Dantonio arrived in Columbus in 2001, and Heacock did a pretty good job changing with it. Meanwhile, Dantonio made his own adjustments, and the results were schemes that varied rather significantly by the last couple of years. Now Ohio State has brought in a new face, Chris Ash, to try to replicate what the defenses at Michigan State under Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have done, and that’s get in the face of offenses — even the spread kind — and dare them to win enough times over the top to make it really hurt. (Of course, that actually backfired on them in Ohio State’s win there in 2012, but we digress…)

This is an easy assumption to make at a place like Ohio State, but there is good reason to believe two of the three new starters in the secondary are more talented than their predecessors, and Bradley Roby’s 2013 campaign isn’t going to be as hard to replicate as his 2011 and ‘12s were.

What they lose in playmaking at linebacker they could make up in soundness, though the importance of big plays can’t be dismissed, either.

Up front, Ohio State is deep and talented but must prove its toughness and stoutness after struggling against the run late last season. Will they get better support from the back seven in the run, too? Probably, but it remains to be seen.

Things regressed to the point last year that any success from the Tressel era no longer seems like a fair defense of the status quo, but there are always bound to be growing pains when going to something new.

It will be interesting to see those story lines and more play out between now and the opener against Navy in 3+ weeks.

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