Buckeyes Finally Have Targets They Want

When Urban Meyer got to Ohio State, he inherited a team in which the leading receivers had 14 catches apiece the previous season. In other words, it's been a long road to rebuild the coffers, but the Buckeyes finally have some playmakers on the edge who might make a difference in 2014.

Last year, the engine of the Ohio State offense was Carlos Hyde, and why wouldn’t it be?

Running behind a veteran, road-grading offensive line, Hyde was a force of nature during the Big Ten season, ripping past the 1,500-yard mark and highlighting an offense that set school records for yards per game, points per game and yards per carry.

That allowed Hyde to become the first running back to pass 1,000 yards in the 12 years of Urban Meyer’s tenure as a head coach.

But think about that statement and realize what it means – workhouse backs typically haven’t been a part of Meyer’s offensive plan during his career as a coach.

One of the biggest innovators of the spread offense idea in his early days, Meyer has told a story about how he was an assistant coach at Notre Dame and noticed one of his star receivers was dejected after a particularly tough loss. When the receiver told Meyer that he hadn’t touched the ball in the game, Meyer’s was taken aback that the team didn’t do more to get the ball in his hands and vowed never to have that happen again.

In other words, he’s all about getting the ball to his playmakers. And in his first two seasons at Ohio State, the playmakers played quarterback and running back, not receiver.

Sure, Corey Brown developed into a solid possession receiver at OSU, one whose 63 receptions during his senior season were the most for a Buckeye wideout in 15 years. And Devin Smith has been one of the Big Ten’s top deep threats each of Meyer’s first two seasons.

But after that, the depth just wasn’t there. The No. 3 leading wideout in Meyer’s two-year tenure? Evan Spencer with 34 catches – an average of 1.3 per game.

That might change, though, in 2014. With Hyde and four of his five favorite blockers gone, there is talk the offense won’t be as much about brute force as in the past seasons, and a big reason why is the Buckeyes’ development of players who can make things happen on the edge.

"I'm very happy with where we're at with the skill positions,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I think we've finally got some quality depth there that has created competition, and we talk about it all the time. Now there's a legitimate fight for the football. You want to get on the field and touch the football, you're going to have to prove every day in practice that you deserve it and that you deserve it more than these 10 guys, where maybe last year it has been one or two guys that maybe deserve it. It's encouraging.”

Meyer said on media day Sunday that the Buckeyes will likely rely more on the quick passing game in years past, something that was a hallmark of his offenses in previous stops.

He’s often had mobile quarterbacks who can move the ball on the ground through option football, but players like Percy Harvin at Florida and Paris Warren in many ways became the hallmark of the Meyer offense for their ability to turn short, simple passes into big plays.

And Ohio State might have players like that right now who can make the jump. At the famed “H” position, Dontre Wilson turned heads in the spring and Jalin Marshall has been on everyone’s lips during the fall after taking a redshirt a season after coming in as a five-star talent.

Then there’s Mike Thomas and Corey Smith, two players who redshirted last year but bring size and speed to the table, as well as quick and shifty redshirt freshman James Clark.

"Young guys like Jalin Marshall, Mike Thomas, Corey Smith, those guys, y'all didn't really get to see them last year because they redshirted, but you'll be able to see what they have this year,” quarterback Braxton Miller said. “There will be a lot more excitement and a lot more balls going around to different guys.

"It's a different type of offense this year. I feel like we have more guys. That's why we recruit well, and we make sure guys get open so it's going to be fun."

That list doesn't even include a talented group of newcomers featuring speed merchants Parris Campbell, Curtis Samuel, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin as well as big target Noah Brown, all of whom were fours-star prospects in the class of 2014.

Steps forward by that crew could lead to an increase in passing compared to what the Buckeyes have seen the past few years. A year ago, Ohio State averaged 26.3 passes per game and completed an average of 17.0, but the numbers dropped as the year went in. Miller completed an average of just 10.8 passes in his last five games in 21.2 attempts, something that could go up if the Buckeyes develop more comfort in the talent catching the passes.

“I think that the one thing that I’m looking forward to is just the receiving room,” Smith said. “We’ve grown so much since when Coach Meyer got here. I’m just looking forward to seeing not only myself but those young guys emerge.”

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