Babb Bits: Improving Buckeye Offense

What has caused the offensive explosion for Ohio State? Charles Babb takes a guess plus some thoughts on the Big Ten freshman running backs, Florida/Steve Spurrier and more.

Mike Kudla and Marcus Green

These two will be missed next season. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the key to this game (and most any game for that matter) was pressure along the defensive line. Of concern is that Kudla was the only one to appear to consistently reach Basinez. Who will step up in 2006?

The Triumvirate

After taking a look at the two freshmen backs Ohio State did not offer in order to take Maurice Wells, I believe very little separates them in terms of overall ability. When all is said and done, the three will probably end up a push. I.e., if the three were swapped out from their respective schools to another, their statistics would likely look about the same. Still, I would put them in the following order as of now:

· Tyrell Sutton. Sutton has a nice burst, shows patience in following blockers, is willing to run inside – shedding tacklers, and is a receiving threat out of the backfield. He is the most complete of the three backs, showing competence in blocking as well.

· Javon Ringer. Clearly he is a gifted runner. He has better statistics for Michigan State than Wells does for the Buckeyes. He also is willing to take on linebackers and even defensive linemen in the hole and has not been shy about finding pay dirt when close to the end zone.

· Maurice Wells. Wells is developing nicely and coming along strong down the stretch. However, he still shows a propensity to bounce most everything outside while not being able to break tackles inside. His receiving skills have yet to be tested. His upside is tremendous, but it might take him longer to develop since he will be backing up Chris Wells and Antonio Pittman in 2006.

Ohio State Special teams:

· Special Teams: The Buckeyes have a tremendous advantage over any other team in the nation with their complete package of punter, place kicker, field goal unit, punt coverage, and kick returns units.

· Not so Special Team: The personnel grouping on the kickoff coverage unit is decidedly sub par in comparison to other recent seasons at Ohio State. They have allowed multiple long returns this season, and it can be argued that their errors cost the Buckeyes the game against Texas with a missed safety and setting Texas up before half to kick a field goal. They could have all but iced the contest but instead put the Buckeyes on ice. Next week Huston either needs to kick it out of the end zone every time or his coverage unit must have their best day of the season against Michigan and Steve Breaston.

Why the offensive explosion for Ohio State?

Have the coaches suddenly become certified geniuses after being proclaimed offensive idiots by talking heads and every fan watching the games with a cold one? While the answer clearly is a dynamic growth at multiple positions and coaching adjustments, if you are looking for a simplistic solution, allow me to give you a possible answer: Antonio Pittman. For the first time since Maurice Clarett the Buckeyes have a 1,000 yard rusher who does not require a hole large enough to push a grandmother in a wheel chair through. Pittman now attacks the line of scrimmage instead of dancing around as he approaches it. After being held out of the end zone all season, he has five touchdowns in the last three games. Consider the following statistics:

· In games 1-5 Pittman averaged 95 yards with no touchdowns. Per carry he managed 5.2.

· In games 6-10 Pittman has averaged 131 yards with five touchdowns. Per carry he managed 6.1.

· In the three games Pittman has run for 75 yards or under, Ohio State has scored 59 points for an average of 19.67 and is 1-2.

· In the seven games Pittman has run at or above 100 yards, the Buckeyes have scored 274 points for an average of 39.1 and are 7-0.

Granted, Pittman has done some of his best work when facing lesser defenses, but that does not explain away San Diego State. Against the Aztecs the Ohio State offense scored just 27 points, and Pittman was held to just 66 yards with no touchdowns. On the same number of carries versus a statistically better rush defense in Michigan State, he topped 100 yards and Ohio State scored 35. Further, Miami of Ohio (also a better defense than San Diego State), allowed Pittman 100 yards on 14 carries and the Buckeyes scored 34 on the afternoon before calling off the dogs.

Nice Coaching Calls

Normally fans and media tend to note the negative more easily than the positive. I.e., if a play call works well it is chalked up to the talents of the players. If a play call backfires, then the question is asked, ‘what were the coaches thinking!??!' Yesterday the Ohio State offensive, defensive, and special teams coaches put players in a position to succeed, and they did. Sacks, scores, turnovers, and an overall nice day for their team resulted. They should take a bow.

Sending a Statement

Ohio State coaches apparently wanted to send a statement to Northwestern following their opening drive. Taking the ball at the Wildcat 45 after a nice kickoff return by Holmes, the Buckeyes did not complete a pass while sticking the ball into the end zone. Statistically it was the most plays (11) and longest time of possession (5:45) they would have for the entire game. As Woody would have said, "They were grinding meat." After the Buckeyes proved they could score on the ground at will, Northwestern didn't threaten again.

A.J. Hawk

Go ahead and start engraving his name on the Butkus. None of the other candidates have his resume this year or in previous seasons. He has been flat out dominant. Yesterday's hat trick of a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown should just about do it. If he doesn't win the award then they should stop giving it away. Paul Posluszny and DeMeco Ryans are fantastic players, but they have not had the overall impact of Hawk.

Troy Smith Progression

What should be disturbing to opposing teams is that Smith is just now showing signs of becoming a quarterback. Until this point he has been able to skate by mostly on athleticism and arm strength. Yesterday he dumped the ball off a couple of times as he progressed through his reads. He also headed for the sidelines instead of turning up the field to take a hit for only another 6 feet or real estate. Those two items may sound simple, but they can be tough to teach to a young man who is competitive. The tendency is to want to gamble, trust in their abilities, and go for the big play on every down. Fighting that natural inclination is a sign of budding maturity. If Smith dedicates himself in the off-season to film study and a better understanding of the game, there's no telling how well he might play in 2006.

Roy Hall

The Buckeyes need to find a way to get this young man the football. When he gets into the secondary it looks like a game of pinball, and with hapless defensive backs ricocheting off of his body. Despite his reception being nullified due to a holding penalty, players that physical are a joy to watch whether they play in Columbus, Austin, or Los Angeles.

Offensive Line

For the first time in half a decade the Buckeyes might have the kind of offensive line who can take over a game with or without the defense's permission. Barton's recovery has given Ohio State the luxury of 6 bona fide starters and multiple healthy backups on scholarship. Tressel and Bollman have been working toward this goal since the day they stepped on campus, and now it has arrived.

Why do I say that?

On Maurice Wells' first career touchdown, he waltzed into the end zone. Not only was he able to hit pay dirt without being touched, Doug Datish also went through that same hole – and found himself with nobody to block. Wells, Holmes, Anthony Gonzalez and Datish all met across the goal line, and no Wildcat even was in a position to give them a scratch.

It wouldn't have mattered if Steve Rhering were carrying the ball on that play – it was going to be a touchdown.

Florida Collapse and Steve Spurrier

Urban Meyer was supposed to be the flavor of the year before the season started. He was lauded as a man who would have the Gators winning the SEC in no time at all. Quietly a few even said he was a better choice than Steve Spurrier, the man who had given them their only SEC titles and National Championship. Some even projected the Gators in the top 5 merely because he was at the helm.

The only problem is football games are played on the field and not in television studios, on the monitors of sports writers, or on the couch at home. What is most disturbing is that this is not a new trend. Meyer is clearly a fantastic coach, but before I crown him the emperor I would like to see him prove it on the field, at the top level in the game. It is one thing to out coach your opponent on a regular basis when you are at a Utah or Bowling Green. It is quite another feat to do this when you are in a conference like the SEC or Big Ten.

Florida has as much talent as anyone in the SEC (barring perhaps LSU), but they now sit at 7-3 with their game against Florida State still remaining. Zook was canned for a 7-5 season in 2004, but this version of the Gators has a realistic shot of repeating that dubious achievement.

There is little joy in Mudville.

Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier is once again terrorizing opponents in the Deep South. On the day they retired Peyton Manning's jersey at Tennessee, he upset the Vols. During what was considered the ‘easy stretch' of Florida's SEC schedule (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and a bye week before the Seminoles), he ruined their shot at playing for the SEC East title. In fact, were it not for a missed extra point against at Georgia on September 10, the Gamecocks would have clinched the SEC East berth yesterday.

Think about that for a moment. Let that sink in as you consider what that means for the future of the SEC East.

Don't look now, but Spurrier is on the warpath, and he has accomplished this in his very first season with a patchwork lineup after cleaning house in the off-season. His most powerful weapons have been Mike Davis, a freshman tailback, Sidney Rice, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, and Blake Mitchell, a sophomore quarterback.


The Big Ten has a different take on instant replay by being more aggressive to review close plays or they have proven what many have suspected for decades; the conference needs to upgrade the quality of their officiating crews. ABC showed a statistic yesterday that should receive more attention than it did (or probably will). A poor officiating crew impacts and sometimes even changes the outcome of a game. If you don't believe it then ask Joe Paterno or listen to Lloyd Carr whine after losing a close contest.

Of all the conferences participating in instant replay the rate of overturning calls on the field was as follows:

Big Ten – 40.7%

Big East – 39.0%

ACC – 38.0%

Pac Ten – 35.7%

Big 12 – 28.9%

SEC – 23.4%

Granted the officials have a very difficult job. Granted, it is hard to find the balance between ‘letting the kids play' and ‘letting the kids get away with an unfair advantage.' Even so – the Big Ten needs to take a long, hard look at who is making the calls that are overturned. If officials are not doing their job well, they should be replaced. One bad call can literally cost a team (and the conference) millions of dollars.

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