The fly on the wall of Urban Meyer’s office had better not have a weak stomach when the Ohio State football coach is meeting with his offensive staff. And specifically when the passing game is discussed.
Receivers coach Zach Smith was part of the winter meetings that followed the Buckeyes’ 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Meyer did not throw potted plants across the room. He might or might not have pulled a portable guillotine from his desk. But he was, as Smith put it, “direct.”
“He was very clear, but it’s not like it was something the coaches didn’t already know,” Smith said Monday. “It was no secret. We knew the issues we had. There was no shying away from that.”
Not that they had a choice. Meyer is not one to let assistants hide behind their mother’s leg. He promised in the postgame fog of the Fiesta Bowl that the passing game would improve. So it will. Or else.
As Ohio State counts down its final practices of the spring, capped by Saturday’s spring game in Ohio Stadium, many questions still surround the aerial aspect of the offense. Mine? With the Buckeyes having lost Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown to the NFL, why should fans feel confident that the receivers will fare any better than last year’s disappointing group?
New offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and new quarterbacks coach Ryan Day are being counted on to clean up the mess from a 2016 passing game that saw the Buckeyes average only 6.8 yards per attempt and 10.9 yards per completion. OSU’s final three games saw a major decline — 3.9 yards per attempt and 7.9 per completion — against Michigan State, Michigan and Clemson.
Compare those numbers with the same stats in 2015, when the passing game averaged 7.6 yards per attempt and 12.0 per completion, and with the high-flying offense of 2014 (9.1 and 14.3).
“Coach Day came in and Day One told us the expectation is that the deep ball is going to be here, so do what you have to do as a receiver" to get it, said receiver Terry McLaurin, who had 11 catches last season. “We know where the ball is going to be. No gray area. When there is that clarity, it makes it easier as a player to play faster.”
Smith also spoke of clarity, but in more psychological terms.
“If the offense is just a little bit dysfunctional, then every unit is a little bit dysfunctional by nature. We just have to get it fixed,” he said, adding that he feels no added pressure to get receivers up to snuff because pressure already is an everyday expectation at Ohio State. “It was never one coach or one unit that wasn’t getting it done. It was collective inadequacy.”
Again, why should 2017 be different from 2016, especially when, as Smith described it, what Wilson brings to the table is more offensive enhancement than overhaul?
“This is still Urban Meyer’s offense,” Smith said.
These also are Meyer’s players, which means that if they struggle to separate from defensive backs again this season, recruiting comes into question.
Relax, the receivers say. Everything is under control.
“Every time there is a deep ball in practice, it’s charted,” McLaurin said. “The expectation for the offense is 50 percent (completion rate). And that number is up over 50 percent the last three weeks.”
Meyer has praised the receivers this spring for showing more explosiveness exiting their breaks. A good sign, but for now, Meyer’s guillotine remains at the ready.