Upon their arrival at Ohio State over the winter, new offensive coaches Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day didn’t slam through swinging doors ready to take on all comers. It just seemed liked it.
“From day one, they came here with so much swag; swagger off the charts,” hybrid back Parris Campbell said. “When someone walks on the field you can sense swagger. I can’t really explain it, but they just come on the field with a different mindset, a different attitude.
“Both of those guys, they push everything that we do, like it’s fast, its up-tempo.”
It’s at the behest of head coach Urban Meyer, too, who has said since last season ended with that 31-0 loss to Clemson that upping the tempo for the offense on a more frequent basis is one way he wants to rejuvenate an attack whose passing game, in particular, grew stale against the better defenses in 2016.
>> Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
That’s why he jumped at the chance to hire Wilson after Wilson’s falling out with Indiana at the end of a sixth season there as head coach. Wilson long ago gained respect as a teacher of the up-tempo style, first as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and then with the Hoosiers.
“He’s good at what we were lacking,” Meyer said. “That’s his world, and that’s also Ryan Day’s world.”
Meyer sought out Day, who had served the past two seasons in the NFL as Chip Kelly’s quarterbacks coach, first at Philadelphia, then at San Francisco. While the up-tempo approach didn’t always click in the pros, Meyer spent his sabbatical year of 2011 watching Kelly wield it at Oregon with often-dominating results. Now, he’s got a Kelly protege in Day as quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.
Together, Wilson and Day have pressed the gas pedal through practice with the intent of keeping it that way through the season, and it will be fourth-year starting quarterback J.T. Barrett at the controls.
“One of the main things is our tempo,” Barrett said of the difference. “I think at times we got away from that (last season), and that’s part of who we are.”
At least it had been since Meyer brought Tom Herman in as offensive coordinator in 2012, producing a mix that helped the Buckeyes rise to the 2014 national championship before Herman moved on to be head coach at Houston and now Texas. Ed Warinner and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck stepped into the breach, and after an up-and-down start to the 2015 season for the team, most OSU fans remember how the Buckeyes went to Michigan and ran right past the Wolverines in the second half, with up-tempo segments doing the most damage.
It was the same a month later in a win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
Last year, there were times when the up-tempo style was employed and effective, but it was not used consistently. That’s one of the reasons Meyer moved from Warinner, now at Minnesota, and Beck, now at Texas, to Wilson and Day. The players have noticed why, too.
“That is what coach Wilson and coach Day like, the programs they’ve been at … so they’re just going to enhance that,” Barrett said. “We’re going to make sure that stays consistent.”
It was obvious from the first few sessions with the new coaches that the new normal is a speedier approach, Campbell said. It doesn’t always mean more plays will be run in a game, but the cumulative effect of getting off plays in 10- and 15-second windows often pays dividends in terms of wearing down a defense which has trouble subbing in fresh players.
“They’ve come in with the mentality 'Push the tempo, throw the football,'” Campbell said. “We’ve got guys in the wideouts’ room that can make plays. So I think they realize that and want to make that happen.”
Actually, run or pass, Wilson has no set preference, as long as whatever they’re doing has the opposing defense on the run. But expressing the desire to press the attack and being proficient at it, he said, are two different things.
“What you’re trying to do is get in a rhythm, trying to maybe get the defense on their heels where they’re maybe not doing as much (in terms of different defensive calls),” Wilson said. “But you still have to execute. Just going fast isn’t the answer.
“It’s like the way John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach) put it, ‘You don’t want to be in a hurry, but you want to be quick.’ It’s learning how to play within yourself as an offense at a reasonable tempo.”