Clemson absolutely stun-gunning Alabama in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship game is good and bad for Ohio State.
Good: As dominating as Clemson will be next season, history suggests the Tigers won’t defend their title. Only once since the BCS/CFP era began in 1998 has a team (Alabama in 2011 and '12 ) won back-to-back championships. Also, no school has gone undefeated in consecutive seasons since Nebraska in 1994 and '95. Several came close, but their failure speaks to the difficulty of sustaining perfection.
Clemson finished 15-0. Bank on the Tigers losing at least once next season, which could preclude them from reaching the playoff or championship game, where the Buckeyes hope to be waiting.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
Bad: Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence returns, which negates much of the aforementioned good.
You saw what I saw Monday night. Evolution. The basic spread offense that Urban Meyer helped develop nearly two decades ago has given birth to spread-it-around, with a quarterback who can make all the throws. The old spread relied on quarterbacks who were effective running the ball in the zone-read offense, an option system in which the QB keeps the ball or hands off to a running back. Think Tim Tebow. The QB must be a run threat.
Today’s high-functioning, run-pass option offenses still adhere to the core imperative of the original spread: get the ball to skill players in space. But now the ball gets there quicker and more accurately — to receivers who have become the go-to guys in a pass-first offense — because gifted QBs with strong arms, such as Lawrence and Dwayne Haskins Jr., are being groomed through camps and personal quarterback tutors to be in turnkey condition the moment they arrive on campus.
Actual college playing experience is a bonus. Haskins put up record passing numbers in his first season starting for the Buckeyes. Lawrence is a true freshman who already looks prepped for the NFL.
Ryan Day need not have watched Lawrence carve up Alabama to know how the college offense has changed. The Ohio State coach already knew what type of QB he needed, which is why the Buckeyes securing the services of freshman transfer Justin Fields is huge.
Fields is 6 feet 3, has an arm akin to Haskins’ launcher and shows poise in the pocket. He also is a dangerous runner, even though legs are more of a luxury, as Lawrence showed against Alabama.
Before getting carried away with Lawrence’s performance Monday — 20-of-32 passing for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 44-16 mauling of the Tide — it should be noted his receivers bailed him out on a few 50-50 throws, particularly freshman Justyn Ross, an Alabama native who proves that Saban doesn’t catch every big fish in his own pond. But nonetheless we witnessed the new normal in elite college offenses.
I caught up with Kirk Herbstreit on Tuesday before the ESPN analyst attended the Indianapolis funeral of Purdue superfan and cancer activist Tyler Trent (classy and caring move, Herbie).
“The evolution now is the quarterback doesn’t have to be that mobile or athletic,” Herbstreit said. “He puts the ball in the belly of the running back and reads the defense.”
If the defensive player who usually lines up over the slot receiver comes to stop the run, the QB targets a receiver.
“We’re now looking at seven to 10 teams doing it in the NFL,” Herbstreit said.
Fields fits Day’s preferred offense better than Tate Martell, who runs like a deer, but that is the old spread offense talking.
A new voice spoke Monday night. That doesn’t mean the Buckeyes can’t win with Martell. But can they win it all without Fields?