Time for Buckeyes to change schemes

Rob Oller
roller@dispatch.com
Ohio State Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano watches as the punt return unit comes onto the field during Saturday's game against Purdue.. [Photo by Joshua A. Bickel]

If this Ohio State football season has taught us anything, it is that Urban Meyer can be loyal to a fault.

The Buckeyes’ coach kept Zach Smith around longer than he should have. Now, Meyer’s staff is partly composed of friends whose job performances are being questioned. What will the boss do?

Bill Davis, Meyer’s linebackers coach — who also was the best man in Urban’s wedding — has his position group playing like chess pieces, restricted in their movements.

Another Meyer chum, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, continues with an aggressive attack-first scheme despite mounting evidence that it does not fit the personnel. For example, all season the linebackers have been cheating toward the line of scrimmage, filling gaps as they focus on stopping the run. Missing is the traditional read-and-react techniques associated with strong Ohio State linebacker play. Davis coaches the LBs, but presumably follows the orders of Schiano regarding scheme.

Greg Studrawa coaches the offensive line. He goes way back with Meyer, having served as his O-line coach at Bowling Green. Stud’s credentials are impressive, but something is amiss up front. If you believe the Buckeyes have enough talent then coaching deserves much of the blame.

Publicly, Meyer supports his assistants, which is the respectful way to go.

“We have good coaches,” he said after Saturday’s stunning 49-20 loss at Purdue.

But are they good enough? And if not, will friendship hinder Meyer from dishing out tough love? We’re about to find out. The Buckeyes don’t play again until Nov. 3, when they play host to Nebraska following the upcoming bye week. Between now and then, changes need to happen.

Midseason coaching changes would seem drastic — although look what happened at Oklahoma, where coach Lincoln Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops two weeks ago after Texas torched the Sooners for 48 points and 501 yards — but that doesn’t mean OSU coaches can’t change the way they scheme offense and defense.

There’s the rub. Meyer’s loyalty is not just to people, but to philosophy, particularly on offense. Urban feels most comfortable with a quarterback who can run. And Dwayne Haskins Jr. can’t. I initially thought he could, based on one 22-yard scramble against Michigan last season, but then I watched him slide to avoid getting hit. He might be better off getting hit.

As a runner, Haskins is only dangerous to himself, yet the Buckeyes continue with run-pass options (RPOs), in which the quarterback decides to run, throw or hand off. Meyer loves RPOs, reasoning it is a way to force the defense to play 11 on 11 instead of 11 on 10, where the QB functions as little more than an ATM for the running backs.

The RPOs lose some effectiveness, however, when the quarterback almost always chooses to throw, which describes Haskins. Not that a quick 5-yard pass is worse than a 5-yard run, but an offensive line becomes less aggressive in run blocking when most RPOs end with a pass.

Solution? Stop dialing up RPOs for Haskins. Bring some clarity to the offense. Designate a throw or a run. Remove the option. Mixing in some play-action would be fine, too.

Also, give quarterback Tate Martell more snaps. Martell, who excels at RPOs, has not seen significant playing time the past four games. He gives defenses a different look, and his ability to run might snap the offensive line from its lethargy.

Fixes are needed. Will loyalty to friendship and favored coaching philosophy allow it? It’s Meyer’s move.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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