I formation adds new wrinkle to Ohio State football offense

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Two of the touchdowns from Ohio State in last week’s rout of Toledo came out of the I formation.

The first was on the opening series when TreVeyon Henderson took a handoff from quarterback C.J. Stroud and trailed a couple of blocks into the end zone.

Another followed early in the third quarter when Day called for a fullback dive. Tight end Mitch Rossi lined up as the fullback and charged forward for a 1-yard touchdown.

It was an old-school look for an offense most often seen in the shotgun.

But Day sees the package as a potential staple as the Buckeyes evolve on that side of the ball and present more wrinkles for defenses to counter.  

“When you're just one way, defenses do a great job of teeing off on you,” he said. “When you can change things up a little bit, it gives diversity to the offense.”

The implementation of the I formation stems, in part, from the staff’s familiarity with it.

Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson scored a touchdown out of the I formation during a 77-21 win over Toledo.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson is a coaching veteran, and Day noted that when he and offensive line coach Justin Frye were together at Boston College, it was a part of their playbook.

“We threw the ball about six times a game,” Day cracked.

The Buckeyes also have the requisite personnel. Day mentioned tight ends such as Cade Stover, Gee Scott, Joe Royer and Rossi.

“Everybody in that room has a background in that style of play and there's a place for it when you have those styles of guys in your room,” Day said.

For as much as it adds to the mixture of stuff on offense, Day acknowledges another advantage.

The I formation sets a tone for them, starting in practices as their offenses goes against their defense.

“Lining up under center, lining up and playing downhill is a little bit of a mindset for sure,” Day said. “That has limitations. We can't do that all the time, but having that as part of your game, across the board is a healthy thing for the offense and the defense.”

Physical practice schedule

The Buckeyes are practicing twice a week in full pads.

That's the same as previous seasons, but Day feels the atmosphere is proving different this fall.

“I just think that our guys have been practicing with a little more of an edge, a little more physicality,” he said. “They understand what it needs to be.”

The pace of practices is “nonstop,” with more hitting too, linebacker Steele Chambers said.

Chambers said the more physical practices have been a “big emphasis” this season, and especially this week as it prepares for its Big Ten opener.

“We need to get physical for a game like this,” he said.

Wisconsin, which is visiting Columbus on Saturday, carries a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the league and continues to feature a run-heavy offense.

“In order to prepare yourself to play in these games, especially physical games,” Day said, “the only way to do that is to practice like that, and we’ve done that.”

Scouting Braelon Allen

Cayden Saunders, a second-year walk-on, has been among the Buckeyes mimicking Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen on the scout team this week.

To Chambers, he’s done well at replicating Allen’s bruising running style in practices.

“He kind of runs like Bobby Boucher,” Chambers said referencing the hard-hitting character from the movie "The Waterbody."

“My shoulder hurts right now. He puts his head down and goes," said Chambers. "Not as big as (Allen), but he’s definitely given us a good look.”

Allen’s size is unique among running back. The Badgers list him as 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds on their roster, and he was a safety in high school before switching to the offensive side of the ball.

Saunders is listed by Ohio State as 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds.

Receiver roles

Day expressed optimism Thursday that receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming, who were limited in their returns last week, would be full go against Wisconsin.

“We’ll kind of keep taking it day by day and see how they do,” Day said, “but so far, so good.”

Out of the 78 plays the Buckeyes ran against Toledo, Smith-Njigba appeared for 23 snaps, while Fleming got in on 18, according to data from Pro Football Focus.

Both still made an impact against the Rockets.

Fleming caught three passes for 23 yards and a career-high two touchdowns.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman

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