Ohio State football: Day looks to past for new way to attack defenses

COLUMBUS -- When Ohio State football coach Ryan Day met with the media for the first time this week, many questions were asked about a style of football that has become old-fashioned, especially at the college level.

That would be the smash-mouth kind with the quarterback under center, multiple backs and/or tight ends on the field, a big offensive line and a mindset to move the defense off the ball in order to get yards.

Such questions are not unusual for Wisconsin week, but this time more than one was actually about the Buckeyes.

“I think that it’s just a different feel when you’re under center and coming at people as opposed to being in the gun,” Day said when asked about putting his team in the I formation a few times during Ohio State’s win over Toledo on Saturday night.

In his first season after replacing Urban Meyer, Day brought back some under-center looks, but the I has been longer coming.

There were cameos last season, but Saturday indicated it could again be a regular part of the offense again for the first time since 2011.

“I think it’s important that when you put something in, it can’t just be one (play), because then what are you doing?” Day said. “And then are you building off of it moving forward?”

On Saturday, Ohio State got into the ‘I’ for the first time on its first drive of the night, and the Buckeyes ran the most basic play in the book: “Power.” The front side linemen blocked down, backside guard Donovan Jackson pulled to kick someone out, TreVeyon Henderson took a handoff to his right and found his way into the end zone.

When the Buckeyes tried to do that again later in the first quarter, Toledo was ready for it and crashed hard to stop Henderson for no gain.

With no Rockets respecting the pass, Day’s next call was easy: He had quarterback C.J. Stroud fake a handoff then drop to pass. It looked like the perfect call when tight end Cade Stover found himself wide open in the end zone, but Stroud’s throw was too high and fell incomplete.

That could have been the end of the night for the I, but it was not.

In the third quarter, the Buckeyes brought it back and showed multiple personnel packages and plays.

They tried a weak-side run with three tight ends on the field that went for a short gain then went back to the power play, which was stuffed again. Finally on third down, fullback Mitch Rossi finished the drive when he took a quick handoff and powered his way in over left guard.

The 6-foot-1, 250-pound Rossi is listed as a tight end on the roster, but he was a high school running back and has lined up in the backfield a few times going back to last year.

His 1-yard run was the seventh touchdown of the night for Ohio State, but according to research by BuckeyeHuddle.com, it was the first rushing touchdown by a Buckeye who lined up at fullback in almost 12 years.

Rossi caught a touchdown pass from the I formation last season at Rutgers.

While certain segments of Ohio State fandom rejoiced at the blast from the past, the move was pragmatic from Day’s point of view.

“I think we have the right people in place to get into some of those formations now,” said Day, a college quarterback who came up under spread offense guru Chip Kelly and confessed he had never called a fullback dive in his coaching career.

All it took for him to change was to have a roster with a senior like Rossi and tight ends such as Stover, Gee Scott Jr. and Joe Royer to rely on.

Being able to put a sixth offensive linemen — in this case tackle Josh Fryar, who dons No. 41 when he is called upon to be an extra tight end — into the game helped, too.

“So you have some guys who can get into those sets, which gives us a little bit of flexibility there,” Day said.

He also credited new offensive line coach Justin Frye and veteran offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.

Wilson was among the early innovators of the spread offense, and his work at Northwestern under head coach Randy Walker influenced Meyer as he developed his attack in the early 2000s.

But before Wilson and Walker — a star fullback at Troy High School then at Miami University — got to the forefront of the spread football movement 20 years ago, they were all about the ‘I’ and power football.

“The versatility helps you, and it’s something we’re trying to build on,” Day said.

The last part could be key as Ohio State enters conference play and looks to be more than an offense that rolls up yardage and scores at will on average teams before getting stymied when it counts late in the season.

“That’s the idea,” Day said, “You’re trying to build something for down the road. You’re not just putting it in there and splashing it in there.”


Wisconsin at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., ABC, 1410

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