New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles made no bones about the fact he has an in-depth scheme with many facets, and the Buckeyes had a lot to learn to be ready for Notre Dame in Saturday night’s season opener.
The structure — a 4-2-5 alignment — was revealed in the spring game, and more of the nuts and bolts of the attack should be evident against the Fighting Irish.
Knowles pushed the pace as far as installation beginning in the spring, and he is happy with where his new charges stand at this point.
“We’ve put them through the crucible,” Knowles said. “We go against the best offense in the country every day. We’ve pushed and prodded and poked and tried to stretch them as far as they could go. So, wherever they’re at right now, it’s 100 percent, and that’s what I dial my game plan into. So, yeah, I’m confident.”
Most of the offseason the talk has been about the rebuilding of the defense, but there is intrigue surrounding the offense as well.
Knowles is not the only one who holds the idea his opposition in practice could be better than any he will see in a game.
Despite the defense being a question mark until it shows how it has adapted to Knowles’ scheme, the Buckeyes are a trendy pick to return to the top of the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff because of the offense masterminded by head coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
Ohio State piled up points last season and is expected to do so again with C.J. Stroud at quarterback, Jaxon Smith-Njigba at receiver and TreVeyon Henderson at running back.
Day said this week he just wants to see the season get going so he can move into the next evolution of an offense that has thrived since he and Wilson arrived in 2017.
“When you kind of go through the season we went through last year finished with the Rose Bowl and you go into the offseason, it’s a whole different group,” Day said. “We moved some pieces around. Some guys move out; some other guys move in. It’s just a different personality.”
Then he implied — not for the first time this preseason — the Buckeyes could eschew the pass-happiness of late last season in favor of a more balanced attack.
“As the leader of the offense, you have to do everything you can to get your team into the end zone, whatever that looks like,” Day said. “Last year, we had our certain way we did it, and we (had a certain way) the year before. This year is gonna look a little different as well. So certainly the run game is a huge part of that, and I think (Stroud) understands that it’s not about getting the most points or the most yards. It’s about winning games. And that’s what’s important.”
That message sounded similar to one Wilson delivered a couple of weeks earlier.
“To be a great offense at the end of the year, you show what you’ve done, and it’s not stats,” Wilson said. “There’s big rings, and there’s big trophies that great offenses have. Statistical offenses can have those numbers, but did you win the games you needed to win? It’s about winning those games.
“If we’re gonna be a great offense, we’ll find a way to take care of the ball, to take care of the quarterback, get in the end zone and win games. All of ‘em. That’s what great offenses do.”
Stroud already holds multiple Ohio State passing records and could move up to No. 2 in school history in passing yards and touchdown throws if he duplicates his 2021 season (4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns), but he sounds like he is also more interested in joining the select group of players to lead the Buckeyes to the national championship.
“(The coaches) all kind of come in together and go through the game plan and marry up that to the defense we’re playing that week and what they do, so I mean, it’s tough to say right now what we’re gonna do better or what we’re gonna do,” the sophomore quarterback said. “I don’t know. I just think that we’re gonna be us, you know what I mean? Just do us and be unapologetically us, and if that’s throwing the ball, running the ball, whatever the case may be, I feel like we’ll be good at it.”