Ohio State football begins the 2017 season this week, and Indiana presents an appropriate opponent given the biggest story of the offseason: Revamping the Buckeyes offense.
This would be true even if Ohio State’s new offensive coordinator weren’t the Hoosiers’ old coach, but of course that adds another interesting layer to the proceedings set for Bloomington on Thursday night.
Last season, Indiana was the first team to give the Ohio State offense fits.
J.T. Barrett completed only 9 of 21 passes for 93 yards, and a 37-yard pass to Dontre Wilson late in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially over accounted for more than 1/3rd of OSU’s passing offense.
The man who coordinated that defensive effort, Tom Allen, is now the head coach at Indiana.
He performed a minor miracle last season by turning the Hoosiers into a respectable stop unit, and there is good reason to believe IU could present a challenge on that side of the ball again.
Even before Allen got to town, the Hoosiers frustrated the Buckeyes in Bloomington in 2016, so Ohio State is due for a big performance against a program it has beaten more than 70 times.
Enter Wilson: From the first time I heard the rumors he could be coming to Columbus, I thought that would be a home run for the Buckeyes.
He represents almost exactly what Ohio State needed to fix the woes of the last year years: A respected, established offensive mind who understands how to organize a game plan and how to emphasize players’ strengths while avoiding their weaknesses.
This is a guy who brought a team that almost literally could not pass the ball to Columbus in 2014 and had a lead in the fourth quarter.
Everyone on the planet knew Tevin Coleman was Indiana’s only offensive weapon, and he still ran for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
While Urban Meyer was bemoaning how hard it is to run his offense without the threat of a running quarterback, Wilson was coordinating one of the Big Ten’s best scoring units with a statue calling the signals.
This guy knows what he is doing.
So, heading into game one it will be fascinating to see what tweaks he has made and of course how the Buckeyes execute them.
During the preseason, Wilson talked about putting guys into position to succeed —including Barrett and the offensive line, something Ed Warriner struggled with mightily the last two years as offensive coordinator.
Receivers coach Zach Smith said they needed to fix the overall culture on offense, that one disfunction tended to lead itself to another and so on. I am buying that bit of coach-speak as well because the NFL draft proves talent hasn’t been an issue there.
A better rapport between Barrett and his receivers could pay huge dividends this season, especially if Barrett applies the lessons from new QBs coach Ryan Day regarding how to give his guys more chances to make plays without necessarily taking more risks, and the running backs say the way Wilson talks about the offense gives them more confidence.
Lastly, I expect a coach with the experience and confidence of Wilson to be better at making adjustments than his predecessors were.
If that all comes to pass, this could be an unstoppable unit, but only time will tell...
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds won and got another strong start from a young starting pitcher.
Since I wrote last week the 2017 season was looking like an overall disaster if they don’t find out anybody besides Luis Castillo might actually be worthy of a spot in the rotation, the kids have been all right.
Romano has made three solid starts in a row, and after the game Jeff Brantley praised him for getting by without his best stuff.
The latter is a big part in the development of any young pitcher and something that has seemed to be missing much of the year.
Given my reverse-jinx powers, maybe next I should write something about how Barry Larkin will never be a World Series-winning manager for the Reds.