Friday, September 27, 2013
OSU offense finally getting whole again
By Austin Ward
Last year, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde drove the Buckeyes offense. This week, the duo returns.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The face of the program has spent more time in sweats than pads on game days.
Last year's top rusher and automatic touchdown machine in the red zone has played in only one game, and even then he was barely used.
An offensive line that needed to manage a couple of injuries coming out of training camp has been called on really only once for a full shift as a complete first-team unit.
And yet, as Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman glanced down at a box score to make sure his numbers were right after a wildly prolific performance he was comparing to a similar outing the week before, a smile started creeping across his face.
How much better can the No. 4 Buckeyes get on offense? Until they actually get everybody on the field, they might be only scratching the surface.
"Our offense has been rolling," Heuerman said on the heels of routing Florida A&M 76-0. "We had 603 yards [last week], I think we had 608 [against California], so these last two weeks, our offense has really been clicking.
"But seeing Carlos [Hyde] back out there was good, that's definitely a player who carries a big load with us. And I think getting Braxton [Miller] back this week will spark some things up."
The fire already has been burning pretty steadily for the Buckeyes early in the season, and Urban Meyer's spread attack has been ruthless and close to unstoppable while racking up more than 52 points per game outside of Big Ten play. And while the competition hasn't been all that stiff, Ohio State also has been working without two of its most critical contributors essentially throughout the first four weeks and has barely missed a beat.
There was time to plan for the absence of Hyde in the backfield, because his three-game suspension was handed down far enough in advance to make other arrangements at running back coming off his breakout, 17-touchdown junior campaign. But the knee sprain Miller suffered on the seventh snap of the second game had a chance to significantly disrupt what Meyer wanted to accomplish early in the season as Ohio State tried to build toward Saturday's meeting with No. 23 Wisconsin, particularly given how critical the junior quarterback was to the game plan last year on the way to a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race.
Jordan Hall filled in admirably at running back, gaining 422 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.
And while Kenny Guiton has scribbled his name all over the school record books filling in for Miller, and Jordan Hall has emerged as one of the most productive rushers in the country at this point of the season, neither of them were held up as reasons the Buckeyes could contend for a national championship this fall. They both help make a compelling case for how much depth Meyer has at his disposal, but they were expected to play complementary roles for a reason -- and plugging the starters back in could produce some pretty scary things for defensive coordinators to think about.
"The expectation level on offense is real high," Meyer said. "We have some weapons, you know, and I kind of like where we're at.
"The best way to think about it is checkers. There are some pieces on the board, and I like the checkers that we have right now. So, it's just a matter of our staff putting them together at the same time, getting them healthy and making sure they're in great shape."
Putting two pieces with the skills of Miller and Hyde on the board actually might change the game completely as the Buckeyes get healthy and whole again offensively.
There was nothing wrong with checkers. But now they might be able to play some chess.
"I've never heard of having too many weapons being a bad thing," wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "We know as players that pretty much everybody can go in and get the job done.
"The sky is the limit for our offense. We've got so many weapons, and we can do so many different things, I mean, I can't even imagine all the things we can do."
They certainly haven't shown all they're capable of with the football yet, regardless of what the stats sheet has shown. Once again fully loaded, Heuerman and the Buckeyes might soon have even more reasons to smile.