Better or worse? Previewing Ohio State’s offense in 2020
Editor’s note: This is the 1st in a series previewing every B1G team’s offense, starting with the East Division.
After a record-setting 2019 season, what can one of the most prolific offenses in the country — and one of the most successful in the history of Ohio State football — be expected to do for an encore in 2020? Is it crazy to think this year’s version could be even better? Maybe.
Still, head coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson say that after a year of experience in the offense, junior quarterback Justin Fields fared very well in limited practices this spring (scary, right?), which could lead to another Heisman-finalist kind of season. And while it’s true that some parts of 2019’s explosive offense are gone (like 2,000-yard rusher J.K. Dobbins and all-time leading receiver K.J. Hill), Fields may still have the B1G’s best wide receiver tandem, along with at least two tight ends who can consistently make big plays, and an Oklahoma transfer who can step in at running back behind an offensive line that will be one of the best in the nation.
So can the 2020 offense replicate last year’s silly 46.7 points and 529.9 yards per game averages? It’s not inconceivable when you consider how in this past offseason, the rich just got richer, as Ohio State brought in what will become a legendary group of wide receivers. At least two of these new faces will make their names known — possibly early on — in the 2020 season. And Fields will sling it around enough that a lot of them will get a chance to make headlines. So while there may not be another 2,000-yard rusher on the roster, the chances are good fans can still expect a video-game-like offense.
Key losses: J.K. Dobbins, RB; K.J. Hill, WR; Branden Bowen, OT; Binjimen Victor, WR
Key returnees: Justin Fields, QB; Trey Sermon, RB; Chris Olave, WR; Garrett Wilson, WR; Master Teague III, RB; Luke Farrell, TE; nearly the entire offensive line
Potential breakout players: Trey Sermon, RB; Chris Olave, WR; Julian Fleming, WR.
Can we say that Fields will have yet another breakout season? We definitely could, but to change it up a little bit, we’ll tab Sermon, who will get his chance to step in and share carries with Master Teague III, who is coming back from injury, and maybe some other backs. At Oklahoma, Sermon proved he could handle the load, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018. He (or someone) will also be asked to catch some passes out of the backfield. On that note, wide receiver Chris Olave is ready to become a star, and incoming receiver Julian Fleming could be the most productive of all the freshmen, though you can really take your pick, as Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Gee Scott Jr. should also make their names known. Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline has an embarrassment of riches in his group, and they really respond to him.
As a coach, you set out to inspire and motivate young men to work to become the best version of themselves.
You may set out to “change lives”, but the lives you set out to change end up changing your life…
— Brian Hartline (@brianhartline) February 27, 2020
Passing offense: Better
I know it sounds crazy. How can this passing offense be better than 2019 — they’re losing their top three wide receivers? But follow me here. Not only will the Buckeyes have a serviceable replacement in the backfield in Sermon (with Teague III sharing carries), but Fields has a year of experience, a year where he fared extremely well (51 total touchdowns, 3,273 yards and a 67.2 completion percentage, with just 3 interceptions). He’ll also have a talented receiving core back in Olave (12 touchdowns, 17.3 yards per catch in 2019) and Garrett Wilson (5 touchdowns, 14.4 yards per catch), with plenty of depth at that position to decide who his third receiver will be (perhaps senior Jaylen Harris, who at 6-5, 215, could be ready to finally blossom). And oh, by the way, he has his offensive line returning, with massive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. to provide depth there as well. Luke Farrell (2 touchdowns in 2019) and Jeremy Ruckert (4 touchdowns in 2019) provide scoring punch at the tight end position, and while Fields is always a threat to run in the red zone, he can also pull up and look to those guys, too. As for Fields’ backup, it’ll be interesting to see if any of the Buckeyes’ incoming quarterbacks can challenge senior Gunnar Hoak.
Basically, as long as Fields is under center, this offense has no discernible weaknesses, and it’s loaded and ready to score. A lot. Again.
Rushing offense: Worse
As we’ve said, it’s not going to be easy to replace Dobbins, a 2,000-yard rusher who finished sixth in the Heisman voting last year. He’s now taken his talents to the Baltimore Ravens. However, Sermon can be more than a serviceable replacement, which will be needed to provide balance so Fields can do his thing. Sermon will more than likely share the load with Teague, or maybe Steele Chambers or Marcus Crowley (who is currently rehabbing an ACL injury). One interesting possibility at this position is slot receiver Demario McCall, who is also listed as a running back on Buckeyes depth charts. McCall could also spell Sermon at times, especially in passing situations. Teague, who injured his Achilles in spring practice earlier this year, is also currently rehabbing, but he can look to two teammates for inspiration in getting back. Previously, Justin Hilliard and Tuf Borland both came back from that injury in record time, and coach Day says he thinks Teague can do the same, which would put Teague on pace to back up Sermon when the season begins. Again, the offensive line is stacked with veteran, talented athletes, including this projected starting five: All B1G center Josh Myers, multi-year starter Thayer Munford at left tackle, All-American Wyatt Davis at right guard, Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle and Harry Miller at left guard. These guys blocked for a rushing offense that averaged 266.8 yards per game last season. Look for Fields to add to that as well (the QB had 484 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last season). The only reason this category is worse is because that will be really difficult to replicate.
— Kevin Wilson (@OSUCoachKDub) June 27, 2020
Special teams: Even
Ohio State returns kicker Blake Haubeil (85-for-85 extra points and 13-for-15 FG). Haubeil kicked a career-long 55-yarder at Northwestern, the second-longest kick in Buckeyes history, and was named third-team all B1G last year.
Give him another season and all you can do is expect him to be just as good — at least.
In the return game, McCall and Wilson look to be a dynamic duo, ready to bust open a long run if given the chance.
Yes, it will be difficult to live up to 2019’s standards. But with Ryan Day getting another season with his quarterback (which some analysts say could be the best QB prospect in the country), with a suitable fill-in at running back working behind a dynamite offensive line, and with an abundance of riches at wide receiver, Ohio State looks poised again to set team, conference and national marks with its offense.