Knee-jerk reaction? Yes, but Ohio State's offense looked as good as any under Ryan Day
Before this weekend, I didn’t think it was possible for Ohio State’s offense to look better than it has the past two seasons. With Justin Fields gone, a generational talent and one of the all-time great Buckeye quarterbacks, my expectation was to see some growing pains.
During Saturday’s spring game, Ohio State’s offense looked as explosive as ever. The quarterback play was outstanding, the wide receivers were phenomenal and the offensive line played well throughout most of the scrimmage. At one point, I caught myself muttering the question, “Are the Buckeyes going to be better offensively than last year?”
By the time Ryan Day blew the final whistle inside The Horseshoe on Saturday afternoon, I had answered my own question. Throw this under the category of knee-jerkiest of knee-jerk reactions, but the Buckeyes have all the pieces to have the most high-powered offense under Day.
Yes, trust me, I understand how silly that sounds. Ohio State’s spring game was a no-tackle scrimmage. Rosters are jumbled, players aren’t at full strength and the play-calling is pretty basic. I’ve also been watching spring games intently for nearly a decade now, and it’s probably one of the best I’ve witnessed.
Day will provide the typical coach-speak heading into the summer and fall. He’ll say there’s still a lot of improvement that needs to occur for the Buckeyes to accomplish all their goals. He’s right. But there are also plenty of reasons to be really excited about the offense in 2021.
All 3 QBs looked capable of leading the offense
C.J. Stroud looked the best out of the trio who played significant snaps on Saturday, but it’s too soon to rule out Kyle McCord and Jack Miller right now. Before the game, Day even said there would be no decision made on the starting job following the scrimmage.
Stroud completed 16-of-22 pass attempts for 185 yards in the spring game, flashing plenty of potential while hitting Marvin Harrison Jr. and Chris Olave for his 2 touchdown passes. He didn’t show much of his scrambling potential because of the “thud-style” rules, but we saw that on a 48-yard jaunt to the end zone in Ohio State’s win over Michigan State last season.
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) April 17, 2021
After the spring game, Stroud already drew comparisons to Fields because of his patience in the pocket, ability to avoid sacks and overall mobility. Right now, he appears to be the leader to win the starting job.
Both McCord and Miller were solid, too. McCord showed off his big arm on a long pass to Garrett Wilson early in the game and later found Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the corner of the end zone for a beautiful scoring strike. He ended the afternoon with 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns while completing 12-of-17 attempts.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) April 17, 2021
Miller threw more passes than either Stroud or McCord in Saturday’s game, completing 17-of-30 for 128 yards and a touchdown. He also started the game off strong by moving his team down the field on the first drive, but it ended with an interception.
What’s the takeaway?
Any of the three quarterbacks battling for the starting job in Columbus are capable of winning the job if they walked into just about any other B1G locker room tomorrow. That’s a good problem for Day and his staff to encounter while they attempt to replace Fields.
Best wide receiver corps in the country
The first quarter was all you needed to see on Saturday to make this assessment. Olave leaped over a defender to haul in an underthrown pass from Stroud for the first big highlight of the scrimmage. Later, Wilson made a spectacular catch on a deep pass from McCord over two Buckeye defensive backs.
Without question, Olave and Wilson are going to be the most difficult tandem in the sport to stop in the passing game in 2021. Remember, they put up nearly identical numbers during last season, with Olave totaling 729 yards and 7 touchdowns while Wilson had 723 yards and 6 scores.
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) April 17, 2021
— Jason DiRienzo (@allpurposescout) April 17, 2021
But those weren’t the only two guys making plays.
Newcomer and 5-star freshman Emeka Egbuka ended the day with 123 yards on 7 catches to lead all receivers. Harrison hauled in 7 passes for 49 yards and a score. Smith-Njigba had 50 yards and a touchdown on 5 receptions. Julian Fleming, one of the stars from the 2020 recruiting class, didn’t play because of injury.
During the broadcast, James Laurinaitis referred to the talent in Ohio State’s wide receiver room as “an embarrassment of riches.” It’s the perfect summation to describe how skilled the Buckeyes are at the position right now.
Let’s talk offensive line
Again, it’s hard to assess how the offensive line stands after one scrimmage, especially without tackling. There was a limited running game on Saturday’s game and it’s difficult to grasp if this group is as good as it was a year ago.
Based on what we know, though, Ohio State should be in excellent shape up front. Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford were tabbed as the best tandem at the offensive tackle positions in college football by Pro Football Focus before spring ball even started. Having Paris Johnson Jr. and Harry Miller back in the trenches should provide the Buckeyes with stability in the middle.
Dawand Jones, Matt Jones and Luke Wypler also add experience and depth to the front line.
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is pleased with what he’s seen, saying “it’s going good so far,” just a few days before the spring game.
Ohio State’s offensive line did have trouble at time containing the defensive line, particularly star 5-star freshman Jack Sawyer. But with Miller and Petit-Frere out and the line rotating to get more guys reps, it’s tough to properly gauge how good this offensive line can be when fall rolls around.
If the offensive line plays as well as it did a season ago — and there’s a good chance it can — keeping Ohio State out of the end zone is going to be nearly impossible.