[Ed. Note] We again join forces with the other blogs on the Buckeye Bloggers Network - The Buckeye Battle Cry, The Buckeye Blog, Buckeye Empire, Men of the Scarlet and Gray, and Our Honor Defend. We'll be bringing you a collective preview each week of the upcoming game, starting today with Miami (OH).
Just a season ago, this could have quite possibly been the most boring preview of all time. I could have spent a hundred words or less talking about the Buckeyes' plans to throw 12 times for 120 yards, and allow their running game to overpower a weaker opponent. Instead, with the Urban Meyer era officially kicking off on Saturday, we get to talk about an actual passing attack.
While there are a lot of intriguing things to watch for as Meyer unveils his new offense on Columbus, I'm not sure any is more appealing on paper to OSU fans than what will happen in the passing game. After a season where the Buckeyes ranked 115th in passing offense, only attempted 245 total passes and had a leading receiver with 14 receptions, it will definitely be interesting to see what Meyer has been able to do in the offseason.
He definitely made a statement back in the spring, allowing Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton to throw the ball a combined 55 times, which was good for 449 yards through the air. That's a far cry from the team that threw for 17 total yards in a game last year. While Meyer would later explain that he was making a statement and that his offense would be much more balanced this fall, it definitely was the beginning of a new style of football for Ohio State.
While it's hard to totally predict what Meyer will want to come out and do or how Don Treadwell and his secondary will respond, let's take a look at what we should expect...
There are a lot of mysteries heading into this game surrounding the Buckeye passing game. After Saturday, we should have a little better idea of what Meyer's game plan is and who is key play makers will be.
Based on the past though, we know Meyer's offense is built upon the power-spread-option, though Saturday will prove if the staff has gone in a different direction this season because of the personnel they inherited. Still, it would be a surprise if this team doesn't build on the inside running game and option. If that is the indeed the case, the Buckeyes won't be playing basketball on grass or even be a pass first style offense. Meyer still believes in power football, just in a different form that what Buckeye fans have become accustomed to over the last few decades.
Building from there, except Meyer (and Herman) to attack the offense through the air, both wide and deep. First, as Meyer showed in the spring game, he will throw a fair share of wide receiver screens. Not only does this provide a wrinkle to the counter-trey and option plays OSU's offense will be built upon, but also allows the Buckeyes to quickly get the ball into their playmakers' hands. Guys like Michael Thomas have the size to get needed yards this way, while others like Corey "Philly" Brown or Devin Smith have the ability to turn it into something special if they make the first guy miss.
Secondly though, Meyer will attack vertically. Again, the spring game as example, we saw both Miller and Guiton make big plays in the dropback passing game. Unlike in the past though, this won't be dependent on vertical routes, but rather on a variety of across the middle and underneath options. Also watch out for Miller's ability in the play-action pass department. The staff will look to get him out of the pocket/move him around in the pocket, since Miller has proven it is strength of his to throw on the run.
So with some basic X's and O's behind us, let's look at who to watch.
At wide receiver, keep your eyes on the aforementioned Philly Brown and Devin Smith. Word out of fall camp is that Brown has become "the" guy in the playmaking department and is getting the ball in his hands a lot. Smith also is big time playmaker and seems to save his best for game day. Outside of those two it really is a mystery who will emerge out of the group. Chris Fields, Michael Thomas and Evan Spencer find themselves in the two deep and will get the most action, but also keep on eye on TY Williams when he is on the field.
At tight end/H-Back/fullback, obviously keep your eyes on Zach Boren. Meyer has made it clear that the best players on the team will get the ball, and Boren has proven he's qualified. While I don't think he will find himself in many running plays, he has proven to be a formidable option as receiver and should play plenty in the H-Back role. As for tight ends Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman, we really don't know at this point how much they'll play. The fall depth chart lists 12 starters, giving the staff flexibility with the third wideout, tight ends and full back positions. With Stoneburner being so versatile, my gut says that the'll slide over on certain plays allowing a guy like Chris Fields to be on the field as well. That means these guys would see less action. We'll see though.
Finally - watch, watch, watch Jake Stoneburner. I didn't list him in either category because he is the wild card in this offense. While the staff has moved him to a wide receiver on the depth chart, I don't buy for a minute that they don't have specific packages designed for him lining up at TE and H-Back. That versatility should give him lots of chances to be the leading pass catcher in the offense, and even this Saturday.
Miami (OH) Passing Defense:
The Redhawk secondary isn't too shabby, returning three starters from a year ago. This group is headlined by First-Team All-MAC selection Dayonne Nunley. He was the fifth leading tackler a year ago with 58 total, while also accounting for 3 interceptions and 13 pass breakups. Rounding out the starting ranks is corner Chrishawen Dupuy (Soph.), FS D.J. Brown (Jr.) and SS Brison Burris (Soph.). Burris is returning from a shoulder injury last season, but looked good in limited action.
They are being asked to take on a tall task though. They're the Guinea pigs taking on Meyer's new offensive attack for the first time, and have a lot of different responsibilities. First they are matched up against some talented wide receivers. While I know this group has been heavily criticized in the offseason, they still have a ton of talent, especially taking on MAC defense. They also will have to account for hybrid position players like Jake Stoneburner and Zach Boren. That would be much easier with a solid linebacker corps, but the Redhawks will be breaking in two new starters after losing some of the top tacklers to graduation.
Second, they have always keep track of Braxton Miller. His scrambling ability does a great job of neutralizing great coverage by the defense, as well as causing hesitation when moving around in the pocket. Even some of the best secondaries in the B1G seemed to struggle with how to deal with Braxton's elusiveness, and that was before he established himself as a consistent passer.
Finally, their secondary will have to deal with the change of speeds and uptempo offense that Meyer and company will throw at them. This change of speed will limit substitutions and wear these guys down during sustained drives. While I really believe this Miami (OH) is much improved from a season ago and will compete in the MAC, they're not ready to face this style of offense. I think Braxton will have a memorable day.
Other BBN Previews:
Our Honor Defend - OSU Running vs. Miami's Defensive Front
Buckye Empire - Miami Running vs. OSU Defensive Front
Men of the Scarlet and Gray - OSU Defensive Backs vs. Miami Passing
The Buckeye Battle Cry - Special Teams Breakdowns
The Buckeye Blog - Coaching Matchups