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How Will Kevin Wilson’s Hire Affect Look of Ohio State’s Offense in 2017

J.T. Barrett, Ohio STate Buckeyes

When you get whooped 31-0 in a College Football Playoff semi-final, it is time to look in the mirror. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has clearly done that in the week-plus since that debacle and on Tuesday rumored offensive changes became reality. 

No move was bigger then the announcement that former Indiana Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson, fresh off his own firing for “philosophical differences” at IU, as co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach.

Additionally, Meyer announced that Ryan Day, who was hired as quarterbacks coach just a few days ago, would add the title of co-offensive coordinator too.

It means the architects behind OSU’s 2016 offense — Ed Warriner and Tim Beck — are gone. But, what does it mean for an Ohio State offense that clearly had plenty of talent and plenty of issues in 2016?

What we do know is that Ohio State gets one of the best power-spread offensive minds in the country in Wilson. He has long been known as the mastermind of Northwestern’s rise back to a Big Ten title in 2000 and more famously as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator for the better part of a decade.

However, will Urban Meyer turn the keys of the offense completely over? Can he become a “consultant” instead of clearly inside the offensive playbook on a daily basis?

Above all the smaller issues, can a guy who clearly knows what he is doing with an offense be entrusted by Meyer to do what he sees best without Meyer tinkering around with philosophies?

I ask only because the ways in which Meyer and Wilson think of offensive football are rooted in similar goals, but are vastly different in how they get there. Will it be Meyer’s ideas molded in to Wilson’s or will Wilson’s ideas take hold and a few wrinkles from Meyer be put in?

What is often overlooked in talking about Wilson’s time in Bloomington is just how explosive Indiana’s offense was, as in nearly even to the best of Ohio State’s offerings since Meyer came to town.

Going back to 2011, when Wilson took over at IU, Indiana’s offense averaged 441 yards per game. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s chugged along at a pace of 443 yards per game. That is nearly a dead-heat and done on Wilson’s part without nearly the level of talent to work with across the board that OSU has for him to work with coming in to 2017.

But, the bigger question at hand is just what is this offense at Ohio State going to look like in 2017. While we know that Wilson is well-versed in the power spread offense, he also is used to doing it with a more conventional spread passing game look to it.

That brings us to the biggest question of the offense — just who will be the quarterback?

Ohio State’s offense has been based on the power run game, with the quarterback as the centerpiece of the dangerous read-option. From Braxton Miller to Cardale Jones and certainly to J.T. Barrett, the passing game was always secondary to the ability to create mismatches in the run game.

That isn’t what Wilson or Day are about. They are passer-friendly coordinators who also believe that the key to a good passing attack is having a good rushing attack first. The first thing that comes to mind have been the arm punts put up in the last two years by J.T. Barrett on a rather consistent (and unfortunate if you’re an OSU guy) basis.

Barrett will enter his final season in Columbus likely facing competition from two much more highly rated passing prospects than he is.

Joe Burrow will be a redshirt sophomore and Dwayne Haskins has the arm that Barrett doesn’t, with the ability to run that Burrow doesn’t.

First though, Barrett is likely to get every chance to win the job quickly. A lot will depend on how this coaching staff can work with him. Should Barrett prove he hasn’t hit a ceiling, this is likely his offense.

He’ll have to do better than the career numbers suggest though, as he has a career completion percentage of 63 percent to go with 6,381 yards and 69 touchdowns to 21 interceptions.

On paper those are winnable numbers, but the devil is in the details. Often times Barrett was only making the easy or safe throw and that was seen time and again in the loss to Clemson. If it wasn’t easy or safe, he was taking off with the ball rather than extending plays in hopes of passing out of bad situations..

Wilson’s offensive mindset isn’t based on that type of play from his quarterbacks.

Things happen from within the pocket first and foremost, and that is where things have always been dicey for Barrett as a quarterback. If he can develop a pocket passing game, Barrett wins the job.

If not, Burrow is certainly a guy that fits the mold of what Wilson looks for in quarterbacks. He’s got size (6-3, 218) and he’s got athletic ability, but also a presence in the pocket too.

The difference between the two is easy to see in Ohio State’s spring game this past offseason:

Besides the issue of what happens at quarterback, Wilson’s biggest worry is how to shape an offense that doesn’t include the versatile weapon named Curtis Samuel.

He was one of the biggest bright spots for the Buckeyes this past season, but is gone and there isn’t another player on the roster that can fill his shoes. Additionally, Wilson loves to use tight ends in his scheme.

There’s never been and likely never will be an “H-back” in his system. Of course, this is made easier with Samuel being gone and no ready replacement really in the mix.

So, the traditional tight end is likely back in the offense way more than it was this season. That addition likely means a lot more of a traditional spread look to the offense as a whole. Gone will be the funky lineups trying to get space for Samuel to work in the run game and the like.

This offense also happens to have two quality, albeit young, running backs in Michael Weber and Antonio Williams. Weber put up 1,096 yards in his debut season, while Williams played in just one game but was arguably ready to contribute more in the coming years.

OSU’s offensive line was young and inconsistent in 2016, but that experience and overall recruiting prowess up front should take things back to normal this offseason. Wilson has always had good offensive lines to work with, and it may be the most underrated part of what his offenses have done throughout his career.

Look at Wilson’s recent (forget the long-term names even) record with the run game and you’ll see an offense that wins up front first.

It isn’t a coincidence that running backs like Tevin Coleman and James Houston are putting up good NFL careers quickly nor players like Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney have bright NFL futures ahead of them. They were key components to Indiana’s offensive success in the past few years, never mind the crazy running stats Wilson’s offenses put up at Oklahoma either.

What will perhaps be most interesting is how Wilson takes his tried and true philosophies and applies them to a level of talent he didn’t even consistently have while at Oklahoma back in the day.

It could be a scary marriage of talent and offensive scheming at work back in Columbus. The last time that happened? Some guy named Tom Herman transformed this offense and took OSU to a national championship.

No pressure Kevin Wilson…we’re just sayin’.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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