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Ohio State football and the mysterious disappearing tailback runs

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 5:12 PM

New Ohio State offense of coordinator Kevin Wilson knows his popularity with Ohio State fans will only last until he calls his first bad play.

Ohio State’s shocking blowout loss at Iowa created a lot of questions. 

One interests me more than the others, and not just because I was born in the same county as Woody Hayes (probably). 

What’s up with Ohio State’s running game? 

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who idolized Hayes growing up in northeast Ohio, acknowledged Monday that the Buckeyes need to get the ball to running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber more after J.T. Barrett again got the majority of the team’s carries in a loss.

RELATED: Meyer turns focus to Michigan State

That has been a common theme when the Buckeyes struggle on offense, and Meyer has even described the quarterback running game as a security blanket or get-out-of-jail-free card on multiple occasions.

Obviously opponents know that, too. They also know Dobbins and Weber are more dangerous runners than Barrett, so when given the choice, they generally give Barrett a “keep” read when the Buckeyes call their base zone-read option play

“Those are all things we have to game plan and continue to work and find ways to give handoffs to the tailback,” Meyer said Monday.

That sounds astoundingly easy, doesn’t it?

Nine-year-old football players know how to hand off, right? 

This is not the same thing as trying to make sure a star receiver gets the ball. Stuff has to happen in between the snap and the catch in that scenario.  

To get a handoff to a running back, a coach just has to, well, call a handoff to the running back. 

After Meyer confirmed he has told his coaching staff this week he wants to see Dobbins and Weber get the ball more, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson went into more detail about why and how that might happen – plus why it might not. 

“Every defense you’re playing is outnumbering you, and either the quarterback or the run-pass option equates that,” Wilson said, identifying the two ways Ohio State has chosen most often so far this season. 

READ MORE about OSU’s “RPOs” here

But what if defenses are putting too many people near the line of scrimmage to block and the quarterback run isn’t a very appealing alternative? Obviously defenses don’t consider Barrett’s legs a very deadly poison if they keep picking it. 

“Sometimes they’re forcing him to keep the ball because they don’t want J.K. to keep the ball,” Wilson said. “So that being said, schematically we’ve got to find a way to get some hats on those guys so our running back can be the runner. At the end of the day, we haven’t done that the last couple of weeks.” 

But why not? 

Well, this is an appropriate week for that question because it’s the same dilemma Ohio State faced last time this weekend’s opponent – Michigan State – came to Columbus. 

After the Spartans coerced Barrett into 15 runs, leaving star running back Ezekiel Elliott with just 12, Elliott famously spoke out. 

What Elliott suggested after that 17-14 loss in 2015 – gap blocking – has been seen some but not often. 

(Gap blocking, including the venerable “power” play that was the staple of Jim Tressel’s OSU offense, revolves around down blocks and backside pullers to get an extra blocker or two to the point of attack. Ohio State has lately favored zone blocking, in which linemen are assigned an area and will employ double-teams based on various rules.)

The reason Ohio State has not used gap blocking regularly over the last two-plus seasons has never been entirely clear, a mystery deepened by the fact gap blocking was part of the successful formula for Meyer’s teams in the past, including in the 2014 postseason when Cardale Jones (a capable but not great runner) was Ohio State’s quarterback. 

One theory is the time it takes to learn all those fancy new passing plays leaves little for installing and more importantly mastering multiple blocking schemes. 

RELATED: 5 things Urban Meyer said after examining Ohio State’s loss to Iowa

Of course trying to run out of spread formations without using the quarterback much, if at all, is not a new problem. 

“In my time through the years and other places the times the quarterback cannot run — our quarterback can run here — how do you still find running game when the quarterback can’t run?” Wilson asked. “We’ve had to do that over time, and we’ve tried the last few — we had some things last week we just didn’t get to it.” 

That’s a tantalizing statement. 

It hints Ohio State knows what it needs to do – the Buckeyes just need to do it. 

If the quarterback is running too much, Wilson needs to call fewer option plays, and if Ohio State still wants to run the ball, that will probably require some different blocking schemes (see above). 

If they don’t, it could be because of a reluctance to change philosophically from a team built on speed to one built on power. 

“Well, we like that speed and that spread stuff, so when you spread it out you get into either the run-pass option or the read option,” Wilson said, indicating they could circle back to what they have been doing and try to do it better rather than try something new. 

He admitted he thought he could rely on Barrett’s arm last week because of the hot streak he and his receivers had been on for six weeks, but the quarterback responded by throwing four interceptions. 

Nobody would have predicted that, but then again Barrett should never be confused with Joe Germaine, so maybe the coaching staff should have known that bubble was going to burst eventually. 

At any rate, that’s what happened last week. 

What’s it going to be this week against Michigan State? 

Wilson wasn’t giving anything away. 

“We’ll fight hard to get (Dobbins) going,” he said. “He’s been great. And going forward yeah we’ve got to get him carries. Got to, but I don’t think we can force it, either.”

LSU football podcast: Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall would be biggest LSU WR class since Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 12:00 AM

LSU football is the No. 1 topic of discussion every day on SEC Country’s  One Team, One Podcast . Host  Carter ‘The Power” Bryant  chats about how 2018 receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall could form a dynamic duo reminiscent of  former LSU star receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

Bryant is also  joined in this episode by SEC Country recruiting ace Sam Spiegelman to chat about why Chase is a near-lock to sign with the Tigers after his official visit, how he sees Chase and Marshall fitting in with the returning LSU receivers, his predictions for how the final few slots of the 2018 class will shape out, how he views the prospects that will be left out and more. 

Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall = OBJ and Landry?

Chase has been recruited relentlessly by head coach Ed Orgeron and basically every offensive coach on staff says Spiegelman. Spiegs believes the Rummel product and Marshall can be All-SEC level performers for the Tigers. He then rattles off everything you need to know about the official visits from James Foster, Patrick Surtain Jr. and Kelvin Joseph.

Bryant closes out the show chatting about the LSU basketball team’s 61-60 loss to Georgia and why it’s not quite time to panic. He also shares a few facts about cell phones and struggles to do iPhone math.

Read SEC Country LSU beat writer Alex Hickey’s 1-on-1 with Marshall by clicking here. Marshall revealed the Tigers coaching staff let him know before he signed that Steve Ensminger would eventually be the offensive coordinator even though Matt Canada currently held the position. 

Have something you want discussed on the podcast? Let us know! Tweet any questions you have to  @CarterThePower. Keep up with the latest in recruiting by following  Sam Spiegelman and our SEC Country LSU beat writers  Nick Suss and  Alex Hickey. Listen to this episode of One Team, One Podcast below. We also can be followed  on SoundCloud and you can find past episodes  right here.  

Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s greatest challenge awaits in 2018

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 12:59 PM

ATHENS — So Roquan Smith and Trent Thomson have packed their bags and joined Georgia’s giant pack of seniors in heading on down the road.

This is what makes college football so great. This is also what makes it so hard.

Georgia’s toughest task will be in finding another inside linebacker that can have near the impact that Roquan Smith did this past season. (Perry McIntyre Jr./UGA)

College football, by and large, is cyclical. That works to varying degrees for different programs, but because of the constant ingress and egress of players due to graduation and attrition, achieving sustained, championship-level success is next to impossible for any program not currently named Alabama. To me, that’s what makes it fun and somewhat unpredictable from year to year.

Analysis: No need to panic, but South Carolina collapse sounded some alarms for Kentucky basketball

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 9:23 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Consider this the first of a two-part reaction to Kentucky basketball’s strange night at South Carolina on Tuesday. The second part will be much more optimistic, promise, but first we must sift through the wreckage of Gamecocks 76, Wildcats 68.

It really takes some doing to turn the triumphant debut of 5-star freshman Jarred Vanderbilt and a 14-point, second-half lead into a total disaster (and defeat). But by golly, these UK freshmen did it.

“This is another example that we don’t know how to close out games,” said freshman Kevin Knox, who had 21 points and 8 rebounds but launched eight 3-pointers and only made one. He knew this team was living dangerously at the end of the Texas A&M and Vanderbilt games last week, and it finally bit them. “Coach was trying to get us to make winning plays down the stretch and we weren’t doing what he was asking for. We were trying to do our own thing and you see what happened.”

The 18 th-ranked Wildcats actually led by 14 three different times after intermission, the last coming at 57-43 with 11:34 to go. Then they were outscored 33-11 the rest of the way. But how does a collapse like that happen?

A little something like this: PJ Washington throws an awful, intercepted cross-court pass and Hamidou Diallo commits a pointless intentional foul for his fourth of the game, triggering a snowball of foul trouble and bone-headed gaffes that would bury Kentucky (14-4, 4-2 SEC).

Coach John Calipari remembers Diallo yelping: I didn’t do it! “You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants, so don’t say that. You did it.”

And here comes the avalanche: Wenyen Gabriel’s fourth foul at the 10:13 mark, Sacha Killeya-Jones’ fourth at 9:19, Gabriel’s fifth at 7:21, Nick Richard’s fourth and fifth at 4:38 and 2:47.

“I’ve never seen so many dumb fouls,” Calipari said.

All told, six of eight available scholarship players finished with at least four fouls — including three foul-outs — and the 32 team fouls were the Wildcats’ most in a regulation game since 1997.

“That was tough for us because we had to stay in that zone [defense] and they were kind of picking at it, throwing it inside, and we couldn’t really do much because we couldn’t foul,” Knox said after UK gave up 27 points to South Carolina forward Chris Silva. “Our point guard had four fouls and Hami had four fouls, so we really couldn’t pressure the ball and play man. I think that kind of changed the game”

Yeah, sort of. And it also hurt that starting point guard Quade Green missed his third straight game with a back injury and the usually spectacular Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seemed both exhausted — he played 39 minutes in both games last week — and declawed by early offensive fouls.

Still, the Wildcats should’ve won Tuesday night.

But after shooting better than 50 percent to build that 14-point lead, they made just 3 of 14 shots the rest of the way and did not make a single field goal over the final 6:12. That included a bricked putback dunk by Richards that would’ve given Kentucky a 7-point lead with 4:47 remaining. Instead, the game was tied 45 seconds later.

Diallo missed a pair of free throws with the game tied at the 3:46 mark, from which point the Cats sank just 3 of 8 from the line.

“They looked like a bunch of freshmen playing — first time this year,” Calipari said. “This started in shoot-around today, where you’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t know that … going through the motions or not paying attention or not being focused guarantees what happens when the game is in the crunch.

“Hopefully — I hate to say it — you’ve just got to take some losses to get some guys to start listening.”

There were several positive signs for Kentucky before the implosion, like Richards’ dozen points after a prolonged slump and Knox’s early attacks of the basket and especially Vanderbilt’s 6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block in a tantalizing, 14-minute debut. But all of that is for Part II of this post mortem.

We mustn’t ignore some obvious alarm bells that went off (again) in the final minutes against the Gamecocks.

“Instead of getting [the lead] to 20 and taking the win and going home, next thing you know we’re trying to do our own thing and they get back into it — we’re not listening, people trying to get their own baskets,” Knox said. “We weren’t running none of the plays, weren’t playing no defense, weren’t listening to nothing the coaches were saying. [But] we got all freshmen and it’s a learning experience for us. We’re going to need it down the stretch in March Madness.”

Or, more immediately, Saturday at home against Florida.

RELATED: Everything Calipari said after South Carolina collapse

Pac-12 referee, crew target of threats, harassment after Music City Bowl

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 9:04 PM

A Pac-12 referee and his fellow officials have been the targets of threats and harassment in the aftermath of the Music City Bowl, according to a report from ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura.

Pac-12 referee Chris Coyte ran a crew of officials in the postseason bowl game between Kentucky, a Southeastern Conference school, and Big Ten-member Northwestern. During the contest — which Northwestern eventually won 24-23 — Kentucky running back Benny Snell was ejected for contacting an official, a decision widely criticized upon video review.

Both Coyte and the Pac-12 Conference stood by the call after the game, but the referee received “a barrage of threatening calls to his cell and office phones,” per Bonagura’s report. Those eventually died down, until a letter from Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart to Pac-12 vice president of officials David Coleman became public when the Lexington Herald-Leader obtained it via public records request and published it.

With that came a renewal of threats and harassment, and arguments over perceived breaking of protocols (including one that doesn’t exist).

In the letter, Barnhart questioned the professionalism of Coyte and line judge Tim Messuri, claimed the ejection of Snell was unwarranted and accused the officiating crew of lacking care for the well-being of Kentucky’s players, citing an injury to Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson as an example.

“Specifically, head referee Chris Coyte seemed to have no care for our injured player or willingness to allow our team a few moments to prepare a substitute quarterback to replace him, which is normal protocol in such a situation,” Barnhart said in the letter, per ESPN.

There is no specific rule requiring a warm-up time for a replacement quarterback before entering the game. Moreover, Kentucky punted on the ensuing play, which came after an unsportsmanlike penalty was issued against the Wildcats.

The Pac-12 felt as though Barnhart broke protocol by reaching out directly to Coleman, per Bonagura’s report.

“We’re happy to discuss the matter with the SEC,” the Pac-12 said in a statement to ESPN. “We’re particularly sensitive about this issue because our officials have received threats and we are concerned about their safety.”

“We are not aware of any protocols for this kind of situation,” the Kentucky athletic department said in its statement to ESPN. “We made contact with the Southeastern Conference office and made them aware of our concerns. We expressed those concerns to the SEC and to the Pac-12 office.”