Sports Today: Ohio State football has to decide what it wants offense to be

Published: Wednesday, September 13, 2017 @ 9:56 AM

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer watches the action against Indiana on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. David Jablonski/Staff
Staff Writer
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer watches the action against Indiana on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. David Jablonski/Staff(Staff Writer)

Have you heard the one about how Ohio State football can’t do offense anymore? 

Of course you have because if you’re reading this, you’re on the internet, and there is nowhere on the web without someone’s take on how Urban Meyer’s famous attack has broken down. 

I found this one from Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel particularly useful as it confirms (albeit through mostly anonymous sourcing) my belief Meyer’s offense has gone stale since he got to Columbus and so far little influence from Kevin Wilson can be found. 

Ross Fulton of explains that aside from curiously going away from a running game that was working, a “foundational problem” is “the passing game is not built off the running game.” 

(Sorry to everyone who just had a brief bout with Tresselball PTSD.) 

Ian Boyd, who was ahead of the curve in pointing out some of Ohio State’s fatal flaws last season, also had an informative piece for SB Nation about how Oklahoma kept the Ohio State defense off balance all night with a smart play-action scheme (including, gasp, a fullback) and a quarterback who simply balled out. 

SPORTS TODAY: Anthony Grant hits it big with newest Flyers commit 

Ohio State hasn’t had either of those things in a big game very often since Tom Herman left after the national championship season of 2014. 

Truth be told, the Buckeyes are still at the same crossroads they were two years ago. They must decide if they want to commit to being a spread-run option team or a power run/deep play-action pass unit. 

They were the former while thrashing mostly inferior competition in 2012, ’13 and most of ’14 until J.T. Barrett got hurt. They were the latter in the postseason when Cardale Jones replaced him. 

One philosophy fits Barrett best while the other is more suited to Jones, Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins. 

I believe the rest of the personnel is fine either way, though lack of tight ends or a fullback or H-back is a big problem. (That’s a recruiting error.) Having two reliable tight ends was a major key to the success regardless of who was at quarterback in ’14, a luxury they haven’t enjoyed since. 

If Meyer wants to stick with the option — I don’t think he does, to be honest, but I am certain he doesn’t want to bench Barrett — he has to modernize it because teams caught up to his version of that a long time ago. It was harder to tell because of the brilliance of Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and the offensive line of 2012 and ’13, but the offense has had issues from the beginning of Meyer’s time in Columbus. 

He has admitted on multiple occasions the “spread option” part wasn’t really big during Miller time. Instead they relied more on called quarterback runs, which Meyer equates to single-wing football and rely on different blocking schemes than his most basic spread run game does. 

I believe after Miller and Barrett had season-ending injuries in the same year, he realized his offense really is a quarterback killer. 

The spread-option guys have denied that from the start, but it’s always been obvious they were wrong. Tim Tebow was beaten up by the end of his time at Florida, too. 

Also the way Jones stood back there and flung it against multiple marquee programs was surely a great recruiting tool both for the guys who throw it and the ones who catch it. 

Meyer sticking with Jones to start 2015 points strongly to what he wants the offense to be in the grand scheme of things, but Jones was inconsistent and didn’t get much help from the players around him or Herman’s replacements in the offensive braintrust, so they went back to Barrett eventually. 

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That made sense in the short term because Barrett was much more productive running a few plays tailored to his strengths when he would replace Jones, who was undercut from the start when Meyer showed he was willing to bench him at literally the first sign of trouble against Virginia Tech in ’15. 

So the decision to go with the Barrett band-aid is still reverberating today as the offense has struggled and a popular fifth-year quarterback is the subject of much criticism. 

Classmate Billy Price came to Barrett’s defense Tuesday night, making some strong points about the quarterback’s experience and intangibles. 

Ohio State center Billy Price went to bat for fellow senior J.T. Barrett after the QB has come under fire for his role in the struggles of the Buckeye offense.

Assuming the majority of the team feels this way — probable but not certain given the age gap between fifth-year seniors like Price and Barrett and all those freshmen and sophomores — this is further proof the best way forward is to shape an offense around what Barrett can do. 

Regardless of who is playing quarterback, the offense must change, but the necessary adjustments vary. 

Benching Barrett would mean they face two variables (new offense, new quarterback) instead of one (new offense, same quarterback), and the latter is probably a larger gamble than they need to take. 

The worst thing about the present is they are stuck in between offenses and the quarterback they are using is only good at half of it. 

If they switch QBs but leave the scheme generally the same, that will still be true. 

In the long run, the best bet is to leave the option behind. Meyer knows this, which is why he recruited throwing quarterbacks like Burrow and Haskins, but he has hedged with Tate Martell. 

READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s “Cus Words Blog

He’s got a tough decision now, but I also still believe he’s got the right guy to help him make if if he just trusts Kevin Wilson to do the job he was hired to do. 

They’ve compromised the running game in trying to fix the pass, a net loss in productivity that’s anything but necessary given the players at their disposal. 

One way or another, that has to change if the Buckeyes want to get back on course now or in the future — no matter who is playing quarterback. 

Kansas has best chance of beating West Virginia of all teams remaining on schedule

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 12:56 AM

Wins in conference play haven’t been easy for Kansas football to come by in recent seasons. If the Jayhawks are to beat a Big 12 opponent in 2017, their Big 12 opener might just be their best chance of doing so.

According to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, Kansas has a 24 percent chance of beating West Virginia when the Mountaineers pay a visit to the Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence on Sept. 23. As sobering as it may be for Kansas fans, it’s the highest chance of a win that the Jayhawks have in any game on the rest of their schedule.

Kansas most recently defeated West Virginia in 2013. The 31-19 home win over the Mountaineers was coincidentally the Jayhawks’ lone Big 12 victory that season.

The odds of a victory for Kansas only go down in the weeks immediately following West Virginia. Connelly listed the Jayhawks as having a 23 percent of beating Texas Tech, a 14 percent chance of beating Iowa State and a 5 percent chance of beating TCU. The odds go up slightly against Kansas State and Baylor, but plummet back below 10 percent for Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Of course, the game is played for a reason. The Jayhawks have played TCU to one score, despite being a heavy underdog, in each of their past three meetings, while upsetting Texas in the upset of all upsets in Lawrence one season ago. Containing the West Virginia quarterback-receiver connection of Will Grier and David Sills, however, will be no easy task.

The Kansas-West Virginia Game is scheduled for kickoff at 11 a.m. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.


USC preparing backups for bigger roles as injuries mount

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 12:46 AM

USC is the only team in the Pac-12 that does not have a bye week, unless you count that the Trojans don’t play during the final weekend of the regular season. That makes dealing with injuries even more difficult than normal, especially when the ailments start piling up.

Tuesday’s practice saw a whopping eight starters either sit out or participate in a limited manner, a list that included junior running back Ronald Jones, senior wide receiver Steven Mitchell, linebackers Porter Gustin, John Houston and Uchenna Nwosu, defensive lineman Rasheem Green and defensive back Ajene Harris.

Most of those players were held out as a precautionary reason and most are expected to play Saturday at California. But with the understanding that any or all of those players could be limited, coach Clay Helton has been making sure his backups and third-stringers are ready to go.

Our twos are stepping up,” Helton said, per Alicia de Artola of Fansided’s Reign of Troy blog. “Now if we had a couple more injuries in this game then I’m going to get worried, but I think we have adequate numbers and I have a lot of faith in the guys that have stepped up, especially in that last game.”

USC had 55 players play at least one snap in last week’s overtime win over Texas, with 20 different Trojans register a tackle. Those numbers could be even higher at Cal if the hobbled starters aren’t able to play as many snaps as normal.

DPS hires Taylor over Pullen as Dunbar boys hoop coach

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 8:15 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:41 PM

The DPS school board by a vote of 4-2 opted not to rehire Pete Pullen as the Dunbar boys basketball coach and instead awarded the job to Charles Taylor on Monday, Sept. 19, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

The Dayton Public Schools parted ways with one of its most successful coaches in the history of the multiple-school urban district on Tuesday by not rehiring Pete Pullen as the Dunbar High School boys basketball coach.

DPS instead voted 4-2 to approve newcomer Charles Taylor as the Wolverines new coach during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“I have to live with that,” said Pullen, who guided the Wolverines the past 13 seasons and won four Division II state championships. “I teach my players how to lose graciously. This is a loss for me so I’m going to walk out with my head up high. I know there’s better things for me.”

Board president Robert Walker and Ron Lee both cited loyalty to a revised hiring process for DPS coaches in which Taylor scored higher than Pullen. They were joined by Sheila Taylor, the chair of athletic board control, and Robert McManus in favor of hiring Taylor.

“I hear that process being challenged,” Lee said prior to a special vote for the Dunbar position. “Because I advocated for the process and it was adopted by this board I have to go along with this change.”

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At least a half-dozen pro-Pullen supporters spoke prior to the vote on his behalf. They included former Dunbar teachers, players and an assistant coach. Taylor and Pullen were the only applicants.

“The process clearly gives the appearance that one candidate had inside information that coach Pullen would not be retained,” said board member Joe Lacy, who voted against hiring Taylor as did board vice president Hazel Rountree.

“There’s a serious problem with this process. To disregard 20 years of experience is not what this district should be about. This process is another example of a system that awards you for who you know and not what you know.”

Rountree took a more direct reason for voting not to hire Taylor. “I don’t feel in my soul this system was fair,” she said. “It doesn’t feel right. There’s something wrong with that and I won’t be a part of it.”

Board member Adil Baquirov abstained from voting.

Pullen, 63, oversaw Dunbar’s return to state prominence, winning four Division II state titles in 2012 and ’10 and consecutive titles in 2006-07. Dunbar also advanced to two more state final fours in that span.

Taylor has extensive AAU basketball coaching experience, but none at the high school level. He has coached Stivers boys middle school basketball. He was a senior starter on Roth’s 1981 Class AAA state title team and is the older brother of former Dunbar basketball standout Kirk Taylor, a standout on Dunbar’s 1987 Class AAA state title team.

The decision to not rehire Pullen as coach is the latest in a series of consequential events that stem from a Week 10 football game last season between Dunbar and Belmont at Welcome Stadium.

After a lengthy investigation that concluded last spring and citing “a lack of administrative responsibility and institutional control,” the Ohio High School Athletic Association placed all DPS athletic programs – all schools, girls and boys, seventh through 12th grades – on a three-year probation, fined the district $10,000 and athletics administrators were instructed to undergo additional training.

All coaching contracts for OHSAA member schools are annually renewable. Pullen said among the reasons he was told he likely wouldn’t retain the coaching position was his inquiry into the then-open Wayne boys basketball position and an accusation of improper financial handling of a summer basketball tournament Dunbar hosted the last 12 years.

Pullen retired from teaching in 2016, but returned to Dunbar this past school year as a classroom teacher at the request of administrators. In all, he was a teacher and coach for DPS teams the last 20 years, including a celebrated run as Dunbar’s girls basketball coach before taking over the boys program.

“I can tell you teams in the Southwest District will not play Dayton Public Schools if Pete Pullen is not reinstated,” former Dunbar assistant and former Ponitz head coach Shaun O’Connell said prior to the vote. “That reputation is bigger than Dunbar.

“I’m very upset. I sat in there and heard that this is about kids. I don’t know that we helped kids on (Monday) and I’m somebody who cares very deeply about the kids in Dayton Public Schools. It’s very sad it’s taken this turn.”

In all, 13 DPS winter coaching positions were approved. Besides Pullen, the only other change was Calvin Mitchell succeeding Chad Miller as Meadowdale’s girls basketball coach. Miller is currently the Lions’ AD. It was unclear if the absence of any Ponitz winter coaches on the agenda was an oversight or not.

The Dunbar boys basketball coaching staff reportedly is set and none of Pullen’s assistants have been retained.

Pullen is recovering from knee surgery and hasn’t participated in offseason workouts since the summer. He didn’t rule out a return to coaching.

“This is the way they wanted to go and I wish them the best,” he said. “I’ll give it a day or two to think about it and see what unfolds for me. I prayed on this and God must have a better plan for me. I wish everybody good luck and God bless Dunbar High School.”

»FACEBOOK: For more high school sports you should like Marc Pendleton


Approved on Tuesday

Boys basketball

Belmont: Art Winston

Dunbar: Charles Taylor

Meadowdale: Dwayne Chastain

Stivers: Felix Turner

Thurgood Marshall: Shawn McCullough

Girls basketball

Belmont: Larry Williams

Dunbar: Jim Cole

Meadowdale: Calvin Mitchell

Stivers: Michael Powell

Thurgood Marshall: Khalil Franklin


Belmont: Joseph Wiehe

Meadowdale: Jackie Fails, Jr.

Thurgood Marshall: Armiya Muhammed


Dunbar boys: 13 seasons, 289-54 record, 4 D-II state titles, 6 final fours.

Dunbar girls: 6 seasons, 109-29 record, 44-0 City League record.

Age: 63

Status: Retired teacher, former Dunbar AD.

Dunbar coach Pete Pullen. Trotwood-Madison defeated host Dunbar 81-72 in a boys high school basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

College Basketball: Dayton Flyers freshman declared ineligible by NCAA

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 4:16 PM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 4:50 PM

Jablonski: Flyers entering season short-handed

The Dayton Flyers basketball team lost another one of its taller players for the coming season when the NCAA Clearinghouse sidelined 6-foot-9 freshman Obadiah “Obi” Toppin for not meeting initial academic eligibility standards.

It’s the same scenario that played out for Flyer big man Steve McElvene three years ago and Kostas Anteokounmpo last year when they were grounded by the Clearinghouse until they improved their academic qualifications. Similarly, Toppin will remain a member of the UD team and will be able to practice, but he will not be permitted to play this season.

»RELATED: An updated look at UD’s 2017-18 roster

As an academic redshirt, he will have four years of eligibility remaining.

For more than a month Flyers coaches had known of the possibility that Toppin would be ruled ineligible, but they held out hope and awaited the final ruling.

»RELATED: A look at UD’s five-man recruiting class

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Dayton head coach Anthony Grant said. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

The team already was shorthanded for the coming season with the loss of 6-foot-7 Ryan Mikesell, who is recovering from two hip surgeries in the offseason, and 6-foot-9 Sam Miller’s dismissal from the team after he was suspended from the university for a semester and his scholarship was revoked following a highly publicized incident at the Greene County Jail this summer following his arrest at a Beavercreek bar.

Initially charged with disorderly conduct by intoxication amd underage consumption, Miller was taken to the jail, where he got into a scuffle with a fellow inmate that was caught on video cameras and ended up a much-viewed clip on the internet. Charged with assault in that incident, he accepted a plea deal to disorderly conduct.

Toppin averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists last season while playing at Mt. Zion Prep in Baltimore.

Prior to that, he played just one season of varsity basketball — his senior year at Ossing High School in New York — and averaged 20.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3 steals. He was selected to the Lower Hudson High Schools Basketball Coaches Association Conference 1 All Section Team and was named all-league.

»RELATED: Where does Dayton rank on list of top 144 teams?

As for the impact of Toppin’s loss to the team, Grant recently said: “He’s one of just 11 (scholarship players). Nobody on the roster is expendable. We need everybody.”