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. 

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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. 

Big 12 power rankings: Oklahoma rising above competitors

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 2:45 PM

With a loss to Iowa State its lone blemish, Oklahoma has a stranglehold on the rest of the Big 12. After the Sooners, however, things get confusing. What once was a clear pecking order has become muddled after Kansas State’s bizarre win at Oklahoma State last Saturday.

1. Oklahoma Sooners (previous: No. 1)

Last week: beat Kansas, 41-3

This week: vs. West Virginia

The Sooners are the unquestioned best team in the Big 12 conference. Since the letdown against the Cyclones, Oklahoma is 6-0 — including four straight conference wins by double digits. The Sooners appear to be peaking at the right time with the Big 12 title game only two Saturdays away.

2. TCU Horned Frogs (previous: No. 4)

Last week: Beat Texas Tech, 27-3

This week: vs. Baylor

The Horned Frogs’ offense was not good on Saturday, but their defense was lights out despite missing several key playmakers. The Red Raiders had not been held without a touchdown since 2012 and had not been held to a field goal at home since 2000. The Horned Frogs have one of the best Big 12 defenses in years.    

3. Iowa State Cyclones (previous: No. 3)

Last week: Beat Baylor, 23-13

This week: at Kansas State

Iowa State didn’t play to the top of its ability, but still handily beat the 1-win Baylor Bears on the road last weekend. The Cyclones are 5-2 in their past seven, with both losses (West Virginia and Oklahoma State) by one score. Iowa State should make a great bowl game.  

4. Oklahoma State Cowboys (previous: No. 2)

Last week: 45-40 loss to Kansas State

This week: vs. Kansas

Many thought Oklahoma State was the second-best team in the Big 12 heading into the home stretch. However, the Cowboys disappointed everyone on Saturday. With less than five minutes left in the third quarter, Oklahoma State trailed 42-13. Mason Rudolph led a massive comeback to make it close, but the Cowboys picked up a horrible loss at home.  

5. Kansas State Wildcats (previous: No. 7)

Last week: Beat No. 13 Oklahoma State, 45-40

This week: vs. Iowa State

Kansas State continues to be a confounding team. We saw the Wildcats’ many different personalities in a narrow win against the Cowboys. The Wildcats built up a 29-point lead but gave OSU a chance to take the lead at the end. Luckily, the defense made timely plays. The good news is that Skylar Thompson looks like the quarterback of the future heading forward, whether under Bill Snyder or someone else.

6. Texas Longhorns (previous: No. 6)

Last week: Beat West Virginia, 28-14

This week: vs. Texas Tech

It might have been without Will Grier, but the Longhorns held West Virginia to just one offensive touchdown on Saturday. Finally, Texas has a unit it can count on consistently. Now, Texas is back in a bowl game for the first time since 2014. Not bad, Tom Herman.

7. West Virginia Mountaineers (previous: No. 5)

Last week: 28-14 loss to Texas

This week: at No. 4 Oklahoma

The Mountaineers’ entire offense is based around Grier. With him out of the lineup, the Mountaineers have to change things dramatically. Having a week of practice will help Chris Chugunov, but West Virginia needs immediate results.

8. Texas Tech Red Raiders (previous: No. 8)

Last week: 27-3 loss to No. 12 TCU

This week: at Texas

Texas Tech is collapsing. Other than a win against hapless Baylor, the Red Raiders have lost five of six games. In fact, their only Big 12 wins are against Kansas and Baylor after what looked like an impressive nonconference run. Kliff Kingsbury could be coaching his last game next weekend.

9. Baylor Bears (previous: No. 9)

Last week: 23-13 loss to Iowa State

This week: at No. 12 TCU

Baylor continues to get better every week, but the Bears are still 1-10 with only one game remaining. There have been obvious positive signs, but they’re not showing up on the scoreboard or in the standings. Nonetheless, Matt Rhule has to be encouraged.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (previous: No. 10)

Last week: 41-3 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma

This week: at No. 19 Oklahoma State

The Jayhawks tried to intimidate Oklahoma, and it backfired dramatically. Kansas now goes into its last game of the season with a new round of captains. It’s another disappointing season for the fans in Lawrence.

WATCH: LeBron James surprises Oklahoma women’s basketball with new shoes

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 12:51 AM

oklahoma-oklahoma women's basketball-oklahoma sooners-lebron james

Fashion-wise, it’s a great time to be a student-athlete at Oklahoma.

The university recently announced the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the football team, would move to Jordan Brand next season.

The Oklahoma women’s basketball team got another surprise on Wednesday.

The Sooners are in Eugene, Oregon, for the PK80 Invitational, and Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James surprised the Sooners with a special gift.

Here is a better look at the shoes from Oklahoma point guard Gabbi Ortiz.

It was not a bad night for Sherri Coale’s players, who got a pretty sweet gift from one the best players in the NBA. James even gave a shoutout to the Sooners on Twitter.

Oklahoma faces Oregon on Nov. 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET. The game will be on the Pac 12 Network. The Sooners are back in Norman, Oklahoma, on Dec. 3 when Florida visits for the 2017-18 Big 12/SEC Challenge.

The post WATCH: LeBron James surprises Oklahoma women’s basketball with new shoes appeared first on Diehards.

Kentucky Basketball: Nick Richards just needed a tune-up between the ears to deliver a monster game

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 12:47 AM

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Were John Calipari to assemble a perfect center, it might look a lot like 5-star Kentucky freshman Nick Richards: 7 feet tall, 245 pounds, 7 percent body fat, a 7-5 wingspan, strong enough to bench press 185 pounds 15 times and nimble enough to leap 36 inches off the ground and sprint three-quarters of a basketball court in 3.37 seconds.

Not much needs fixing on that body. So Richards’ underwhelming start to this season for the Wildcats must be about what is between his ears, right? Calipari thought so, and he put the big man in touch with Dr. Bob Rotella, a renowned sports psychologist.

Richards and Rosella spoke on the phone for 30-45 minutes before UK’s game against Troy on Monday night, and it apparently unburdened Richards — or perhaps unleashed him.

“[Richards] said, ‘Man, that guy is really good, got me in the right frame of mind,’ ” Calipari said. “You can’t have the weight of the world on you and play this game. You gotta play like you got nothing to lose. That’s all I’ve been talking about to these guys.”

It couldn’t be as simple as an En Vogue lyric — Free your mind and the rest will follow — could it? Here’s all you need to know: Before speaking to Rotella, Richards had managed 16 points and 19 rebounds in 61 minutes this season. Since Rotella’s pep talk, he’s gone for 33 points and 23 rebounds in 38 minutes.

That includes a breakout game so unexpected that even teammates were surprised: 25 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks in an 86-67 win over Fort Wayne on Wednesday night.

“[Rotella] basically just talked about how he’s been watching me play and I’ve been playing timid,” Richards said. “So he just told me to play with a little more confidence, put a little more swag in my game and don’t worry about the score, don’t worry about how your stats are looking. Just go have fun.”

More specifically, Rotella said that when players sit around an arena for two or three hours before a game, it can become a mental drain.

“So he told me, ‘Before the game starts, do not think about basketball,’ ” Richards said.

His solution: watching videos of a comedian on Instagram. Whatever works, right?

Richards arrived at Kentucky like so many others: stamped with labels that come with heavy expectations attached. McDonald’s All-American. Future first-round NBA draft pick. Millionaire in training.

Which is why one of Calipari’s biggest teaching points every year has nothing to do with basketball.

“Just relieving yourself from any type of pressure — NBA pressure or things you’ve been through, how hard you’ve worked, just thinking too hard. Just play like there’s not pressure,” sophomore Wenyen Gabriel said. “I think that’s a big reason why [Richards] played the way he did today. He came out and played like he played before he got here, in high school. He just let loose, keep the game simple.

“He used the things that he works on every day and he came out and just displayed it all.”

Because Richards has also been busy refining the physical aspects of his game, toiling before and after practices with the Wildcats’ big man whisperer, assistant Kenny Payne.

“Developing hook shots, as you can see. That’s basically my go-to move now,” Richards said. “My free throws, my mid-range jumpers, just how to read and react to certain plays, how to guard pick-and-rolls. A lot of late nights, early mornings, a lot of hours in the gym.”

Richards threw down high-flying dunks Wednesday, sure, but also had a nifty up-and-under bucket for a three-point play, swished an elbow jumper and sank more than one pretty jump hook.

He made 9 of 10 shots from the field and 7 of 7 at the free-throw line. It was a clinic. By the time he got back to the locker room, Rotella had texted to congratulate him — on the big game, yes, but this especially:

“I had fun,” Richards said. “Me and my team had fun tonight.”

Tulsa World: Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry revival wanted by former players

Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 12:16 AM

Oklahoma and Nebraska’s respective football teams have felt an empty void on Thanksgiving weekend for years.

The once-classic college football rivalry took a hit with the Big 12’s formation in the 90s and then completely wiped out by Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten in 2011.

Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World recently wrote a column regarding the classic series between two of college football’s blue-blood programs. One of the players he spoke with, former Nebraska star and 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, shared his thoughts on the rivalry that will be rived in 2021 and ’22.

“We play in two or three years,” Rozier said to Emig. “But I think we should have that rivalry back every year, in November or on Thanksgiving. A lot of people miss that. Not just the fans — the players miss it, too.”

The Sooners and Cornhuskers last met under the roof of AT&T Stadium for the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 4, 2010. Oklahoma won 23-20 to take a 45-38-3 lead in the all-time series.

The programs will meet again in Norman, Oklahoma, in 2021 and 2029, and in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2022 and 2030.

But until then, Oklahoma and Nebraska fans will have to continue to deal with life without an annual game between two schools that share plenty of mutual respect and have played some of the best games college football has seen.