Talk to coaches in any sport for long enough and they will be sure to tell you at some point that pressing to make something outstanding happen can be the worst thing an athlete can do. Most of the time, just letting the game come to you is the best way to experience success.
So it’s no surprise that the Ohio State football coaching staff would be no different, if you believe tailback Maurice Wells’ explanation of the recent quick-strike offense employed by the Buckeyes.
“The coaches, they take it one play at a time,” Wells said. “They want to get a first down. They’re not looking for a big, 70-yard play every time. They tell us to let the big plays come to us. When you let the big plays come to you, they just seem to appear.”
That they have for the Buckeye gridders during the past two games. After the offense wasn’t as efficient as maybe some fans demanded against Youngstown State, could put up only three points in the first half against Akron and sputtered to the same total in the first 30 minutes at Washington, the points have been coming fast and furious.
During the second half against Washington, four of OSU’s five second-half scoring jaunts lasted three plays or less. That continued in the blitzkrieg of Northwestern when the Buckeyes jumped out to a 35-0 lead after 16 minutes of play thanks to three scoring drives of three plays.
Also, during the last two weeks, the Buckeyes have had six touchdown plays go for 35 yards or longer.
When pressed for an explanation, the general consensus is that the plays have just sort of happened more so than they were consciously planned.
“Coach Tress always says, take what the defense gives you,” quarterback Todd Boeckman said. “If they’re going to stack the box, we’re going to throw the ball. If you’re going to play Cover 2 or whatever behind us, not that many guys in the box, we’re going to run the ball. It’s just kind of nice to have that option to have such great receivers, a great O-line and backs that can do this.”
Part of the equation has been Boeckman’s lack of hesitance to throw the deep ball. The results have not always been pretty – Akron’s Reggie Corner snatched an underthrown deep toss during week two and a home-run shot against Northwestern ended up in the arms of Wildcat cornerback Sherrick McManis – but the strategy has led to some big scores.
Against Washington, the game changed when Boeckman made a check at the line and found Brian Robiskie streaking down the right sideline for a 68-yard score. Boeckman later added a 36-yard fourth-quarter strike to a wide open Brian Hartline to put the Dawgs away.
The Wildcats’ experienced secondary was no match for Boeckman’s bombs, either. It started three plays into the game when he led a wide open Robiskie down the right sideline for a 42-yard touchdown. A 28-yard streak pattern on Ohio State’s next drive was the second score of three on the day for Robiskie, then Boeckman ended his day by finding a wide open Ray Small for a 48-yard scoring toss to open the second half.
The results have not been a surprise to head coach Jim Tressel, who during the preseason predicted that first-year starter Boeckman would be able to toss some long strikes.
“I do remember saying in the preseason that I thought Todd was throwing the deep ball well,” Tressel said.
That’s fine and dandy with the coach, who echoed Boeckman’s comments on the versatility of the big-play offense.
“I think you have to do what your guys do,” Tressel said. “Hopefully we can stretch the field. Hopefully that is something that someone says, you know what, they're going to go downtown if you let them, and I hope that becomes something that people are legitimately fearful of.”
The running game has also been getting into the mix. Brandon Saine busted off a career long 37-yard run on the final play at Washington, a prelude to a 36-yard rumble by Chris Wells that increased Ohio State’s lead to 42-0 against Northwestern.
Those bolts are even more valuable, running backs coach Dick Tressel said, because they show the Buckeyes can run the ball with success, something that should help Boeckman continue his long-tossing ways.
“With the long strike through the air, I think the running back would like to take a little bit of credit for that,” he said. “We feel from a running-game perspective that we’re asking the opposition because of what we can do to pack the box a little bit, maybe play a little bit of man to man.”
If they keep doing so, the man with the biggest smile in the stadium will be Boeckman.
“It’s always nice to get a big play on the board throwing the deep ball like that,” he said. “It’s nice to go out and let the receivers get it and make some plays.”