The question asked at nearly every press conference and proposed by nearly every fan on Twitter has always been, “Will Ohio State find more success with the deep ball now that Kevin Wilson is the new co-offensive coordinator?”
And while the answer to that question will remain somewhat of a mystery until the regular season, Saturday’s spring game seemed to at least reveal it has become a major focal point for this team.
“I mean we tried to work on it, and you can take stats and skew it, make it look good or bad,” Wilson said.
Stats can always be skewed, but in the spring game, they tell a convincing story. The two sides combined for a total of 654 passing yards with all but two of the nine touchdowns coming through the air.
Beyond just the overarching passing numbers, the team showed the air attack could pick up yards in bulk. Four of those touchdown passes were at least 30 yards, a positive sign for a team that netted just seven total touchdowns last season on passes greater than 30 yards (only six of which came from redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett).
One such player who found plenty of success with the deep ball in the game was redshirt freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Taking over for Barrett after the first quarter, Haskins immediately flashed his ability to successfully utilize the deep ball, hitting five passes in the second quarter of at least 20 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to junior wide receiver Terry McLaurin.
“I can see the direction of the offense is to pass the ball more, so that’s where I fit in,” Haskins said. “It’s exciting, having receivers out there like (junior H-back) Parris (Campbell) and Terry and I don’t want to forget anyone else’s name, but the receivers out there that are just going out there balling, going up muscling some people, running screen routes and it’s exciting to see the offense using the weapons we have.”
Haskins was not the only quarterback to hit receivers downfield. Barrett, often criticized last season for seemingly shying away from the deep ball or rather demonstrating ineffectiveness with it, connected with both Campbell and redshirt sophomore tight end A.J. Alexander on a pair of 17-yard passes on the first drive of the game.
Barrett gave credit to wide receivers coach Zach Smith and co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day for their ability to help keep the wideouts and signal-callers on the same page when it comes to connecting on deep passes.
“I think before, we were just shooting them and we weren’t necessarily making them at first,” Barrett said. “But then, with coach Smith and coach Day just really finding landmarks for those throws to the field and to the boundaries so receivers understand where it’s going to hit at, and then also, too, those guys just running hard to beat the guys downfield because our defense plays man across the board.”
Barrett added later though that Wilson and his personality and style for preferring to attack the defensive backs has been the driving force behind the increased emphasis on the deep pass.
“He has an attacking personality. He’s a competitor, and he’s always in attack mode and playing fast,” Barrett said. “I think the thing about the Ohio State offense is you think about we’re always on the attack and at times, I think we got away from that, just for whatever reason, but now, his main focus is to make sure that we’re always on attack and that we’re beating the guy across from us.”
The passing game appeared much sharper in the spring game than it had in the past, but Wilson said this is only the beginning for his team’s work in that area.
“I asked the tight ends a week ago, two weeks ago, ‘What do you want to work on?’ And they said, ‘We’re not doing enough passing.’ And I go, ‘that’s May, June and July,’” Wilson said. “And so to me, we’ve made some great strides in spring. The coaches get removed when the ball’s out, but I think those kids can have huge jumps in the passing game.”