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Ohio State has enough options, talent to crush short-yardage situations

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is a difference-maker for the Buckeyes offense in all situations. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Ohio State has enough options, talent to crush short-yardage situations

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about the Ohio State and the short-yardage offense? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

At some point, Ohio State is going to run a quarterback sneak again.

Well, it probably will.

Now that the under-center snaps are back in the playbook for the Buckeyes, odds are at some point they’ll just let Justin Fields use his big frame behind a powerful interior offensive line and convert a short-yardage situation the old-fashioned way. As simple as that play is, though, it’s obviously pretty physical and comes with a little risk, which is why Ryan Day is still more likely to stay more creative with those calls.

The run out of the empty set on fourth-and-1 didn’t work for the Buckeyes on Saturday against Cincinnati, and it looked disjointed right from the start. And if that gave some folks flashbacks to the issues Ohio State had at times a year ago in those situations and in the red zone, it’s certainly understandable.

But that failed conversion was the only trip so far this season inside an opponent’s 20-yard line that didn’t result in a touchdown. And the early returns on the offense suggest there won’t be many more problems moving the chains or punching in scores when the space gets tighter. Ohio State has such a wide array of options, it makes sense why it would continue to use all of them at its disposal since the sneak isn’t exactly a stone-cold guarantee to work every time.

J.K. Dobbins-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State tailback J.K. Dobbins is a weapon in the red zone for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

For starters, Fields is going to continue to be a problem for defenses with his legs. And while he was stuffed using them against the Bearcats, that could have been as much an execution problem as it was a correct guess by a couple smart defensive coaches on the other sideline. The ground game for Ohio State is much tougher to defend when Fields has a tailback alongside him, and whether it’s J.K. Dobbins or Master Teague, opponents are going to have their hands full picking between guys to stop.

The threat of Fields rushing also opens up space for wide receivers and tight ends, and Day has proven over the last two years that he’s not afraid to trust his passers even on third-and-short. In a few cases that might be because he knows that he can still try to run on fourth down, but it’s also because those plays can turn into long gains or touchdowns — and using them prevents defenses from constantly loading up the box.

As for that specific call on Saturday, maybe it was an experiment to see what would work with Fields. Maybe it was to put that play on film, either to break tendencies or to force a team like Indiana to prepare for the possibility. Maybe that’s setting up a different play up for later in the season. That’s a lot of uncertainty all at once, but the point is Ohio State really doesn’t have anything to worry about right now in those scenarios.

From the multiple tight-end sets to the zone-read options to the jet-sweep looks from under center and, yes, all the way down to a sneak, Ohio State really has no limitations for what it can do to attack a team in key situations. No team is going to be perfect over the course of the season, but the Buckeyes have the capability to get that one misfire fixed and potentially get closer to 100 percent than maybe anybody else in the country.

Miss any previous editions of Question of the Day? Catch up right here.


Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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