Losing a commanding lead and falling to Clemson in a dramatic national CFP semifinal is going to sting for a while, but a 13–1 season — and an undefeated blitz through the Big Ten — served notice that Ryan Day was more than ready to take the reins from the retired Urban Meyer last year. In Day’s first full season at the helm, the Buckeyes racked up 46.9 points and 529.9 yards per game while fielding one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Special teams were solid as well.
With Heisman Trophy candidate Justin Fields back at quarterback, optimism remains high, but he’ll no longer be able to turn around and hand the ball off to J.K. Dobbins or watch Chase Young singlehandedly destroy opposing game plans.
These Buckeyes may have to win a shootout or two — at least until consistency develops on defense — and will look to get career-best seasons out of a lot of upperclassmen who have waited their turn. We should have a good idea about Ohio State by midseason, especially after trips to Michigan State and Penn State in consecutive weeks.
Previewing Ohio State's Offense for 2020
Day likes Fields’ development and improved vision, and he’s convinced the multi-threat QB can do even more this season. That sentiment also could be based on need as the Buckeyes are charged with finding a new running game. Master Teague III, who had 789 yards and 5.8 per carry last season, was the likely replacement for Dobbins until he suffered a setback in the spring, reportedly a torn Achilles. Marcus Crowley also dealt with an offseason injury, forcing the coaches to take a deeper look at youngster Steele Chambers and senior Demario McCall. The top option could end up being graduate transfer Trey Sermon, who amassed more than 2,000 rushing yards and 25 scores at Oklahoma.
OSU averaged 266.8 rushing yards per game last season, which provided the necessary balance in Day’s system and allowed Fields to spread the ball to a multitude of receivers. Many of those pass catchers are gone, but Chris Olave, fresh off team-leading stats of 12 touchdown catches and 17.3 yards per reception, is ready for stardom. He’ll be joined by Garrett Wilson and a bevy of premier athletes, including some talented freshmen and slot receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
The offense also can employ several quality tight ends, a group that includes red zone option Jeremy Ruckert.
The O-line has the potential to be dominant with juniors Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers entrenched in key roles at guard and center, respectively, while senior Thayer Munford will man one of the tackle positions. The coaches are hoping either sophomore Nicholas Petit-Frere or freshman Paris Johnson Jr. lives up to his five-star status at the other OT spot.
Previewing Ohio State's Defense for 2020
The secondary is a major question mark with All-American Jeff Okudah, fellow corner Damon Arnette and reliable safety Jordan Fuller all departed. Also, the program had no choice but to cut ties with safeties Jahsen Wint and Amir Riep after they were indicted on rape and kidnapping charges in February. Day is hoping the return of assistant coach Kerry Coombs, the team’s new defensive coordinator, will return the magic to the back end of the defense. Coombs developed the likes of Bradley Roby, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward in his previous stint at the school. Another plus is the return of corner Shaun Wade, who apparently didn’t want to end his college career by being tossed out of the Fiesta Bowl for a targeting call on Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.
The defensive backfield is going to need to show it can stay with receivers, especially if the front seven isn’t able to get after the quarterback like it did in 2019. Not only did Young log 21.0 tackles for a loss, but linebacker Malik Harrison also added 16.5 TFLs in his final year in scarlet and gray. Harrison led OSU in total stops (75) last year and came through in big games.
Ideally, senior Baron Browning follows in those footsteps and thrives at Harrison’s OLB spot, allowing Tuf Borland, a more natural MLB, to man the inside. Yet another senior, a beefed-up Pete Werner, should start at the other OLB spot in 4-3 looks.
Up front, co-captain Jonathon Cooper returns for a fifth year while fellow ends Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith look ready to make an impact.
Previewing Ohio State's Specialists for 2020
Placekicker Blake Haubeil and punter Drue Chrisman have eyes on highly productive senior seasons. Day doesn’t like to settle for field goals, but Haubeil is a good fallback (13-of-15 last year) and is steady on kickoffs. Meanwhile, Chrisman averaged 44.3 yards per boot last season with nearly a third of his kicks traveling 50 yards or more. Wilson and McCall bring potential excitement to the return game.
Even though this is a team with enough ability to contend and with several upperclassmen occupying key spots, a lot will have to fall into place for OSU to return to the College Football Playoff. With Day under the headset, Fields at the controls and young blazers at the wideout positions, this offense could be electric again. Clearly, Fields will have every chance to confirm why he is a Heisman frontrunner. But are the losses on defense going to prove to be too much to overcome?