The Ohio State offense will have big shoes to quickly fill with the rather unexpected departure of offensive coordinator and quarterback tutor Tom Herman. Herman, who beat out a field of candidates including Alabama's Lane Kiffin for the 2014 Broyles Award, has reportedly accepted the head coach position at Houston.
The departure could not come a more inopportune time for the Buckeyes, who nudged their way into the College Football Playoffs following their 59-0 dismantling of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game. Preparations are underway for the Ohio State's semi-final match-up against top-ranked Alabama, a game in which Herman's guidance and explosive play-calling would be of great benefit.
In three years in Columbus, Herman has helmed the Big 10's most explosive offense, as the Buckeyes have led the conference in scoring in each year of his tenure. In the last two years, the Buckeye juggernaut has been particularly potent, averaging more than 500 yards per game of total offense. The feat is more astonishing this season, as the Ohio State offense suffered the loss of not only two-time Big 10 Offensive MVP Braxton Miller, but a late season injury to second-string quarterback J.T. Barrett as well. The lashing of the Badgers in the B1G championship game came at the hands of third-stringer Cardale Jones, a dynamic which has given Herman the nickname ‘The Quarterback Whisperer" for his ability to elevate the play of whomever lines up beneath center.
Herman's Buckeye offense led the Big 10 in scoring in 2012 with 37.2 points per game, and his rushing attack ranked 10th nationally with 250 yards per game. In 2013, the Buckeyes were third nationally in scoring with 45.5 points per game and fifth in rushing with 308.6 yards per game. During the 2013 campaign, 12 Buckeye single-season records fell, including most touchdown passes (38). In 2014, Herman's offense set school and Big 10 conference records for rushing yards in a season (4,321), most touchdowns in a season (82), most offensive yards in a season (7,167), highest yards per play average (7.1) and highest yards per game average (511.9).
It's not just Herman's work at Ohio State that distinguishes him as one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. At nearly every previous stop in his career, he's built offenses that score points in bushels and break records in droves. In his first offensive coordinator stint at Texas State, the team won 11 games and led the Southland Conference in total offense. After following Texas State head coach David Bailiff to Rice in ‘08, the Owls saw their offenses soar to top 10 rankings nationally (passing offense, scoring offense and total offense.)
While his offenses never averaged more than 24 points per game in his two years at Iowa State, after being hired by Meyer as Buckeye OC, Herman returned to form, generating the type of eye-popping offensive numbers to which Buckeye fans have become accustomed.
While the timetable for Herman's departure is unknown (this is a breaking story), one can assume that Houston will want him on board as soon as possible to aid in recruiting. Such a demand would make sense, as Herman is known as a top-notch recruiter (he won the Rivals Big 10 Recruiter of the Year Award in 2013) who will be needed to restock the offensive cupboard at Houston.
Therefore, the most immediate impact for Ohio State will be that the offensive string-puller will not be available for preparation and execution of the offensive game plan against the Crimson Tide. Tide fans should breathe a sigh of relief, as Herman's scheme is one that relies on balance and explosive plays, two things that have given the Alabama defense trouble in the past. His absence cannot be underestimated, as he has a proven track record of finding novel ways to score points against solid defenses. The Buckeye offense will suffer in his absence, to be sure, though the degree of that suffering is difficult to gauge.
Another factor could raise its head regarding the preparation of Jones for one of the nation's top defenses in Alabama. Under Herman's tutelage, Jones was able to play above the station of the typical third-string quarterback in his only start of the year against Wisconsin. While the Buckeyes likely won't alter the offensive approach markedly prior to the semi-final, one would expect the comfort level of Jones to be somewhat lower without his previous tutor on the sideline. Alabama's defense can be downright brutal, and with an improved pass rush and the nation's second-ranked rushing defense, Jones may be called upon to play in transcendent fashion if the Buckeyes are to have any chance of success. That going will certainly be the rougher without Herman's guidance.
Beyond the semi-final game, Herman's departure could have a ripple effect on the Buckeye offense. As a strong recruiter, one has to wonder how many of next year's offensive commitments will stick around without Herman's presence on the sideline. One of the nation's top recruits, five-star quarterback (Plantation, FL) Torrance Gibson, reacted to the news of Herman's departure by saying he hopes the best for the coach and remains committed to Ohio State. That is a positive note for Ohio State faithful, as Gibson looks to be another in a long line of freakishly-athletic quarterback phenoms in scarlet and gray.
However, it remains undetermined whether the departure of the offensive mastermind will have an impact on the decision of Miller to stay in Columbus or forgo his final year of eligibility at tOSU and enter the NFL Draft in the spring. Herman was instrumental in developing Miller's raw ability into polished performance, as the quarterback won consecutive Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013 under Herman's leadership. In that time, Miller also finished fifth and ninth, respectively, in the Heisman race, and he set a school record for total offense in a career despite missing much of 2014. One could speculate that the prospect of starting anew under a new coordinator, coupled with his substantial accomplishments at the college level and potential in the NFL, could be unsavory. If so, Miller may elect to hand the reigns to Barrett or Jones after coming off of a season-ending injury in 2014.
As of press time, it is unknown whether Meyer will give the offensive coordinator duties in the semi-final to someone already on staff in the interim, or whether OSU will attempt to have a new coordinator in place for its January 1 match-up with Alabama. Stay tuned...