Coming off a 49-point drubbing of Clemson last week, the Ohio State offense has been the talk of the town for the last week. They’re putting up nearly 44 points per game with staggering efficiency at both passing and running the ball.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson runs a very similar looking offense to what Alabama ran with Mike Locksley and Tua Tagovailoa in 2018. There’s a lot of zone runs based off of read option, quick timing routes across the middle, and routine vertical shots.
QB Justin Fields, once managing to get away from Kirby Smart, has developed into one the best passers in college football. He’s taken quickly to Wilson’s offense, and excels at taking the snap, dropping, and then firing his pass down the field all in precise timing. He’s also developed a nice ability to transition from looking deep to hitting his checkdown route with hardly any hesitation at all (something most NFL quarterbacks struggle with).
He’s got a powerful arm that can hit pretty much any throw on the field, and to top it off, he’s still a guy that can quickly pick up a big chunk of yards running with the ball. Though the shot he took to the ribs against Clemson might limit him a little bit there.
While his 73% completion rate and 10 yards per attempt are daunting, he’s not without areas of exploit. Get pressure on him, and his throws quickly get more inaccurate. He’s averaging nearly 1 interception per game this year, and has taken his fair share of sacks.
Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave are a dynamic 1-2 punch at receiver that both have exceptional deep speed and are about as consistent catchers as you’ll see. Both are averaging north of 15 yards per catch and about 100 yards per game each. The tight ends, particularly Jeremy Ruckert, are Fields favorite targets on quick seams down the middle of the field, and Ruckert has 5 touchdowns on only 12 catches this season.
On the rushing side of things former Oklahoma back Trey Sermon has been absolutely outstanding in the last few games, with 500 yards in the last two weeks. He’s got speed, but more importantly, he just really HATES going to the ground once he breaks past the line of scrimmage.
Seriously, watch this dude in the open field:
That said, he’s also had some struggles with getting out of rhythm and hasn’t been the most consistent guy at breaking tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The 225 pound Master Teague has been the more consistent, if much less explosive back this year, especially earlier in the season. He suffered a concussion against Northwestern, though, and it’s unclear whether he’ll play or not.
Finally, the bowling ball shaped Miyan Williams has a few nice runs of his own, and may get a series or so to give Sermon a break if Teague is unable to go.
In some ways, I think the Alabama defense has some areas they match up well here. Pat Surtain and Josh Jobe aren’t going to let Olave and Wilson just run free down the field for a bunch of freebie bombs like Clemson did, and while Ruckert has nice hands, he’s not an extremely athletic tight end like the three that really gave Alabama trouble this year (Kyle Pitts, Jalen Wydermeyer, and Kenny Yeboah), so I expect Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams (assuming he holds the starting job) to keep him in check.
If these guys can disrupt the timing shots that Ohio State loves to call, then I think the Alabama pass rush will get in Fields’ face early and often.
On the other hand, Trey Sermon really worries me. Though I think Alabama has a good shot of limiting him if Ohio State is determined to run him up the middle, I think he’s going to break a few big ones around the edge as the defenders bite on the fake QB keeper, and he may do a lot of damage to the Alabama linebackers in space on those quick swing passes and checkdowns.
I don’t think that Ohio State poses quite the sheer athletic mismatch that Florida did with Pitts and KaDarius Toney, they’re still one of the best offenses in the nation, and will absolutely score some points on Alabama. The key will be to keep Sermon from taking over the game and forcing Fields into rushing some throws under pressure... And that won’t be an easy task.