With the Ohio State Buckeyes set to kick off their 2018 football season in four days, WFNY will have a bit of a preview for the scarlet and gray before they begin their season this fall. Although the Buckeyes lost plenty of talent either due to graduation or the NFL Draft, it doesn’t mean that they will have to rebuild, they will instead reload, much like they have in the past. In fact, the word rebuild most likely doesn’t even exist in dictionaries across Columbus. You could argue that this year’s team is somehow better than last year’s in some ways. It truly shows just how deep this roster is, thanks to the recruiting efforts by the coaching staff, development of the players, and just how talented these kids are while they try and mesh together to potentially win a national championship at season’s end.
Today, we talk about Tate Martell, whose athleticism is one of the many reasons why it will be tough for the Buckeyes to keep him off the field this fall, even if Dwayne Haskins Jr. is the starting quarterback.
Football has changed quite a bit over the last decade or so, let alone over the past 50-60 years. While there have been a number of changes throughout the years, one remark made by longtime Rice Owls head coach Jess Neely holds true today, at least for the majority of the time.
“If you have two starting quarterbacks, then you don’t have one,” he said.
Neely had plenty of success at Rice, with a 144-124-10 record from 1940-1966. That’s not very successful in terms of the best teams in college football, but for a program that is just 462-605-32 since they kicked off their inaugural season in 1914, it says a lot about who the head coach was. That’s one of the many reasons why a statement like that has been around for so long, with it being right the majority of the time.
There have been a number of times that the theory has been proven wrong, but for the most part, Neely’s statement is correct. While the Ohio State Buckeyes are set to play two quarterbacks this fall, it won’t be a two-quarterback system that has the gunslingers switching off between series. Instead, it will allow both Dwayne Haskins, Jr. and Tate Martell to use their individual strengths when it matters most.
Haskins is set to start the season opener Saturday afternoon, as acting head coach Ryan Day confirmed in his first press conference of the fall Monday morning, but Martell is expected to see some time as well.
“Tate made some great progress, he really did. Especially in the last two weeks he made a really big push,” Day said of the redshirt freshman. “Dwayne will start on Saturday, he’s the starter. But the plan is to play Tate. How, when, or anything like that, we don’t know yet.”
With Haskins more of a gunslinger that can toss the ball wherever, whenever, Martell has the athleticism and speed to be a lethal weapon as an option, Wildcat-type quarterback, especially while splitting time during certain situations as the backup quarterback. The coaching staff has acknowledged the fact that he can bring a whole new dynamic to the offense ever since he impressed them and turned some heads during spring ball.
For months, the coaches have preached that while the Buckeyes will by no means have a two-quarterback system, they have a package of plays in the place so that they can use Martell’s speed, elusiveness, and athleticism as much as possible this season, all while giving Haskins the majority of the snaps. Whether that means lining him up behind center, in the slot, running trick plays with him starting out wide and motioning in, reverses, or a number of different things, the staff will likely have a number of plays to not only confuse the defense but maximize their offensive weapons as well.
Barring injury, it won’t be Haskins sitting out entire drives or possessions, but rather Martell being thrown into the game for a play or two to mess with the defense. With the two quarterbacks having completely different styles, it would force opponents to gameplan for both types of offenses. Now they won’t want to make it seem obvious with what they’re going to do when Martell is in the game, but rather use his speed, athleticism, and elusiveness to positively affect the game for the scarlet and gray.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer did the same thing in 2006, when he led the Florida Gators to a national title.1 That season Meyer gave the majority of the snaps to Chris Leak, but tossed Tim Tebow into the fire as well, using the freshman’s athleticism to maximize the Gators offense as best as they could.
That season, Tebow completed 22-of-33 passes for 358 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. The biggest way he changed the game was with his legs, recording 469 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 89 carries in 14 games. It gave opposing defenses a different look, all while allowing Florida to use different schemes and packages in order to confuse defenses.
The same can be said for the 2017 Oklahoma Sooners. During Baker Mayfield’s Heisman-winning season last fall, the Sooners also used backup quarterback Kyler Murray in a variety of ways. The redshirt sophomore combined to complete 18-of-21 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns and added 14 carries for 142 yards on the ground. While Murray wasn’t used as much in 2017 compared to Tebow’s 2006 numbers, it still proves that both programs used their athleticism to the best of their ability and maximized their rosters. Playing Murray here and there didn’t affect Mayfield. I mean, he only won the Heisman Trophy last fall. No big deal, right?
Rewinding back to the 2014 season, when Ohio State (somehow) beat Alabama and Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff to take him the national championship, Meyer decided to use both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in a two-quarterback system the following fall, one that would feature a rotation at quarterback rather than one of the signal callers be the featured guy. It was a move that both quarterbacks didn’t really agree with because it wasn’t just that Barrett would play in the red zone and Jones would start outside the red zone, but that the quarterbacks would literally switch out every other possession, at least for the most part. The system led to the Buckeyes going 12-1 and beating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl in 2015. Although they had just one loss, the decision to have a two-quarterback system was questioned by many, including the quarterbacks themselves.
Luckily, it doesn’t seem like it will be a two-quarterback system. It will be more like the 2006 Gators, when Meyer’s offense used Tebow to be the Wildcat quarterback in certain situations, allowing Martell to use his speed and athleticism to the best of his ability. Giving some meaningful playing time to the redshirt freshman will also keep him happy, which is vitally important. Considering the coaching staff has already made it known that Martell will receive plenty of playing time even though he is the second-string quarterback on the depth chart this season, it’s crucial that he receives significant reps throughout the entire fall. Doing so will also keep Haskins fresh as well, all while maximizing the weapons on Ohio State’s offense.
One of the biggest questions surrounding how many snaps Martell could play in 2018 seems to be the depth in the quarterback room. With Joe Burrow transferring to LSU2 and Matthew Baldwin still recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered during his senior season last fall, the Buckeyes can ill afford for Martell to get injured. While they can’t be too cautious, it could play into how much playing time he receives, especially early in the season.
With West Virginia quarterback and graduate transfer Chris Chugunov now in the fold, it adds a bit of depth, but it’s still nothing to write home about. Martell should (and most likely will) see plenty of playing time this season, but with the lack of depth Ohio State has at quarterback, it could play a role in just how much he plays.
Day acknowledged the depth, or lack thereof, during his press conference Monday morning.
“Yeah, that’s a concern. That’s why we ended up bringing Chris in as well, to provide some depth for us there,” Day said of his quarterbacks. “So like always we like to keep four, five quarterbacks on the roster. So building depth there is a little concern. When we lost Joe that was a hit and we all knew that going in.”
Meyer loves to use the quarterback read option, as he has shown since he came to Columbus in 2012. Martell allows him to do just that. While his arm still leaves plenty to be desired, his legs and athleticism make up for it, especially with the way Ohio State plans to use him this fall. The redshirt freshman’s dynamic play-making ability with the ball in his hands is some of the best on the team, not just in the quarterback room. If things go right this season, Martell can be used as Tebow was used back in 2006 and maybe, just maybe, it might lead to a national championship for the Buckeyes in January, just like it did for Meyer’s Florida squad over a decade ago.