Last season, the Ohio State Buckeyes scored 46.9 points per game (ni.ce?), the most in the program’s illustrious history. That number was more than 11 points higher than Penn State (35.8), who finished second in the conference in the category.
However, the historically prolific 2019 Ohio State offense is not going to be taking the field in this unusually truncated 2020 season. Gone is OSU’s only 2,000-yard single-season rusher J.K. Dobbins. Gone is OSU’s all-time receptions leader K.J. Hill. Gone are two starting, 1,000-yard wide receivers Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor, as well as two All-Conference offensive linemen in Jonah Jackson and Branden Bowen.
But, despite those key departures, believe it or not (and honestly, it’s probably safer to not), that doesn’t mean that the Buckeyes can’t set another ppg record this fall. In fact, I think that this season’s unusual circumstances might just be enough to allow Ryan Day’s offense to crack 50 points per game if everything falls into place.
For context, the record for the highest average points per game in college football history belongs to the 1944 Army team when they put up 56 points per outing. Between you and me, I think that total is safe. Last year’s national championship LSU offense is widely considered to be one of best offenses (if not THE best offense) in the history of college football, yet they only averaged 48.4 points per game.
So for Justin Fields and this offense to crack half a hundy for the season, a lot of things are going to have to fall into place, but I think that there is legitimate reason to think that they just might. But, before we get into why it can happen, let’s talk about why it probably won’t.
Why It Won’t Happen
That’s a hell of a lot of points
The Buckeyes have only been within a touchdown of 50 points per game three times in program history: obviously 2019, in 2013 (45.5) and the national championship season of 2014 (44.8). Even Dwayne Haskins’ record-breaking performance in 2018 could only lead the Buckeyes to 42.4 ppg. Still obviously amazing, but not nearly 50.
No non-conference cupcakes
One of the byproducts of playing during a pandemic has been that Big Ten teams are playing conference-only schedules this fall. For Ohio State, that means no Bowling Green, Oregon, or Buffalo.
When you look back at the 2019 schedule, the Buckeyes notched 163 points in their three non-conference games against Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, and Miami (OH). Those 54.3 points per game were aided by the 76 that the Bucks put up against the RedHawks, but certainly all three games contributed to the historically high total.
While the inclusion of Oregon on the 2020 schedule would have made scoring 50+ per non-conference game less likely, not having the two MAC opponents to raise the average will definitely make this a little more difficult.
Fewer games to spread out lower scoring games
Last season, Ohio State scored under 30 points twice (against Penn State and Clemson) and under 40 points three other times (Michigan State and both Wisconsin games). However, that means that they had nine other games to counteract those “lower-scoring” ones and to raise the overall average.
Neither Clemson nor Wisconsin are currently on the Buckeyes schedule, but if they repeat their 34 points against Sparty and 28 against the Nits, those outputs will invariably have a larger impact on the average simply because there are fewer scores to be factored in. So, unless the Buckeyes score at least 40+ per outing, it is going to be tough to get the average north of 50 when the season is over.
Scoring will likely go down during post season run
In 2019, OSU’s B1G title game win over Wisconsin and their College Football Playoff semifinal loss against Clemson were two of their three lowest scoring games of the year (PSU was second and MSU tied with Wisky for third). So, if we were just basing this total on the regular season, Ohio State averaged 49.92 points per game, which — as I am sure you understand — is pretty damn close to 50.
But, as logic would dictate, as you player better competition in the postseason, it will become harder to score points. So, if you think that the Buckeyes have a shot at the national title, not only do you have to throw in a game against the B1G West champion, but two more games against a pair of the best teams in the country, making it harder to imagine a 50-point per game season, unless you absolute demolish the conference competition.
Why It Will Happen
Second season for Justin Fields
When the Buckeyes took to the field for the first time in 2019, Justin Fields had been on campus for less than eight months. He was still getting used to his new coaching staff and playbook, while also attempting to build relationships with his new teammates.
Now, Fields is a Heisman Trophy finalist and B1G Offensive Player of the Year, has been selected as a captain by his peers, and has stepped up to be a leader both on and off of the field.
Last fall felt like Justin Fields running Ryan Day’s offense. While we haven’t seen them in action yet in 2020, from hearing the talk around the program, it now feels like Fields is the one in charge when the offense is on the field, and that can only lead to better results.
Gotta pass the eye test
We already know that this season will be unlike any in college football history, but what we have only just begun to talk about is how this will impact the College Football Playoff. Since teams are playing fewer games, that means that there will be fewer data points for the committee to dissect. So, even though I think that we all understand that they rely far more on the eye test than they actually admit, this year, how a team looks will likely play an even bigger role in determining who gets to play for a national title.
Therefore, it would behoove coaches to keep their starters in and continue to score points for as long as possible. Now, I don’t expect Fields to be in the game with five minutes left in the fourth quarter if OSU is up 64-13, but I do think that he will play deeper into the second half than he did in 2019, when he was often gone by the time they got halfway through the third period.
So while I don’t think that Day will purposely run up the score just to impress the committee, I do think that he will understand the strategic advantages of keeping his foot on the gas longer than he would have in the before times. And, if he lets Fields, Trey Sermon, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, et al. play three quarters in games that they already have in hand, that could be just enough to push their average higher than it was last season.
No margin for error
Now, this one is related to the eye test argument above, but with fewer games, Ohio State won’t have as many opportunities to right the ship in the committee’s eyes if they have a poor showing, even if it results in a W. So, it will be in the Buckeyes best interest to score early and often to prevent opponents from making scores more respectable in garbage time with the OSU starters already on the bench.
Stronger reliance on passing game
In 2019, Ohio State threw the ball 404 times and ran the ball 647 times; for those of us that are mathematically challenged, that means that Ohio State ran the ball 243 more times than they threw it. While that total includes Fields’ 31 sacks from last year (which shouldn’t count as rushing attempts), it is still a substantial difference between runs and passes. But, when you have an All-American running back like Dobbins, of course it is going to make sense to feed him the ball more than 300 times in a season.
However, while the OSU coaching staff is talking up Sermon and Master Teague, it is unlikely that the combo will be able to recreate the production or dynamism that Dobbins displayed a year ago. So, when you couple that with an unbelievably loaded wide receiver room and Fields’ progress in — and command of — the offense, it just makes sense that the Buckeyes will be looking to put the ball in the air more often than they did a year ago.
So, if the Buckeyes are throwing the ball more than they are running it, that means that the clock will stop more often (either from incompletions or first downs), and they theoretically should be able to eat up yards more quickly, thus allowing them to simply score more often. Win-win.
What they need to make it happen
Last season, Ryan Day’s Buckeyes scored 525 of their 656 points in the first three quarters of games, good enough for 37.5 per outing; which, in turn, means that they averaged 9.4 in the fourth quarter. So, if we assume — for the reasons mentioned above — that Day keeps his starters in roughly until the end of the third quarter this season, that would mean that they would simply need to score an extra 3ish points per game in order to break 50 for the season.
Between a need to impress committee members and a reliance on an advanced Fields to throw the ball more, that is certainly possible. However, without an FAU or Miami (OH) on the schedule, the Buckeyes will be starting at a scoring disadvantage; so it could go either way.
To me, I think it all comes down to how Day feels about his team’s chances to make the playoff. It obviously goes without saying that last year’s team very easily could have averaged 50 per game had the starters never come out of the game and the coaches didn’t pull back on the reins. So, if the head coach feels like he needs to continue to pile on style points as the season progresses, I do think that 50 is within reach.
However, should teams in other conferences continue to fall, clearing the way for Day to feel comfortable in the fact that his team needs only to win in order to make the playoff, we could see him stick to last year’s game plan and call the dogs off early in the second half.
Will Ohio State average more than 50 points per game this season?
Hell no. Are you high?
I doubt it, but would love to see it happen.
They could do it, but I would rather they get the starters out early, and just focus on winning.
Hell yes. Run up that score!
9 votes total
After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!