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For Ohio State’s Missing Magic, Look to Houston

Tom Herman’s contribution to Ohio State’s national championship run a season is abundantly clear each time the Buckeyes struggle in this 2015 campaign.

With offensive guru Urban Meyer as head coach and the Buckeyes’ stable of talent, however, Ohio State has the ingredients to reinvigorate its offense. It showed some signs of the 2014 look Saturday in a win over Big Ten East counterpart Maryland, with quarterback Cardale Jones putting together his best individual performance since Week 1.

But to find the true magic Ohio State currently lacks, and really appreciate all Herman did as offensive coordinator, look to Herman’s current squad at Houston.

Herman accepted the head coaching vacancy at Houston last winter, prior to the Buckeyes’ Playoff run, but remained with Ohio State to see through the title run. Herman was a natural fit for Houston, a program that long staked its identity to prolific offenses.

There was Jack Pardee and John Jenkins overseeing the ahead-of-its-time aerial assault Andre Ware rode to a Heisman Trophy in 1989. There was Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, crafting their variations on the air-raid spread.

Under Tony Levine, Houston failed to establish an identity. It’s taken Herman just half of a season to cultivate the Cougars’ look per his vision.

The spark Ohio State had offensively when Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett were putting up eye-popping two-way statistics is evident in Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr.

“Holy smokes. The kid is turning into a quarterback right before our eyes,” Herman said Thursday, per UHCougars.com. “Like I said last week, he’s just scratching the surface right now.”

If Ward is indeed only scratching the surface, there’s no telling how high his ceiling truly is.

Herman’s style has opened the field completely to Ward, and the junior playmaker is taking advantage with combined rushing and passing numbers rivaling those of TCU Heisman candidate, Trevone Boykin.

In Thursday’s rout of in-state American Athletic Conference rival SMU, Ward passed for 243 yards and rushed for 82, but more impressively, scored four touchdowns. Through just five games, he’s rushed for 11 touchdowns; only Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols and Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette of LSU have more.

And, unlike the nation’s rushing touchdown leaders, Ward’s gone to the air for eight touchdowns.

It goes beyond the impressive box score, too. Watching Ward operate is a joy on par with the Ohio State offense at its best in recent years.

Herman’s scheme, with the right playmaker operating it, is music. It’s a great guitar riff with the right rhythm behind it, or the perfect bass line under original lyrics.

Neither classic sound nor the most prolific offenses come together with complete group efforts, however. Houston has a multifaceted run game alongside Ward. At 425 rushing yards, Kenneth Farrow provides a nice counter-punch.

Against SMU, that counter delivered three touchdowns, a season’s best for the running back.

The Cougars’ outstanding rush is the result of sound offensive line play, which Ward said is allowing him to focus on developing other areas of his game.

“I have been trying to stay in the pocket more and trust the offensive linemen,” he said. “They were able to protect me tonight, so I was able to stay in the pocket more instead of scrambling.”

The prospect of an even more dangerous Ward operating as a passer should keep the American’s opposing defensive coordinators up at night.

And, for those who miss the magic of Ohio State’s 2014 offense, Ward’s continued progress is all the more reason to check out the Cougars in the 2015 season’s stretch run.

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