On Friday afternoon, Ryan Day named his mentor, Chip Kelly, Ohio State’s newest offensive coordinator.
It was a major move in an offseason full of newsworthy coaching changes. Ohio State has had its hand in a lot of them: Kelly is the Buckeyes’ second offensive coordinator in a month. Bill O’Brien was in the role for three weeks before taking the head-coaching job at Boston College.
Day didn’t wait long to find his replacement and hit a home run with the hire of Kelly.
Here are a few more thoughts on what Kelly means to Ohio State:
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Ohio State’s run game could be one of the nation’s best.
The main reason why I think the hiring of Kelly is a big deal for Ohio State, and in some ways fits more than O’Brien, is because Kelly isn’t afraid to run the ball.
While O’Brien is more of a 50/50 play caller, Kelly is known for his commitment to the run game and has had success with it. In Kelly’s final three years at Oregon, the Ducks finished top-five in the country in rushing offense. At UCLA, the Bruins finished top-20 in his final four years and never averaged less than 37 carries per game. Play calls leaned towards the run heavily. In 2020 and 2021, more than 60 percent of plays called were runs; UCLA never averaged less than 52 percent of run plays.
By comparison, Ohio State hasn’t averaged more than 35 carries per game in the last three seasons. The Buckeyes ran the ball 51 percent of the time in 2023.
TreVeyon Henderson is back and Ole Miss transfer Quinshon Judkins is on the roster to share carries with him. Together, in a Kelly-led scheme, they should make the Buckeyes increasingly hard to stop and get a heavy workload.
Ohio State lands Ole Miss transfer RB Quinshon Judkins
You saw just how good Kelly’s scheme was in 2022 with UCLA. The Bruins finished the season sixth nationally in rushing, averaging 237 yards per game and a nation-leading six yards per carry. Zach Charbonnet was the team’s leading rusher, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson was the team’s dual-threat quarterback.
With those two leading the way, UCLA led the nation with 3.19 yards before contact and finished 19th in yards after contact with 3.34, according to TruMedia.
The Bruins were also explosive in the run game, finishing sixth nationally with 14.2 percent of their runs going for 12 yards or more.
For as good as UCLA’s run game was, the offensive line wasn’t a finalist for the Joe Moore Award in 2022. The offensive line was good, but there’s no reason to think Ohio State can’t duplicate that success, especially with Henderson and Judkins.
Henderson, when healthy, was one of the most explosive running backs in the country last season. Judkins averaged five yards per carry the last two seasons and combined for 31 touchdowns.
Kelly loved using Thompson-Robinson’s legs too. He was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country that season, throwing for 3,169 yards, 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while adding 645 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
He had 57 designed quarterback runs that season for 271 yards and scrambled 46 times for 483 yards. I could see him using transfer quarterback Will Howard in the same way.
Howard, who comes to Ohio State with 921 career rushing yards, is already a good runner and shines in the read option game. That’s another weapon for Kelly to utilize.
That’s a three-headed snake for Kelly to use. It’ll be hard for defensive coordinators to slow the Buckeyes down as long as the offensive line holds up.
Chip might not be an elite recruiter but he and Todd Fitch are enough to work together.
One thing Kelly has never been is an elite recruiter.
His UCLA teams finished with a top-20 recruiting class just once in his time there. It’s not what he’s known for, he’s a great offensive mind, but recruiting woes shouldn’t be a major concern.
Kelly will be paired with Fitch and he has been around long enough to help. Although he can’t recruit on the road, he’s a mainstay in the program who can help on campus. And, as long as Day is the Ohio State head coach, the program will receive interest from the country’s best quarterbacks.
The key will be developing them into capable quarterbacks, which also shouldn’t be a major problem. Ohio State, with Day, Fitch and Kelly shouldn’t have much to worry about there.
Day will now feel confident to settle into a CEO role.
Day seemed heartbroken to give up play calling when he spoke to the media last week. And I don’t blame him, Day is an elite play caller and it’s something he enjoys doing.
But it came time for him to pass on the torch and hiring Kelly means he can do so without having to worry about micromanaging somebody who is inexperienced or doesn’t share his same ideals.
With Kelly, Day can turn his focus to everything else he must do. It’s nearly impossible for a head coach to have success while also calling plays because they have to worry about recruiting year-round, the transfer portal, head coaching appearances and NIL responsibilities.
Day’s focus can now be shifted to running the program the way it needs to be in this era, without also sharing his time trying to figure out an opening script and how to counter every defense.
This is also another move by Day to show that he’s putting all his chips into this season. If Ohio State was going to be serious about going all in on reclaiming the Big Ten and getting back on top of the college football landscape, this had to happen.
Familiarity with Justin Frye could help the offensive line.
Kelly will have to spend the spring getting used to Ohio State’s biggest weakness, its offensive line.
He’s going to watch every player and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, but one thing should fast-track this adjustment, his connection with Frye.
The two spent four years together at UCLA when Frye was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Kelly knows how Frye wants to coach and develop his offensive linemen and Frye knows how Kelly wants to run his scheme.
If you’re going to run the ball as much as Kelly prefers to, you need a good relationship with your offensive line coach and Kelly has just that. Their relationship is as important as any of them on the offensive staff.
How does this impact the 10th position coach?
This doesn’t change much for Ohio State’s final position coach.
Kelly will move into the quarterbacks coach position and Day will look to use this final spot on one of the other sides of the ball. I have a feeling it’s going to be a special teams coordinator, but the Buckeyes could choose to add a full-time linebackers coach or assistant defensive line coach, as well.
That decision should be official in the coming days, but the addition of Kelly doesn’t change anything on that front.
(Top photo of Chip Kelly: Kirby Lee / USA Today)