Mitch Rossi Ohio State Buckeyes Fullback
Football

Toughness Is In The ‘I’ Of The Beholder

Ryan Day didn’t need 1.21 gigawatts of power to get the Buckeyes back to the future, he just needed the I-formation.

Two decades ago under Jim Tressel, the I-formation was a staple of the Ohio State offense. Quarterback under center, fullback lined up behind the quarterback, and the tailback “dotting the i” behind the fullback.

It’s a physical brand of football and requires a talented fullback to make it work. The spread and shotgun offenses have changed the game and have made fullbacks an endangered species.

For those schools and NFL teams that still have them, however, fullbacks can be quite a weapon because defenses don’t see them as much as they used to and don’t necessarily know how to defend them.

In Ohio State’s game this past weekend against Toledo, Buckeye fullback Mitch Rossi (who is still technically listed on OSU’s roster as a tight end) ran the ball out of the I-formation for a 1-yard touchdown. It was the first time an Ohio State fullback carried the ball from under center since the Michigan game in 2010.

It was also the first time in OSU head coach Ryan Day’s career that he actually called a fullback dive.

“I think I ran a fullback dive when I was in college, but don’t think we’ve called a fullback dive,” he said on Tuesday.

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It was obviously a long time coming, and it’s an indication of the ability and functionality of the talent the Buckeyes have up front.

“Yeah, I think we have the right people in place to get into some of those formations now,” Day said. “I think you look at the tight end, we actually had [offensive lineman] Josh Fryar as our extra tight end the game, who is very athletic. And then you have [tight ends] Cade [Stover], Gee [Scott], and Joe [Royer], and Mitch, so you have some guys who can get into those sets, which gives us a little bit of flexibility there.”

For an offensive coaching staff that has become well known for spreading out defense and throwing the ball all over the place, Day explained that everybody on the staff has a background with a more contentious style of football.

“[Offensive coordinator] Kevin [Wilson] has a background with I-formation,” Day said. “When [offensive line coach] Justin [Frye] and I were together at Boston College, our two-minute rule was power to the right, you know? We threw the ball like about six times a game. So, everybody in that room has a background in that style of play. And there’s a place for it when you have those styles of guys in your room, and the versatility helps you. And it’s something we’re trying to build on.”

Day and the Buckeyes have done a number of different things out of the I-formation this season, including run a jet sweep for a touchdown that saw receiver Emeka Egbuka lined up as a tight end inside the 10-yard line. The play-action has also been effective. It’s not about just putting in one or two plays out of the formation. It’s about installing a package and taking the time in practice to make sure it can be effective.

There is also the toughness factor that is required to run these congested plays. Players are so close together that offenses and defenses are practically sharing mouthguards. Ryan Day has challenged his team to be tougher this year. Running the I-formation down inside the red zone leaves nowhere to hide.

And so far, the Buckeyes are only interested in running. They’ll leave the hiding to the opposition.

“I think they like it, right?” Day said of his players. “I think that it’s just a different feel when you’re under center and coming at people, as opposed to being in the gun. I think when you’re just one way, defenses do a great job now, I mean, they’re really good at teeing off on you. So, when you can change things up a little bit, I think it gives a little bit of diversity to your offense.”

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