Ohio State’s off week is over, though it was hardly a vacation for the Buckeyes.
The sting from their 49-20 loss to Purdue on Oct. 20 lingers, but coach Urban Meyer was more interested Monday on the fixes his team hopes it made for Saturday’s game against Nebraska and beyond.
“We understand November and where we’re at,” Meyer said. “We understand what’s at stake. We understand our shortcomings.
“Urgency is probably the key word around here. It’s hard to say I’ve ever seen a staff work as hard as we’ve worked to try to fix the issues, and the same with our players.”
After a humiliating loss against the Boilermakers, it’s easy to take a sky-is-falling view of Ohio State’s situation. But the No. 8 Buckeyes (7-1) don’t need help from others to win the Big Ten and remain a viable contender for the College Football Playoff.
But to remain that way will require improvement in most phases of the game. On offense, the priority is to fix the run game and issues in the red zone. Ohio State is averaging a little more than 3 yards per carry in its past four games. Against Purdue, the Buckeyes had five possessions inside the Boilermakers’ 20 and came away with only six points.
Meyer said it’s too late in the season to make radical changes schematically, but noted three areas of emphasis during practice last week.
Video: fixing the run game
“No. 1, making sure we structurally have the right play call,” he said. “No. 2, get more movement, and No. 3 is running through tackles.”
Neither J.K. Dobbins nor Mike Weber has had a run longer than 21 yards since the season opener.
“The No. 1 thing is getting guys in space and we haven't been able to do that,” Meyer said. “That’s kind of our trademark — get guys to the second level and let them do their thing.”
The offensive line has come under criticism for its inability to open holes. Before the season, the Buckeyes moved left guard Michael Jordan to center, in part because projected starter Brady Taylor had a knee injury that required surgery. Meyer said Taylor and Branden Bowen, who started last year at right guard until he broke two bones in his leg, are close to being healthy enough to play.
“At times outstanding, and other times it has not been great,” Meyer said of the line’s performance.
Of Jordan, Meyer said, “At times, he’s been great,” but acknowledged that his move has had a ripple effect on the rest of the line. OSU coaches decided to use who they believed are their best five linemen, even if not all were at their natural position.
On defense, the emphasis during the off week was on tackling. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said last week that the Buckeyes missed 20 tackles against Purdue.
Meyer said the Buckeyes’ team meeting last Tuesday was to “clear the bad taste from your mouth and move forward.”
He is reserving judgment on how successful the off week was until playing Nebraska. The Cornhuskers lost their first six games before beating Minnesota and Bethune-Cookman as first-year coach Scott Frost begins his rebuilding project.
With a week to regroup and a chance for some hobbled players to heal, Ohio State hopes that its stretch run can make the debacle in West Lafayette look like a blip.
“We certainly have enough talent right now to play better,” Meyer said.