OSU seeks answers in short yardage, run game

Bill Rabinowitz
brabinow@dispatch.com
Ohio State Buckeyes running back J.K. Dobbins (2) waits for space to open up on a run against Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 1st quarter of their game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday. [Kyle Robertson]

There is much to like about Ohio State’s offense.

Heading into Saturday’s game at Purdue, Dwayne Haskins Jr. leads the country with 28 passing touchdowns. The Buckeyes trail only Alabama in total offense, averaging 556.9 yards per game. They have the most first downs per game (30.1) nationally.

Yet all is not well. The Buckeyes’ run game has been anemic the last three games, averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. Too often, the Buckeyes have been stuffed in short-yardage situations. In the red zone, the Buckeyes rank only 61st nationally in touchdown percentage.

“It’s been that way for several weeks,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday. “That’s a topic of many, many hours of conversation on how best to handle the short yardage and how best to handle the red zone.”

The theories about what is wrong are numerous. Haskins is the first pure passer other than Cardale Jones that the Buckeyes have had in the Meyer era, and Jones wouldn’t hesitate to plow over somebody when he did decide to run. Haskins has been mostly ineffective on the rare times he has run.

The trend toward run/pass option plays also has a role. Haskins, with good reason, feels more comfortable making quick throws to his talented receivers than handing off to J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber when holes often haven’t been there.

“Before, he’d hand that to Mike and we’d get 4, 5 or 6 yards,” offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said. “We’re trying to adjust and make it more consistent. That’s what bothers me. I want more consistency.”

Studrawa said that run/pass options can change a lineman’s mentality. Instead of pounding a defender, he has to think about pass protection as well. He said right tackle Isaiah Prince was called for being downfield illegally last week because he blocked his man for several yards, unaware that Haskins had hesitated before throwing.

But such adjustments are only a partial explanation. Studrawa acknowledged that some of the short-yardage issues against Minnesota were simply missed blocks.

“There are times we are blowing people off the ball,” he said. “Then there are times when one guy breaks down and misses a block. That’s what happened on the short yardage. Thayer (Munford) missed one. Meech (Demetrious Knox) missed one. That’s the consistency I’m talking about.”

Munford’s status for the Purdue game is uncertain because of a hip injury suffered last week. Studrawa said Munford didn’t practice on Wednesday but hopes he will on Thursday. If he can’t play, Joshua Alabi will take over.

Despite the passing game’s proficiency, opponents still tend to stress stopping the run against Ohio State by putting extra defenders near the line of scrimmage.

“They’re making me throw the ball, and it hasn’t worked out too well for them,” Haskins said.

But for the Buckeyes to be the team they believe they can be, they know they can’t be one-dimensional. Meyer said that coaches have discussed using backup quarterback Tate Martell, a dangerous runner, in certain short-yardage or red-zone situations.

A simpler solution would be to simply have faith that the line can overpower their counterparts when needed. He pointed to the TCU game when Ohio State drove from its 7 to past midfield when milking the clock late.

“I believe they can,” Studrawa said. “I’m anxious. I want to see those times (again).”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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