Ground game can't be run-of-the-mill
Ohio State’s running game has sputtered for most of the season, and those responsible have had to hear about the issue for all of that time.
Everything came to head in the 49-20 loss to Purdue, and fixing the run game was the top priority during the Buckeyes’ off week. Ohio State has averaged just over 3 yards per carry the last four games.
Asked if the Buckeyes had figured out the problem, coach Urban Meyer replied, “We have. Now it’s a matter of getting it executed and getting our guys healthy, which I believe they are.”
Coaches tinkered with Xs and Os, but the issue has been mindset. Meyer has always used the spread offense, but at its core has been a power run game. This year, the Buckeyes have relied on Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s passing game. Pass protection requires a different mentality than the mauling approach required in the run game.
“That’s a concern of mine, and that’s something we addressed,” Meyer said. “For six years, we were as good a rushing team as there was. It’s disappointing. I don’t put it all on that. It’s a cumulative effect of things. We have to run the ball much better.”
Haskins isn’t the running threat that former quarterback J.T. Barrett was, and that makes executing run-pass-option plays more challenging. The extra defensive player in the box hasn’t been worried about Haskins running. Linemen have been caught off guard when Haskins has decided to throw instead of hand off.
“There’s always been an extra guy in the box even when J.T. was playing,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “It’s a matter of how do we block him — with an extra tight end or a lineman or a receiver cracking him?”
Right tackle Isaiah Prince, the leader of the line, said his unit has had more meetings lately to discuss how to adjust on RPO plays.
“But the bottom line is attitude,” Prince said. “Running the ball is just an attitude. We got away from it a little bit throwing the ball so much. We have to get that attitude back, that demeanor back, when it comes to running the ball.”
McLaurin said he has noticed just that in practices since the Purdue game.
“We’ve been doing a lot of physicality up front,” he said. “The offensive line is blowing guys off the ball. The running backs are running behind their pads and finishing their runs.”
Prince was the player who spoke to the team in the postgame locker room at Purdue. His message was that the Buckeyes couldn’t afford to pout, that adversity is a part of life and that they could still regroup and accomplish their goals.
Prince said he is pleased with how his teammates have responded in practice. Nebraska’s defense has hardly been imposing this year, but the Buckeyes’ run game has struggled against other defenses considered less than formidable.
Prince believes Saturday will be different. After a week off and plenty of time to stew about Purdue, the Buckeyes’ hunger to pound the ball is palpable.
“I think everybody on the offensive line is very eager,” Prince said. “Our program is based on toughness. That’s something we’re very excited to get back to, and it helps a lot when it comes to throwing the ball if you run the ball more.”