Ohio State running game looks to again bounce back in second game
The comparison caught the attention of Ryan Day.
Speaking with reporters minutes after a season-opening win over Nebraska last weekend, the Ohio State football coach considered a question asking if his team’s rushing effort mirrored the one from its first game last fall.
“I remember that, too,” Day said. “It was a little clunky, right?”
When they opened their 2019 season against Florida Atlantic, the Buckeyes ran 48 times for 237 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Their total against the Cornhuskers: 48 carries for 222 yards, an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
The slow start in 2019 didn’t last for Ohio State, which saw its ground game fare much better over the following weeks. So much so that J.K. Dobbins became the program’s first-ever 2,000-yard rusher.
While Dobbins is no longer on the roster, the Buckeyes are optimistic they will see a similar uptick as their season continues Saturday night at Penn State. They reason there is always an adjustment period at the start of a season.
Live practice periods in the preseason are increasingly rare as teams look to shield running backs from potential injuries, leaving the opener as one of their first chances for the offensive line and running backs to be in a game-like setting.
“It's hard to really get ahold of where you're at until you can play your first game,” center Josh Myers said.
Most of the fronts from defenses are new, presenting some initial challenges.
“The more we go against different looks, the more comfortable we'll get,” Day said.
That includes running backs who are feeling out hits for the first time this fall and looking to identify holes and cuts up the field that emerge. Trey Sermon and Master Teague III, who are replacing Dobbins, are also coming off injuries. Sermon suffered a season-ending knee injury last season at Oklahoma, while Teague hurt his Achilles tendon during the first week of spring practice in March.
Sermon and Teague will continue to split carries as part of a rotation in order to keep them fresh.
They likely need more time to settle in this fall. When the Buckeyes returned against Nebraska, it was their first game in 10 months.
There was a strange feeling in their return, perhaps a little rust, a sense that Myers discussed with teammates after the game.
“It was just a weird game,” he said, “and it didn't have anything to do with the fans not being there. I think it had more to do with it just being the first game in so long. And really last season, when we played FAU, it was a similar kind of feeling. It just didn't feel like the rest of the games. I can't explain it. I can't put my finger on what it is. But I think there'll be a lot of improvement from this past week.”
Other factors for not running effectively against Nebraska rattled around Myers' mind. He noted that the Buckeyes have two new starters along the offensive line in sophomore Harry Miller, who is at left guard, and redshirt sophomore Nicholas Petit-Frere, at right tackle.
"Those guys haven't necessarily been in that situation before,” Myers said. “Having that game of experience will be good.”
The other returners should benefit from more experience, as well. Along with Myers, right guard Wyatt Davis and left tackle Thayer Munford are back as starters.
“Honestly I think it's just reps and game reps,” Myers said. “It's different in a game, and going back and correcting our mistakes, getting used to being in that environment again is huge.”
Ohio State at Penn State
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: Ch. 6
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)