After struggling with its run game in loss, Ohio State football looks to sort out issues

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch
Running back Miyan Williams ran for 77 yards as the Buckeyes posted 128 rushing yards against the Ducks, the fewest in coach Ryan Day's tenure.

On the opening drive for Ohio State in its upset loss to Oregon, running back Miyan Williams took a handoff out of the pistol formation and confronted three defenders in the backfield.

The trio of Ducks had broken through the line of scrimmage and swarmed him. Williams fell for a loss of 3 yards.

It was a sequence that was endemic in the Buckeyes’ defeat last Saturday. They were overmatched in the trenches and ran for only 128 yards, the fewest in a game in Ryan Day’s coaching tenure.

Day bemoaned the limited production after the game, noting the lack of balance, given OSU's offensive attack put up nearly 500 yards through the air. During his weekly news conference Tuesday, he stressed the need for the running game to find its way and lend support to first-time starting quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Ohio State running back Miyan Williams is stopped by Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell in the Buckeyes 35-28 loss.

It was a point that some players recognized as they looked back on the game.

“Just overall, I think that we just need to block better,” left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere said. “I think that the running backs can do better. I think the wide receivers can be better. Overall as a team, we can just do better in terms of being able to create lanes for us to move the ball more effectively.”

If there were fewer holes that opened against Oregon, it was an issue that Day chalked up to some wrinkles to the Ducks’ defense.

They gave the Buckeyes’ offensive line unfamiliar looks, varying from what they had seen the previous week at Minnesota or in preseason training camp.

“When you go against your own defense for 30 some-odd practices, you get into a rhythm with the style that you’re going up against,” Day said. “They were a little bit different, a little bit more two-gapping and a different style. We didn’t quite get into a rhythm there. So looking at our tracks and how combinations are and how the running backs are hitting those things are all things that we got to clean up. There were still some good hits in there, but not consistent enough.”

Ohio State might have been especially susceptible to the approach by Oregon because most of its offensive linemen are adjusting to new positions early in the season.

Petit-Frere and left guard Thayer Munford are veterans, but they started at different spots last year. On the right side of the line, guard Paris Johnson and tackle Dawand Jones are first-time starters, and redshirt freshman Luke Wypler has been starting at center for the first time in place of Harry Miller. Though a returning starter, Miller has been unavailable the first two games. He was seen coming out of practice on Wednesday night in uniform.

Harry Miller walks off the OSU practice field.

“While they are very talented, they don’t have a ton of game experience, and so when some of those defensive techniques are a little bit different than what they’ve seen every day in practice, it can cause a little bit of confusion,” Day said. “That’s just something that we got to work through and get them more experience on that, give them all the tools they need to adjust in game because each team we’re going to play here on out, they’re very, very different.”

The running game's struggles against Oregon occurred despite the fact that the Buckeyes pared down their rotation, a move that might have allowed their top backs to find a rhythm. 

TreVeyon Henderson takes on challenge from Ryan Day

Williams split all the carries with freshman TreVeyon Henderson after they shared the workload with Marcus Crowley and Master Teague in the season-opening win at Minnesota.

When asked about Day’s comments calling on the running game to pick up its performance to help out Stroud, he got the message.  

“I can take that as a challenge,” Williams said. “But if we do pass the ball more than we run, if we do win the game, then I'm good.”

Assessing his performance, Williams was frank.

“We just got to play harder and practice harder,” he said.

In response to the defeat, the Buckeyes said they turned to practice to sort out their issues, including on the ground.

"All I can tell you is that as players what we can do is we can just go as hard as we possibly can in practice," Petit-Frere said. "And for us to create looks for our running backs. And for other people who are running the ball just to see what it's gonna look like on game day and then be able to execute on game day."

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.

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