Ohio State football preseason questions: Could a high-scoring offense take a leap forward?

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of six stories looking at the most pressing questions facing Ohio State football as it prepares for the 2022 season.

Today, Part 2: Can Ohio State’s high-scoring offense see improvement? 

Part 1: Who's going to play linebacker?

Ohio State had the highest-scoring offense in the country last season.

It averaged 45.7 points per game, the most among the 130 teams within the Football Bowl Subdivision.

But could the Buckeyes be better on that side of the ball this fall? It’s a distinct possibility.

A few reasons are obvious. Quarterback C.J. Stroud, who put together a prolific passing performance in his debut as a starter, culminating in a selection as a Heisman Trophy finalist, is back.

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So are TreVeyon Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who led the team in rushing and receiving, respectively.

All three of them, freshmen and sophomores a year ago, are only more experienced.

There are other reasons to look for a leap forward, too.

Sat., Jan. 1, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) races to the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of the 108th Rose Bowl Game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Utah Utes at the Rose Bowl.

When spring practice began in March, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson acknowledged some of the unit’s deficiencies from the previous season.

Wilson pointed to toughness as one area. He mentioned it was needed in order to “punch it in and drive down the field.” Inconsistency in finishing drives kept them from being an elite offense.

“Right now, we’re a good stat offense,” Wilson said. “But to be an elite offense, we've got to be more consistent.”

The Buckeyes did often stall in the red zone. Their red zone touchdown percentage of 64.4% ranked No. 45 in the FBS.

Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) carries the ball past Michigan State Spartans defensive end Jacub Panasiuk (96) in the second quarter during their NCAA College football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on November 20, 2021.

Sometimes it didn’t cost them. Though settling for four field goals at Nebraska, they still left Lincoln with a 26-17 win.

Later in November, it did. They fell behind at Michigan, unable to capitalize with touchdowns following a couple of trips inside the 20-yard line, and suffered their first loss in The Game since 2011, a setback that also kept them from winning the Big Ten and reaching the College Football Playoff.

A lot of Ohio State’s success on its opponent’s side of the field hinges upon short-yardage situations, where that toughness is challenged.

It often came up short last season.

Looking at power success rate, a statistic by Football Outsiders tracking the percentage of runs on third and fourth down with 2 yards or fewer that result in a first down or touchdown, the Buckeyes finished at 72.4%, ranking No. 52 nationally.

Wilson said improvement was needed with the line’s pad level and tight end’s blocking.

“When you can put a physical presence with all that you've got,” Wilson said, “you've got a chance to be something neat.”

A new offensive line coach might also help as former UCLA offensive coordinator Justin Frye replaced veteran assistant Greg Studrawa in January. It was the lone change to the Buckeyes’ offensive coaching staff.

The Buckeyes have not always faltered deep in their opponents’ territory, though it has been the more recent trend in Ryan Day’s tenure.

In the first season Day took over in 2019, their red zone touchdown percentage was 78.7%, tied for fourth in the nation with LSU, which won the national championship.

Ohio State will need to recapture that success in the red zone, as well as replace receivers such as Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, though Marvin Harrison Jr. looked capable in the Rose Bowl.

If those go as planned, more points are possible and Ohio State could strive to become the first FBS team since 2013 to average 50 points or more.

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

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