Ohio State Working to Identify Origins of Poor Starts Offensively

By Eric Seger on October 26, 2016 at 8:12 pm
Examining Ohio State's slow starts offensively through the first seven games of 2016.

Ohio State enters the final game on its schedule before Halloween still searching for its first touchdown on an opening drive this season. That is, of course, unless you want to count what happened in the season opener against Bowling Green.

J.T. Barrett threw into traffic near the Bowling Green 37-yard line and Brandon Harris snatched the ball out of the air, turned on the jets and beat everybody the end zone. The play gave the Falcons a short-lived 7-0 lead against the Buckeyes but also was about the most inauspicious way an opening drive could go.

It hasn't gotten much better for the Ohio State offense since that pick-six. The Buckeyes scored on their first drive the very next game, a 29-yard field goal by Tyler Durbin. Marshon Lattimore intercepted Tulsa's Dane Evans the drive before to give Ohio State excellent field position. But Barrett failed to lead his unit to a first down in the next three plays.

That is the only time the Buckeyes have scored on their first offensive possession this season. Conversely, Ohio State scored a touchdown on nine of 15 opening drives in 2014 and just three last season.

“Obviously with that stat, not great,” Urban Meyer said on Wednesday after practice. “That is being evaluated and making sure we have the right scripted plays and giving those guys a chance to have success. That is something we're changing up a little bit making sure we have a good 12 scripted plays.”

At Oklahoma, Ohio State went three-and-out on its first possession. In that game and the week before versus the Golden Hurricane, the Buckeyes ran the ball on first and second down then Barrett threw incomplete on third. In game four he threw an interception on his team's first drive in what eventually became a 58-0 slaughter of hapless Rutgers.

The next week, the Buckeyes grabbed one first down before Barrett hurdled the football toward Mike Weber's facemask and saw it fall to the turf and into the hands of an Indiana defensive lineman. Then at Wisconsin and last week at Penn State, Ohio State punted on its first drive after picking up one first down but nothing else.

Ohio State Opening Drives: 2014-16
2016 PENN STATE No Own 4 Run +6 Run +2 Run +6 6 23 1 Punt
2016 WISCONSIN Yes Own 25 Run +3 QB Run +6 Run +1 6 5 1 Punt
2016 INDIANA Yes Own 18 Run +8 Run +9 QB Sack -9 3 11 1 Sack, fumble
2016 RUTGERS No Own 9 Run +7 Run +4 Pass Inc. 7 34 2 Interception
2016 OKLAHOMA No Own 20 Run +5 False Start Pen QB Run +1 3 1 0 Punt
2016 TULSA No Opp. 16 Run +2 QB Run +2 Pass Inc. 4 4 0 Field Goal
2016 BOWLING GREEN Yes Own 42 Pass +9 QB Run +3 Run +5 4 17 1 Pick Six
2015 NOTRE DAME No Own 20 Pass +8 Run +7 Pass +9 9 80 4 Touchdown
2015 MICHIGAN No Own 20 Run +3 QB Run +8 Pass +12 6 24 1 Punt
2015 MICHIGAN STATE Yes Own 25 QB Run -1 QB Run +5 QB Run +5 3 9 0 Punt
2015 ILLINOIS No Own 42 Run +5 Pass +9 Run +2 11 51 2 Missed FG
2015 MINNESOTA No Own 38 Run +2 QB Sack -1 Pass Inc. 3 1 0 Punt
2015 RUTGERS No Own 20 Run +2 QB Run +39 Run 0 7 60 2 Fumble
2015 PENN STATE Yes Own 22 Run -1 Pass Inc. Pass Inc. 3 1 0 Punt
2015 MARYLAND Yes Own 20 Pass +4 QB Sack -4 Pass +8 3 8 0 Punt
2015 INDIANA Yes Own 35 Pass -9 Run 0 Pass +4 3 -5 0 Punt
2015 WESTERN MICHIGAN No Own 35 Pass Inc. Run +26 TD Pass +38 3 65 1 Touchdown
2015 NORTHERN ILLINOIS Yes Own 35 Illegal Motion Pen Pass Inc. Run 0 3 -5 0 Interception
2015 HAWAI'I No Own 32 QB Run +24 Run +3 Run -4 8 39 2 Missed Fake FG
2015 VIRGINIA TECH No Own 36 QB Run +6 QB Run -1 Pass +20 8 64 2 Touchdown
2014 OREGON Bi Own 25 Run +2 QB Run +4 QB Run +6 6 17 1 Punt
2014 ALABAMA No Own 15 Run +4 Pass Inc. QB Run +12 10 80 3 Field Goal
2014 WISCONSIN Yes Own 23 Pass +8 Run +4 Run +15 6 77 4 Touchdown
2014 MICHIGAN No Opp 41 Run +6 Pass +9 Run +7 6 41 2 Touchdown
2014 INDIANA Yes Own 24 Pass +4 Pass +7 Run +65 3 76 0 Touchdown
2014 MINNESOTA Yes Own 35 Run +5 Pass +3 False Start Pen. 3 9 0 Punt
2014 MICHIGAN STATE Yes Own 25 Pass +12 Pass +14 Pass Inc. 9 45 3 Missed FG
2014 ILLINOIS No Opp 38 Pass +15 Pass Inc. Run +23 3 39 0 Touchdown
2014 PENN STATE No Opp 39 Run +3 Run +4 QB Run +10 7 39 2 Touchdown
2014 RUTGERS No Own 48 Pass +5 Run +3 Run +1 6 52 3 Touchdown
2014 MARYLAND Yes Own 25 Run +4 Run +8 QB Run +20 8 75 3 Touchdown
2014 CINCINNATI No Own 25 Pass Inc. False Start Pen Pass +15 8 75 3 Touchdown
2014 KENT STATE Yes Own 42 Run +4 Pass +22 QB Sack -5 5 58 2 Touchdown
2014 VIRGINIA TECH No Own 12 QB Run 1 Run 6 Pass Inc. 3 7 0 Punt
2014 NAVY Yes Own 35 Pass +14 Pass Inc. Run 0 4 21 1 Punt

Not exactly coming out hot if you're offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, a quarterback in the middle of his third year as a starter and a situation in which the offense should feel comfortable running the plays near the top of the sheet.

“I haven't evaluated that. We've had some situations where we've been really backed up coming out and so sometimes the opening script doesn't apply on the 3-yard line,” Warinner said on Wednesday. “I don't really have an answer for that.”

Warinner is correct in a sense. The Buckeyes have started their first drive at or inside their own 20-yard line four times in seven games, including at their own 4 last week and own 9 against Rutgers. His answer about personally not evaluating it isn't likely one Ohio State fans want to hear, although Meyer did say the Buckeyes are changing some things up in regards to how they handle their first drive.

“We have to play better. I have to do a better job.”– Ed Warinner

For a group Meyer said on Monday regressed the last month since Ohio State's 45-24 statement win at Oklahoma, getting out fast and putting points on the board would seem to be a focus. But it hasn't happened much at all this season—the only time it did was when the defense put Barrett and the offense is field goal range even before they stepped on the field.

“We have to play better. I have to do a better job,” Warinner said. “We have to do a better job coaching, play better, execute better and that all starts with the coaching staff and the preparation and give our kids a chance.”

Meyer said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference the attention to detail is intensified this week in practice, especially because the Buckeyes lost for the first time this season in stunning fashion 24-21 at Penn State. Ohio State hosts a Northwestern team on a three-game winning streak this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with not much room for error in the Big Ten East Division race.

Things need to improve, especially when it comes to getting out of the gate quickly.

“We gotta come out and execute on that first drive because if you can do that then you can get some momentum. Especially scoring a touchdown on that first drive,” center Pat Elflein said on Wednesday. “Scoring touchdowns on the first drive would give us more momentum going into the game. That'd be cool.”

It certainly would shower some confidence on a unit that struggled to find the end zone against Penn State and did not capitalize on multiple opportunities to push the Nittany Lions further behind. In the end, the struggles in the passing game and inability to protect Barrett cost Ohio State a game after two special teams screw-ups helped Penn State put points on the board.

Meyer admitted on Wednesday he hasn't seen the improvement offensively both from the players and coaching staff he wants but said that sometimes happens with a young team. He noted his offense's and team's progression in 2014 after the loss to Virginia Tech as what he expects. Obviously, that team won the national championship and had a different offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Tom Herman. Herman is now the head coach at Houston.

The steady decline on opening drives and defensively the last two seasons is evident. [see chart] Meyer and his staff are aware of it, however, based on what they tell the media.

Saturday against Northwestern provides another opportunity to take a step forward, especially on the opening drive.

“That's all part of the process of growing up and getting these guys reps and think about what a young player has gone through here in the last seven weeks. They are getting better,” Meyer said. “Statistically, not where we want to be. Certainly, when I hear about the three points or something in the last seven games, it's not where we want to be.

“But what do you do? You keep grinding and get young guys better and they are.”

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