Ohio State’s struggles running the ball continued to be one of the hottest topics of discussion at Urban Meyer’s first press conference following the Buckeyes’ bye week on Monday.
The Buckeyes have rushed for fewer than 3.3 yards per carry in each of their last four games. Inside the red zone, the Buckeyes have rushed for a net total of just 12 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in that same span of games.
While Ohio State was able to get by on the strength of its passing game through its seven games, the Buckeyes’ inability to run the ball effectively caught up with them in their 49-20 loss at Purdue, and as a result, Meyer said the Buckeyes’ offense was almost entirely focused on improving in that area of the game during the off week.
“We worked and are continuing working very hard in those two areas, the run game and the red zone, and that was basically the whole devotion of the bye week last week on offense,” Meyer said Monday.
Until the Buckeyes return to game action on Saturday at Ohio Stadium for their ninth game of the season against Nebraska, no one knows for sure whether that work will lead to actual improvement that manifests itself on the field. Meyer said he does feel good, though, about the work his coaching staff and his players have put in to try to get better.
“The time spent has been phenomenal, and the effort,” Meyer said. “Now it’s time to see some rewards.”
Asked whether Ohio State made any major changes during the bye week to how it will attack defenses in the run game, Meyer said “it's too late to do that.” He said the Buckeyes did make some schematic adjustments, but believes there are several factors that need to improve for his team to move the ball more effectively on the ground.
“One is getting them in the right position, making sure we have structurally the right play call,” Meyer said. “Number two is to get more movement (with the offensive line). And number three is running through tackles.”
Meyer said he believes the Buckeyes’ runners – which have primarily been running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, as quarterback Dwayne Haskins has not run the ball regularly – need to be more physical in order to break more tackles.
That said, he also believes Ohio State’s success running the ball in past years has been predicated on their blockers’ ability to open up lanes for their ballcarriers to make plays in space, and he acknowledged that the Buckeyes have not done that well this year.
“That's kind of our trademark,” Meyer said. “Get guys to that second level and let them do their deal, and having a hard time doing that.
“The number one thing is getting guys in space. That's something we've been pretty good at around here is getting athletes in space, and we haven't been able to do that.”
“The time spent has been phenomenal, and the effort. Now it’s time to see some rewards.”– Urban Meyer on Ohio State's efforts to improve its running game
Ohio State’s offensive line hasn’t been as successful with opening up running lanes this year as it has been in the past, and Meyer acknowledged Monday that the team’s decision to move Michael Jordan to center has had “a little bit of a ripple effect” that has hampered the unit.
“At times outstanding, and other times it has not been great,” Meyer said, after a long pause, when asked how he thought the offensive line had performed in the wake of Jordan’s position shift.
Meyer didn’t specify whether he foresaw any changes coming to the offensive line (offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson said last week that they did not expect any changes as of now), other than saying the Buckeyes had to have their “five most effective players on the field.”
Meyer did say, though, that Brady Taylor and Branden Bowen are “getting very close” to being able to practice at full speed, and that “there’s a chance” either of them could be available to play this week. Taylor competed for Ohio State’s starting center job in fall camp before suffering a knee injury that forced him to undergo arthroscopic surgery, while Bowen started six games at right guard last season before breaking his leg, an injury from which he has been recovering ever since.