Ohio State's Defense Is on the Cusp of Allowing More Rushing Touchdowns Than Its Offense Has Produced for the First Time Since 1988

By Chris Lauderback on December 21, 2018 at 10:20 am
Northwestern's John Moten IV recorded one of eight rushes over 50 yards against Ohio State this season.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

You don't need me to tell you it's been a long and winding road to a 12-1 record for the 2018 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

From the Zach Smith saga leading to Urban Meyer's suspension, to Meyer's headaches, to Dwayne Haskins' rise to greatness and the ongoing pain that is an Ohio State defense currently ranked 60th in the country in rushing defense (160.5 ypg) and 87th in yards per carry allowed (4.59), the Buckeyes have somehow still found a way to post a victory in 12 of 13 tries so far. 

Among the many storylines is that defense which has already given up more points in a single-season that any other group in program history. 

With the defense struggling and Haskins putting up the single greatest passing season ever seen in Columbus, the Buckeyes are on the cusp of a pretty dubious stat. 

Not since 1988 has a Buckeye defense given up more rushing touchdowns than the offense has produced but that's exactly where we're at as Meyer's squad stands at 24 rushing touchdowns allowed against 22 rushing touchdowns produced with just the Rose Bowl left to play. 

The 24 touchdowns surrendered by the current squad are already tied for the most by an Ohio State defense in program history (2014). 

1988 14 20
1989 30 17
1990 20 8
1991 28 9
1992 26 14
1993 25 6
1994 19 11
1995 29 17
1996 27 8
1997 18 10
1998 22 6
1999 20 17
2000 19 12
2001 25 14
2002 31 5
2003 14 12
2004 11 10
2005 23 12
2006 25 9
2007 21 3
2008 21 7
2009 20 8
2010 27 9
2011 20 13
2012 37 14
2013 45 9
2014 41 24
2015 39 10
2016 33 8
2017 34 13
2018* 22  24

During that 1988 season, John Cooper's first in Columbus which produced a 4-6-1 record, the defense yielded 20 rushing touchdowns while the offense managed just 14 rushing touchdowns. 

Big plays have been at the heart of the defense's struggles this year. Through 13 games, the defense has allowed eight rushing plays over 50 yards which slots 125th out of 130 FBS teams. 

Those issues started early, dissipated for a bit, then cropped back up over the final three games as the Buckeyes gave up touchdown runs of 75, 77 and 81 yards against the likes of Maryland and Northwestern. 

Maryland's Anthony McFarland in particular had a field day rushing for 298 yards on 21 carries with two long jaunts which is largely to blame for the Buckeyes giving up 217 rushing yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns over that three game span. 

The Buckeyes did keep Michigan and Northwestern to 161 and 151 rushing yards respectively which is right around the season average of 160.5 rushing yards allowed per game but did give up a pair of rushing touchdowns in each outing. 

Thus far, only Rutgers, Indiana and Michigan State failed to find the end zone on the ground at least once against Greg Schiano's defense. 

For the Buckeyes to avoid giving up more rushing touchdowns than produced, it would seem the defense will have to post a donut against Washington in the Rose Bowl. Such an outing wouldn't be impossible as the Huskies rank 55th nationally in rushing offense (179.9 ypg), 49th in rushing touchdowns (24) and 64th in yards per carry at 4.43 per tote. 

Stopping Washington's ground attack means shutting down Myles Gaskin and his 104.3 yards per game (18th in the country) on 4.88 yards per carry. 

On the other side of the ball, Ohio State's rushing attack struggled to find its footing for a significant stretch failing to reach at least 200 yards in six straight contests and nine of 13 games overall. Obviously, some of that falls on the offensive line, playcalling and tailbacks but the Haskins' emergence as an elite passer forced Meyer and Ryan Day to play to the passing game's strength. 

With Haskins leading the way, the Buckeyes registered 48 passing touchdowns – easily the most in school history – leaving less opportunities for the running game at a school that's hung its hat on running the football for over 100 years. 

The 22 rushing touchdowns this season paced by nine from J.K. Dobbins are easily the fewest during Meyer's tenure with the 33 produced by the 2016 squad in the on-deck circle. 

The rushing attack has just five multi-touchdown games in 13 tries and failed to reach the end zone against Minnesota and Purdue in back-to-back weeks while logging just one rushing touchdown against TCU, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and Northwestern. 

It's just a different kind of offense in Columbus with the passing game being so elite that it has often made sense to avoid trying to force the issue on the ground behind an offensive line that is certainly solid but doesn't measure up to some of Meyer's better offensive lines of past seasons. 

To keep the 2018 squad from matching the 1988 squad's dubious accomplishment, the ground game will need to make some hay against a Huskies defense ranked 15th in the land giving up 116.4 rushing yards per game on a 26th-best 3.53 yards per carry. Washington slots 15th nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns allowed in 13 games. 

With the Buckeyes looking to send Meyer out with a bang, it will be tough but not impossible for Ohio State to get this particular stat back on the right side of history in the season finale. 

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