“We're Not Changing What We're Doing”: Ohio State Confident Rushing Attack Will Improve Moving Forward

By Colin Hass-Hill on October 27, 2020 at 5:57 pm
Trey Sermon and Master Teague

As redshirt junior center Josh Myers spoke, he might as well have just kept his head turning back and forth, perpetually shaking it. A win is a win, so he felt pleased about Ohio State’s 52-17 rout of Nebraska on Saturday. Yet still, even three days later, he didn’t really have a great grasp on one part of the game.

The weirdness of it.

Myers, at some point in the past couple of days, found himself in conversation about it with fellow veteran offensive linemen Wyatt Davis and Thayer Munford. The trio of returning starters have each started more than a dozen games, yet the season opener just felt off.

“It was just a weird game, and it didn't have anything to do with the fans not being there,” Myers said. “I think it had more to do with it just being the first game in so long. And really last season, when we played FAU, it was a similar kind of feel. It just didn't feel like the rest of the games. I can't explain it. I can't put my finger on what it is. But I think there will be a lot of improvement from this past week to the next one.”

Offensively, Justin Fields thrived through the air by completing 20-of-21 passes for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Garrett Wilson set personal records with seven receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown, and Chris Olave crossed the 100-yard threshold for just the second time in his Ohio State career.

On the ground, however, the Buckeyes didn’t get it rolling for a while with their running backs. Master Teague rushed five times on the first drive, taking carries for -1, 1, 2, 2 and 4 yards. Trey Sermon took over the following drive and only got the ball handed to him once, taking it 2 yards. The rest of the half, the tailback duo recorded rushes for 0, 0, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 11 yards.

Not good enough. Everybody within the program knows, and they knew it at the time. Ryan Day readily admits that.

“I thought they were solid,” Day said on Tuesday. “I thought as the game went on, they played better. Same thing just with the run game in general. I think early on it was just OK. That's kind of what happened the first game. We're really looking hard to take the next step in Game 2. One of the things you just don't get used to is going against those different fronts. In terms of a scout team, the look just isn't the same. But as the game went on, I thought it got better. 

“The more we go against different looks, I think the more comfortable we'll get. And then the running backs have got to continue to get tackled and get a feel for what that's like, keep their pads down, see the different cuts that are there. I don't think it was great early on, but I think as it went on, it got better.”

And it’ll have to continue to get better. Day said as much in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s showdown.

How much better, though, with Fields running the show? That’s a fair question, especially when considering his legs factor into the run game, too.

As Eleven Warriors’ own Kyle Jones pointed out in his excellent breakdown of the rushing attack on Monday (seriously: go read it), there’s only so much the Buckeyes will need out of their tailbacks with Fields, Day, Wilson, Olave, Jameson Williams, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming making plays. Going forward, it’s tough to imagine teams loading up the box as much as the Cornhuskers did at times to sell out to stop the run, too, which should free up some space. The offensive line should also get more comfortable now that it’s going against opposing teams rather than its own scout team for weeks on end. Myers attributed most of those issues to it being the “first game in 10 months” for a unit with two new starters (Harry Miller and Nicholas Petit-Frere).

“I don't know how else to put it,” Myers said. “It's not something that I think we're extremely worried about. I think we have confidence that they're all things that we can get fixed.”

Day, quite clearly, feels a similar way. He mentioned the need for running keeping a low pad level and making guys miss at the second and third levels. But as of now, the Buckeyes don’t plan to adjust their personnel in the backfield. His answer on Tuesday about redshirt freshman tailback Steele Chambers’ usage told the whole story.

Chambers took four second-half carries for 32 yards. Admittedly, Day said, he “flashed a little bit” in his limited opportunities with the ball in his hands. Going forward, will he get worked more into the running back carry share?

“We're not changing what we're doing,” said Day, showing no signs of going away from the Sermon-Teague backfield. “But Steele is certainly capable of getting in the game. If it calls for that, we feel comfortable putting him in there.”

Evidently, he won’t seek out a substantial increase in carries for Chambers quite yet. Ohio State plans to keep riding what it has, just as it did last year when J.K. Dobbins had a “clunky” game against Florida Atlantic out of the game.

And what the team has, it believes, is one of college football’s best offensive lines, a dual-threat quarterback who scares defenses in innumerable ways and a duo of tailbacks – Teague, a 225-pound physical specimen, and Sermon, a senior who transferred from Oklahoma – who’ll steadily improve with more playing time.

Photos: Joseph Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

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