Even as Ohio State lost two of 13 games in 2021 including a devastating defeat at the hands of Michigan in Ann Arbor, it was generally pretty hard to be livid with the offense.
Ryan Day's machine finished the season as the nation's top-ranked scoring offense (45.7 ppg) and total offense (561.2 ypg) while boasting the No. 3 passing offense at a ridiculous 380.0 yards per contest.
That said, the running game, despite featuring a dynamic true freshman in TreVeyon Henderson, slotted just No. 47 in the country (180.3).
There were numerous factors for the run game's shortcomings, notably how it was deployed as Day favored the pass over the run at a rate not seen since he arrived as Urban Meyer's quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator ahead of the 2017 season.
|SEASON||RUSH YPC||NATL RANK||RUSH YPG||NATL RANK||PASS YPG||NATL RANK||% PLAYS RUSH | % PLAYS PASS||% YDS RUSH | % YDS PASS|
|2021||5.5||3||180.3||47||380.9||3||46% | 54%||32% | 68%|
|2020||6.0||3||256.9||8||262.5||37||61% | 39%||49% | 51%|
|2019||5.6||6||266.8||5||263.1||36||62% | 38%||50% | 50%|
|2018||4.2||76||171.2||63||364.3||2||50% | 50%||32% | 68%|
|2017||5.8||8||243.2||17||262.8||36||57% | 43%||48% | 52%|
As an assistant with heavy influence over the offense his first two seasons in Columbus, The Buckeyes ran the ball 57% of snaps in 2017 and just 50% of snaps in 2018 as the passing game went wild behind Dwayne Haskins.
Promoted to head coach ahead of the 2019 season, Day then ran the ball over 60% of the time in his first two seasons behind tailbacks J.K. Dobbins and Trey Sermon, striking essentially a 50/50 split of pass and rushing yards.
Last year however under new starting quarterback C.J. Stroud, two collegiately inexperienced ball carriers in Henderson and Miyan Williams, and alongside college football's most elite wide receiver trio, Day leaned heavily on the pass, throwing it 54% of the time, good for the most during his time at Ohio State thus far.
In totality, last year's reliance on the pass wasn't a bad thing as it allowed the Buckeyes to feature their greatest strengths in Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, but the reality is Day had to deploy lopsided play calling because the run game simply wasn't as effective more often than not when going against top-50 yards per carry defenses.
Yes, Ohio State ranked No. 3 nationally in yards per carry at 5.55 but against the likes of Minnesota, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Utah, the Buckeyes ran for a more modest 4.86 yards per try.
The lowlight of course came against the Wolverines as Ohio State ran for 64 yards on 30 attempts, good for just 2.13 per carry. Yes, Michigan racked up four sacks for -27 yards but even if you throw that out, Henderson ran for just 4.4 per carry and Williams 2.9.
To be clear, the numbers didn't fall squarely the shoulders of Henderson and Williams. Often against better defenses, an offensive line that had the ability to dominate simply didn't. Many fans criticized the strategy Ohio State utilized in which essentially four tackles occupied the guard and tackle spots but it was more than that. Center Luke Wypler was a first-year starter and while fairly solid wasn't always spectacular. The same could be said for veterans like Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere, and it seemed at times the staff was too focused on keeping everyone happy.
As for Henderson, the kid showed flashes of being a Heisman Trophy contender in year one and a viable threat to win it one of the next two seasons. He ran for 1,248 yards on 6.8 per carry which came after his senior season of high school ball was wiped out due to the pandemic.
Somewhat surprisingly, Henderson only eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in only three of 13 games but valid reasons for it included the noted pass-happy attack and the fact he himself was a legit threat in the passing game, hauling in 27 balls for 312 yards to serve as the team's fourth-leading receiver behind the juggernaut wide receiving corps.
Throw in his receiving prowess alongside his rushing exploits and Henderson went for over 100 total yards of offense in seven of 13 games and over 85 total yards in 10 of 13.
After averaging just 14 carries per game last season, it seems like a good bet he'll add a few more to the log this fall, even as he remains a key receiving threat out of the backfield.
The offensive line will retool under the watchful eye of new coach Justin Frye as Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere move on to the NFL but the starting five has a chance to be better than last year's in the run game.
Man-mountain Dawand Jones is back at right tackle and Paris Johnson Jr. - a born left tackle - will shift from the right guard spot he occupied in 2021 because he was too good to keep off the field, to his natural position.
Matt Jones should even better at left guard than he was last year in a sixth man role, Wypler returns at center and man it feels like Donovan Jackson is ready to be the next great interior lineman at Ohio State as he settles into the right guard spot.
With the threat of an elite passing attack, an offensive line that could prove superior to last season's and an entire offseason for an already-electric Henderson to become even stronger, Day should have an improved running game at his disposal when he chooses to use it.