Kevin Wilson didn’t mince words about Ohio State’s run game on Monday.
Less than three weeks before the Buckeyes start their season against fifth-ranked Notre Dame under the lights at the Horseshoe, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and tight ends coach doesn’t think it’s quite good enough. Particularly in short-yardage situations.
On the heels of Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Wilson wasn’t overly impressed with what he saw when the Buckeye offense needed to pick up tough yards on the ground to move the chains.
“Not what it needs to be. Not what it needs to be, based on what I saw Saturday,” Wilson said at a post-practice press conference. “Because it needed to be better Saturday. And in structure, what we're calling, scheming and that pad level and execution and demeanor and attitude. That was a couple glitches Saturday that needed to be (cleaned up).”
Wilson said the offense was “a little sloppy” in general as drives went on and that the Ohio State defense created multiple turnovers on the day. But Wilson emphasized that the primary shortcoming of the unit was its ability to run the ball, as he declared that the Buckeyes “need to run it a little better as we go.”
The blame wasn’t placed solely on the on-field personnel, as Wilson said the play calling may have had something to do with Ohio State’s rushing struggles as well. But either way, Wilson knows running the ball will be crucial to the Buckeyes’ national championship aspirations in 2022.
“Play call can be better execution (can be better), but also the demeanor of what we're trying to get accomplished here. Four-minute offense. To win those championships, we're gonna have to close out some games, and everybody knows we're running it,” Wilson said. “I know Coach (Ryan Day) will have a safe pass or something to keep them honest, but we got to run it and get the first down. And that's what those great offenses that we talked about earlier are gonna do or not do. That's when we'll see if we're a good offense or not.”
Ohio State has the third-highest average yards per carry in the country last season (5.54), but that number shrank to 2.1 in the Buckeyes’ road loss to Michigan. Two of Ohio State’s three worst rushing performances of the season in terms of yardage came in the final two games of the year, and Day parted ways with offensive line coach Greg Studrawa after the season.
“If we can't play offensive running football, we're not gonna be the championship team that we're yearning to be and expected to be.”– Kevin Wilson
The Buckeyes averaged 76.1 fewer yards per game on the ground in 2021 than they did in 2020. Much of that had to do with the excellence of Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback C.J. Stroud and the high-flying Buckeye pass attack, which will have featured three first-round draft picks as starting wide receivers once Jaxon Smith-Njigba (presumably) goes pro after this season.
But after suffering two regular-season losses for the first time since 2017 last year, Wilson knows the Buckeyes have to be more well-rounded on offense to reach the mountaintop come January.
“Most people sometimes have to run it because they can't throw. Some people throw it a lot, don't want to run it,” Wilson said. “The great teams in college football get to where they can do both. … To be the team we need to be, we need to be able to make those tough plays and those physical plays. Whether it be four-minute, coming out, goal line, and whether it be run or heavy play action, whatever it is. But we cannot be a team that can only play with the right hand. To be the team we want to be, we got to play with both hands. And that means we're committed to running the ball, and running the football is scheme, running the football is fundamentals, but run the football is a mindset.”
“And as well as we throw the football, which we all know has a chance to be extremely good, because of Coach Day, the skill, the quarterback, yes, it's got a chance to be really good. But to be the great team, we're trying our darndest to sell our offense on the attitude of balance is greatness.”
As far as Ohio State’s rushing performance in Saturday’s scrimmage, concerned Buckeye fans still have a couple of reasons to breathe a sigh of relief.
Wilson said many of the Buckeyes’ “top guys” on offense saw limited action in the contest, which may mean starting running back TreVeyon Henderson – who rewrote Ohio State’s freshman rushing records in 2021 – wasn’t even on the field when the scarlet and gray struggled to run the ball. Wilson also said freshman running back Dallan Hayden “popped a couple really good runs,” which is a positive indicator about the first-year rusher.
The resistance Ohio State faced on the ground is also a good sign about Jim Knowles’ revamped Buckeye defense, which Wilson heaped plenty of praise upon Monday.
“You just feel the defensive presence ... you feel a very early confident defensive bunch,” Wilson said. “Long way to go, I'm sure Coach (Knowles) would tell you that. But man, out there it's a dadgum fist fight.”
Still, Wilson made it clear that the running game needs to improve in short order if Ohio State is going to contend for – and potentially win – the national title in 2022. No one should expect the Buckeyes to be in midseason form well before the season begins, but Ohio State may have to get there soon in order to top Notre Dame in Week 1.
“We can rely on that 3-point shot over and over and over,” Wilson said. “But if we can't play defense, can't rebound the basketball – if we can't play offensive running football, we're not gonna be the championship team that we're yearning to be and expected to be.”