For the second week in a row, Ohio State failed to establish a consistent rushing attack. The Buckeyes ran for just 98 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry in their 44-31 win over Penn State on Saturday.
Before beating Iowa on Oct. 26, Ohio State averaged 228.0 yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry. That has since dropped to 191.5 yards per game and 5.4 yards per rush.
Ohio State has also posted back-to-back poor performances in terms of receiving yards after contact, with 1.7 against Iowa and 1.95 against Penn State, the two lowest averages of the season. For the season, the Buckeyes are averaging 3.68 yards after contact, the 11th-best mark in the country. Are the recent struggles a trend or an aberration?
Ohio State’s yards before contact haven’t been much better. The Buckeyes had a season-low 1.0 yards before the touchdown against Iowa. Their 3.05 average in the Penn State win was the second-highest of the season, but it was helped in large part by TreVeyon Henderson going untouched for a 41-yard score. Ohio State had 42.1 percent of its runs without a gain or loss, the highest percentage of the season. The average is 12.6 percent for the season.
So what goes wrong? Part of that is the level of competition lately. Iowa remains one of the best defenses in the country and is No. 11 nationally in rushing defense. Penn State ranks just No. 57 in rush defense, but it showed it handles well when filling the run holes.
Still, Ohio State must establish an effective running game against elite competition to win a national championship.
While the overall numbers weren’t great, there were times in the second half, most notably Henderson’s 41-yard touchdown, when the running game looked good.
“We got into the rhythm of the game and any time you’re in a game like that you want to wear your opponent down and I think we did that,” coach Ryan Day said. “You felt it in that game and I felt it the week before against Iowa.”
So there is reason for optimism. After re-watching the film, there aren’t any major issues that lead me to believe Ohio State can’t run the ball. However, some one-to-one blocking bugs need to be ironed out.
“We can clean up and we need to clean up to be more efficient early in the game,” Day said.
First-and-10, 14:41 left in first half: Gain of 5 yards
This is the first half of the game and it was a good start for Ohio State.
Henderson tends to dance in the backfield, but he made a quick decision on this play with good blocking by Paris Johnson Jr., Donovan Jackson and Luke Wypler. Henderson reads well that the first hole wasn’t going to be there and pops back in where Wypler has his man sealed. Also watch tight end Cade Stover (we’ll get back to him later) shove Penn State’s Chop Robinson across the field to give Henderson more room on the cutback route. This was a well-executed play, but the offense couldn’t sustain it for the entire first drive, as you’ll see below.
First-and-10, 12:21 left in first quarter: No gain
This play was doomed from the start. Watch Penn State’s Hakeem Beamon push Matthew Jones into the backfield from the guard position. That opened up the hole for linebacker Tyler Elsdon to fill and meet Henderson head-on.
Sometimes when you watch film it can be hard to know the exact blocking assignments, but look inside and you’ll see Wypler and Jackson tight end the same player – and that leaves Elsdon unblocked at the second level.
Good linebackers have patience in the running game. They know not to attack the line right away, see where the hole goes and fill it. Elsdon made a great play here, although I think it starts with Beamon getting a push on Jones.
Third-and-1, 15:00 left in the second quarter: No gain
This was the first play of the second quarter. Ohio State is facing a third-and-1, and converting on short yardage is something big teams pride themselves on. I was surprised Ohio State couldn’t get this. It goes back to Day’s comment about how one thing that goes wrong can sabotage a play.
Penn State’s Coziah Izzard made a fantastic play to get to Henderson before he got going. It’s easy though – he just won his one-on-one matchup against Jones. If Izzard doesn’t come in from the back, I think Henderson is capable of converting this and keeping the drive going.
There are a lot of bodies in front of him, but watch fullback Mitch Rossi lead the way and clear linebacker at the second level. If Henderson is able to follow him, he will likely make it to the second level and could be in position to make a big play.
This is not something you see and think, “Ohio State just can’t even get 1 yard. This is bad.” The play is there. It’s one play by a defensive lineman in the backfield that prevents Ohio State from getting a first down. This can be fixed. I’m putting my money on Jones sticking with this play next time.
First-and-10, 11:07 left in second quarter: 8-yard gain
Ohio State ran out of the gun five times against the Nittany Lions and had positive plays four times. This was one of them.
“We were efficient on 80 percent of our pistol runs, so I think the question is why didn’t we run the ball more there in the pistol?” Day said.
Day made a point that Henderson likes to get the ball a little deeper in the backfield. It makes sense – it gives him a running start.
If Henderson gets a running start, the hole needs to be there so he doesn’t have to stop and cut somewhere else. It was there on this one. Give the entire right side of the line credit – Dawand Jones, Matthew Jones and Stover. Dawand Jones immediately gets to the second level, allowing Henderson to follow him. Stover blocks first at the line, leaves his man and gets to the linebacker at the second level. Matthew Jones goes straight to the second level and clears his linebacker to the left side of the line.
To me, this shows that Ohio State’s struggles over the last two weeks are more about consistency than ability. We know the Buckeyes can do it, but can they do it consistently against the better teams on the schedule? Ohio State isn’t going to make a big run every time — this isn’t Arkansas State or Toledo. But it needs to play with more consistency, and on film you can see that it is possible.
First-and-10, 8:51 left in fourth quarter: 41-yard TD
This was the best run of the game for Ohio State. You’ve probably seen it many times by now, but I want to point out Stover’s work.
He blocks two people — one is Robinson, the defensive end — and then he gets to the second level. However, this is not the first time he has done so in this game. If you look back at Henderson running out of the gun in the play above, you’ll see Stover do the same.
Stover put in a lot of good work on film against Penn State. This was one of the highlights.
Second-and-12, 1:07 left in the game: 11-yard gain
Turn your gaze to Dawand Jones at guard. He runs this run, gets enough of defensive tackle Jordan van den Berg to let Henderson get outside. Henderson does a good job of avoiding the defensive tackle and then following Jackson, the pulling guard, to the edge.
This was a perfectly executed play. Sure, at this point it’s game over, but it’s still important to keep performing. This goes hand in hand with the next piece.
Third-and-1, 59 seconds left: 8-yard gain by Rossi
Earlier we showed you a play with Rossi as the main blocker. This time he is the ball carrier and does a good job taking the handoff and moving quickly up the field. This play sealed the win and left Ohio State kneeling for the final snap. Nice way to end a good win.
(Photo by TreVeyon Henderson: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)