Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
In a corporate-like manner, running backs coach Stan Drayton explained how the Ohio State football team’s offense still hasn’t reached its potential.
Based on his calculation, it’s really not even close.
“We operated at probably about 60 percent last year,” Drayton said.
In most contexts, it’s a figure hardly associated as a passing grade and arguably less than a fitting one for an offense that averaged 37 points per game.
If functioning at only 60 percent, though, the Buckeyes weren’t half bad last year.
In its first undefeated season since 2002, OSU’s revitalized offense ranked 21st out of 124 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring offense en route to a total of 446 points.
In particular, it was the Buckeyes’ ground game that breathed life into such success.
Under the direction of coach Urban Meyer, OSU’s 10th-ranked rushing offense averaged 242 yards rushing behind the steady legs of rising junior quarterback Braxton Miller and rising senior running back Carlos Hyde.
Miller ran the ball for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns while Hyde ran for 970 yards and 16 scores. The duo proved potent throughout OSU’s 2012 campaign, but Drayton said tape of last year reveals a clear weakness.
“Here’s the deal: when you sit there and you study our film, you see safeties sitting there at eight yards because (Hyde and Miller) are in the backfield,” he said.
Why? He said it stems from the lack of a consistent aerial attack.
“The moment we are able to pose a pass threat, those safeties can’t sit at eight yards around the box,” Drayton said, “they’re going to have to play defense and play some coverage.”
At times, Miller and the Buckeyes found ways to air the ball out. But collectively, OSU finished 105th in passing yards per game.
It’s why in addition to developing the team’s relatively young receiving corps, OSU is trying to mold rising redshirt senior running back Jordan Hall into a hybrid type of player – one who can attack opposing defenses with his prowess for not only running the ball, but catching it in space as well.
“We have a lot of playmakers on offense, first off. I think I can just be another one, another person the defense has to prepare for,” Hall said.
Touted as likely the starting running back heading into 2012, Hall missed nine games last year with a torn PCL before being granted a medical redshirt for the 2013 season.
The Jeannette, Pa., native, who served as captain last season, said he’s trying to embrace what the coaching staff wants him to be.
But even Hall said his role is mysterious to him as it is to those trying to figure out what impact he could have on this year’s squad.
“I really don’t know to be honest … I’m really trying to figure it out for myself, too,” Hall said. “I knew everything at running back and, right now, I’m still trying to learn this position.”
Still, Hall said it’s a position that accentuates his skill set.
“Usually when you catch the ball as a receiver, there’s two people to make miss,” he said. “And as a running back, you got to run through D-line, linebackers, safeties.”
For OSU, the man trucking through defenses’ lines of resistance is Hyde, who came back to Columbus after flirting with the possibility of jumping to the NFL.
“I thought about it, yeah. But then I really thought hard, and I was like, I want to come back, you know?” said Hyde, who started at running back last season.
“I want to come back and get that 1,000 yards, you know, and raise that crystal ball, so why not?”
The move could pay dividends for an OSU team trying to improve its aerial attack but maintain a steady punch with the running game.
“Once we get that balance in our offense, we’re hoping it to be very explosive here,” Drayton said.
It could be the difference in the Buckeyes’ chase for a Big Ten and national championship.