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Football: Ohio State offensive line tries to find physicality in a pass-first offense

Ohio State redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins (7) gets tackled after a run during the first quarter of the game against Minnesota on Oct. 13. Ohio State won 30-14. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

Urban Meyer now knows he is in charge of a pass-first offense.

After a week of deliberating on how to get the running game involved in the offense, trying to place the blockers — the offensive linemen and the tight ends — in the best position to get sophomore J.K. Dobbins and redshirt junior Mike Weber into open space against a loaded box, the head coach has now embraced his new offensive identity.

“Somebody told me at one time we’ve rushed for more yards than any school in the country for the last six, seven years,” Meyer said. “It’s discouraging a little bit, but once again, 7-0, and looking down we’re throwing for 412. It is what it is. I just know the game of football, I’ve been around. At some point, you’ve got to line up and do what you do.”

The Ohio State running game recorded 92 yards on 32 carries, only the third time in the Meyer era that one of his teams has recorded less than 100 yards in a game on the ground. The last time it happened was against Clemson in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.

In Saturday’s 30-14 win over Minnesota, Weber led the team with 51 yards on 13 carries while Dobbins averaged less than four yards per carry for the third straight game, recording 35 yards on 10 carries.

Even if the passing game has become the main point of attack for the Ohio State offense, Meyer said that inconsistency is still not an option in the ground game. It’s been a security blanket the head coach has not had in multiple situations.

“Short yardage is not a strength. Red zone is not a strength, and running the ball is not a strength,” Meyer said. “That’s something we’ve got to get figured out.”

No matter what type of offensive team Ohio State ends up being in the long run, whether it’s a pro-style, pass-first offense or a balanced one Meyer has had in the past, it revolves around one thing: the offensive line.

In protection, the Ohio State offensive line allowed nine tackles for loss on Saturday, along with three sacks of Haskins, two of which were by junior defensive end Carter Coughlin, who faced senior right tackle Isaiah Prince for most of the day.

In run blocking, backs averaged 2.9 yards per carry, with Haskins recording six yards on nine rushes, the most carries he has ever recorded in a single game.

According to offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the argument of opponents loading the box against the Ohio State running game, limiting their success in terms of yards per carry, is an excuse.

“At the end of the day, I think that’s a cop out,” Wilson said. “I don’t care if there is an extra guy out there, we have to play behind our pads as an offensive line, tight end group, running back group and run the ball well.”

For any offensive line, Wilson thinks that one thing separates a team from being average to being a national championship contender: physicality.

WIlson said he saw it a lot facing the Texas Tech teams under Mike Leach when he was an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Wilson said Leach’s offenses were “very, very physical” for a Big 12 team known for its prominent passing game.

Physicality gives the Ohio State an ability to escape the notion of being one-dimensional. Wilson called this defense’s abilities to force an offense to “play with your left hand.”

If the passing game is the dominant strength in an offense, WIlson said consistency and toughness in the running game is still vitally important, being able to beat opposing defenses both ways.

Meyer said the past two games against Indiana and Minnesota have not shown this.

“As of today and last week, no, but there certainly are signs,” Meyer said. “We’ve got two good backs, and we’ve just got it get it worked out.”

WIlson said it is all fixable, that the skill set and talent level in the offensive line room gives Ohio State an opportunity to work on physicality and improvement in both run blocking and pass protection for future weeks.

For the offensive coordinator, it’s simple. It’s the same amount of players in both the passing and running game. It’s finding that consistency to be able to switch between the two.

“When you are running the ball good, it takes 11. When you are passing the ball good, it takes 11,” Wilson said. “We are throwing it pretty good with 11. We have to get the running game going with 11 guys.”

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