Toughness is a word tossed around more than the pigskin itself in the game of football.
It’s a violent sport, which creates an environment where both physical and mental toughness are demanded. When head coach Ryan Day took over in December, he said toughness would be the identity of the Ohio State football team. He’s reiterated that multiple times since.
Ohio State showed Saturday that its offense is built on toughness and balance.
“This year, you have multiple tight ends, we’ve got a big, veteran offensive line,” Day said. “[Run the ball] and throw play-action pass is really the idea of our year.”
Defenses have the goal of tackling someone; it’s easy to point out a tough defense.
When Ohio State senior linebacker Malik Harrison destroyed Florida Atlantic redshirt junior running back James Charles in the backfield — that’s toughness. Four to five defenders swarming ball carriers when teams try to run the ball and holding opposition to 57 yards per game on the ground like Ohio State is doing — that’s toughness.
On offense, it’s harder to point to.
It starts with the offensive linemen. A successful rushing attack requires movement, especially from under center in classic power formations, which Ohio State used throughout Saturday’s contest despite never using them in 2018.
Using that toughness as a baseline, the offensive line paved the way for junior running back J.K. Dobbins to pick up 175 yards in the first half on the ground against Indiana, with 306 team rushing yards before the final whistle blew.
“The way the line has come on with the running backs, and then you complement that with — I think even though [sophomore quarterback] Justin [Fields] is new, the passing system was in place, and the guys knew a lot of the nuances and how to complement some things in pass,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said.
The Buckeyes are averaging 94 more rushing yards per game this season than in 2018.
That isn’t an indicator that the pass is going away in Ryan Day’s offensive identity. After toughness, the other identity Day mentions most for his offense is balance.
“We’ve gone from a passing attack last year to now, we’re starting to run the ball,” Day said. “I think that shows the versatility of our offense. We can do both. I think when you can have a balanced attack, it’s important, but when you can get that run going, you can really control the game.”
To maintain the balance, Wilson said it’s a constant conversation among himself, Day and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich. Much of that discussion occurs between drives and dictates what approach Ohio State will take for the upcoming series.
“It’s collective thinking. It’s thinking out loud. There’s a lot of different views,” Wilson said. “The deal is to get everybody on the same page to buy into what we’re doing, have a direction.”
Weeks 1 through 3 in a college football season usually generate growing pains as teams take shape and grow used to new faces, especially with a starting quarterback who’s in his first season at the school, like Fields.
Ohio State is showing its toughness and balance to the tune of 228 passing yards and 271 rushing yards per game so far. It’s one of the six teams in the country to score at least 42 points in each of its first three games.