The struggles of the Ohio State rushing attack this fall have been well-documented. So has the role that the Buckeyes’ offensive line has played in those uneven performances.
The OSU coaching staff has tried to downplay their concerns over the past month or so, pointing out that the increase use of run-pass option plays may end up skewing the stats.
The argument is that the threat of the run forces the defense to move more defenders up in the box, opening up the passing game behind them. Ero, they say, you should really include those passing yards in the rushing totals.
Whether you buy that or not, it doesn’t explain the struggles the Buckeyes have had in short yardage and red zone situations.
Against Purdue, they had 0, 1, 1, 5, -1, and 2 yards rushing on snaps taken in the red zone. On average, that’s 1.5 yards and a cloud of field goal attempts.
Over the bye week, offensive coordinator Ryan Day said the coaching staff was looking into how much the offensive line has been part of the issue in the Buckeyes’ struggles.
“I think that we’ve had really good plays and we’ve had some other plays that we wished we had back,” Day said. “You have to do a good job of assessing whether it’s execution, personnel or scheme.”
Sometimes, it’s how a coach says – or doesn’t say – something that is the most telling part of an interview.
Monday, Urban Meyer was asked, “Moving Michael Jordan to center obviously has a ripple effect on the rest of the line as you move pieces around. How do you think that’s gone for you guys through eight games?”
Meyer paused for seven full seconds before answering.
“At times outstanding, and other times it has not been great,” he said.
“(Jordan has) been playing pretty good. But there is a little bit of a ripple effect. But you’ve got to get your five best (linemen) on the field,” Meyer said.
The Buckeyes were forced to move Jordan to center because Brady Taylor, the expected starter there, suffered a knee injury during training camp.
The fact that guard Branden Bowen had a setback in his recovery from a broken leg didn’t help either.
Those injuries not only forced Jordan to move, but also thrust Malcolm Pridgeon into the starting lineup at left guard.
But Monday, Meyer said that both Bowen and Taylor had made significant progress.
“They’re both getting pretty close. They should be practicing today against scout (team). Not quite full speed, but getting closer,” Meyer said, adding, “there is a chance” that one or both could play this week.
If so, it could provide a much-needed spark up front.
In the first four games of the year, LT Thayer Munford, Jordan, RG Demetrius Knox, and RT Isaiah Prince all graded out as Champions every week. Pridgeon went three-for-four.
However, starting with the win over Penn State, Pridgeon and Jordan have been Champions twice, and Knox was named for the Penn State game. That’s it.
The team doesn’t announce Champions after a loss, but the line went 19-for-20 in the first four games, and 5-for-20 in the last four.
It’s not hard to connect the dots between that and four of the worst rushing performances of the Meyer era.
Taylor has spent most of his career at center, and Bowen has played both guard and tackle. When they return, they will give the coaching staff options, which is a luxury they haven’t had for much of the fall.
After that, as Day acknowledged during the off-week, it’s up to the coaching staff to get things figured out.
“That’s the job of a coach is to get the things we need to get fixed, we’ve got to get them fixed,” Day said.