WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Instead of remaining stagnant with its iffy third down and red zone packages, Ohio State added some newness to its offense in the 41-7 win at Purdue on Saturday. Like anything new, there were growing pains and some mistakes, but Ohio State took a big step forward in establishing itself both in short yardage situations and in the red zone.
While Ohio State continues to be a work in progress, Ohio State showed improvement in its weak areas offensively, and at the end of the day walked out of West Lafayette 6-0, with steps in the right direction ahead of Penn State next week.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day shared his frustrations following games this season where Ohio State consistently failed to convert on 3rd-and-1 or 3rd-and-2, and even 4th-and-1 at the goal line. Day added that on 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-2, they need to be north of 80 percent — but they have not been on target with that.
Big games, often October and November games in the Big Ten, come down to single yards and every single play. To reach its goals, Ohio State has to be able to consistently convert on third and short and score in the red zone.
Ohio State found a new approach its short yardage and red zone miscues by using its quarterbacks, more specifically their feet — on Saturday against Purdue.
In general, Ohio State was more effective running the ball and establishing a presence on the ground on Saturday than it had been this season.
“We just gotta keep pushing and growing, but I feel much better about the way we ran the ball, although we were down three running backs in the game,” Day said. “It was a job well done but we are certainly a work in progress.”
Ohio State did a better job establishing the run, using fourth string running back Dallan Hayden, and swiss army knife Xaiver Johnson to lead the Buckeyes on the ground.
TreVeyon Henderson was questionable pre-game and did not ultimately dress for the game. Chip Trayanum got the start in his place and was productive early on establishing the run until a hit to the head that sent him out of the game in the first half. The plan for Hayden was to use his redshirt this season, but to have him available as needed — Saturday was that day.
Hayden led the rushing game with 76 yards off of 11 carries, with a one-yard touchdown rush, good for an average of 6.9 yards per carry. Johnson finished with 29 yards on five carries, for 7.8 yard per carry. As a team, Ohio State finished with 163 yards on the ground on 39 attempts.
Short yardage situations were also an improvement, relying frequently on quarterback keepers to pick up the short gains. Kyle McCord ran three keepers and backup quarterback Devin Brown carried the ball eight times.
This was not the only method Ohio State used to convert, but the Buckeyes were better at being able to pick up the couple yards it needed to extend its drives whereas earlier in the season, 3rd-and-short situations presented the bigger challenge to their offensive system.
Ohio State was 8-of-19 on third downs against Maryland and 10-of-17 on third downs at Notre Dame. While Ohio State ended up 8-of-13 on third down against Purdue, in the first half, the Buckeyes were 6-of-7 on third downs.
Ohio State also introduced a new red zone package with Brown in the game in place of McCord behind center. Through fall camp, Ohio State coaches and players raved about Brown’s athleticism and ability to use his feet. While McCord ultimately won the job as the starter, the Buckeyes found a way to utilize Brown’ skillset in opportunities where they needed it.
“Devin [Brown] is very explosive with his feet, he’s strong, he’s big, he’s powerful, he’s athletic, Day said. “We feel like he gives us a little bit of something there. He also throws the ball really well. That’s something that we’ve looked at and we’ve been working on it a little bit and we felt like this was the right time, on the road, to do that. It did equate numbers in the red zone but we can’t turn the ball over on the one-yard line.”
One attempt, Brown rushed it into the end zone but lost control of the ball and it was recovered by Purdue for a touchback.Day said following the game that this was Brown’s first time, and he is getting comfortable, just like what McCord had to do. Brown is growing and they will keep building this package because it gives them a change up. Saturday against Purdue was just the start.
Saturday’s performance doesn’t mean that Ohio State’s offense is solved or perfected. But after finding out that short yardage and red zone issues were going to catch up to the Buckeyes, they made a change. That alone shows signs of success.