This week in Ohio State football we are intrigued by a theory Ryan Day put forth about why the Buckeyes have not scored more points in the opening quarters and what to do about it.
Or not do about it…
“I think that one of the things we’ve tried to do is really establish the run game this year, probably maybe more than the last couple of years with C.J. (Stroud at quarterback),” Day said Tuesday.
This caught my ear because “establishing the run” is one of those phrases that is considered dirty to new-age football types who see it as an outdated concept because passing is statistically more efficient and more likely to result in big plays.
“Establishing the run” is also not something one would have associated with Ryan Day, who was brought to Ohio State to breathe new life into Urban Meyer’s version of the power spread offense in 2017 and did so mostly through adding more modern passing concepts.
J.T. Barrett had his best passing season, yardage-wise, in his one year under Day in 2017, and four of Ohio State’s five highest single-season passing yardage totals have been posted in the past five seasons.
The running game was lethal in 2019 when J.K. Dobbins eclipsed 2,000 yards, but it has been in decline ever since.
This season is the worst yet.
The Buckeyes are 88th in the country at 134.3 yards per game on the ground and 99th in yards per carry at 3.99, but their success rate of 44.9 percent is 48th in the country. (That measures runs that gain five yards on first and 10, half the remaining yards to gain for a first down second down and all the yards needed on third or fourth down).
Meanwhile, the success rate on pass plays is 49.6, a figure that is obviously not only higher than the rushing mark but ranks 15th nationally.
So with a receiving room overflowing with talent and a past proven formula for success, is it worth trying to continue to run the ball so much? Especially if the struggles to do so are making the whole unit less efficient?
Day doesn’t think so.
“Well, it’s working with the team, right?” Day said when asked about going to a more pass-heavy approach. “I mean, that’s the first thing you identify: Is it giving you an opportunity to win the game?”
The Buckeyes are 9-0 and No. 1 in the College Football Playoff committee rankings, but that is in large part because of a rejuvenated defense and star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Running the ball can set up big plays for Harrison and shorten the game for the defense, but the object for the offense is still to score points.
Day also still thinks his team is getting some residual success from early body blows delivered on the ground.
“Sometimes it takes a little time for you to establish the run game, and I think you’re starting to see that happen,” Day said. “As the game goes on, you start to see those 3-yard hits get to four and five. Then you start to see the five and sixes get to a little bit more explosive plays, and then it opens up more things in the pass game.”
Having TreVeyon Henderson in the lineup the last two games has helped, too, because of his ability to hit the hole faster than Ohio State’s other backs and outrun pursuit angles.
“It makes a big difference when when Trey’s back there and we get into the second level,” Day said of the junior who has more than 400 yards from scrimmage the last two games. “I thought we got into the second level quite a bit on Saturday, and he was able to really get to the safeties.”
So does that mean Ohio State is morphing into a running team for the homestretch of the season?
That might make sense since Day has been trying — and sometimes failing — to establish the run all season.
But it might not be so.
“Now, if all of a sudden you know, the game changes and starts to become back and forth or whatever then you may have to change your philosophy, but we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to win that game,” Day said. “And then we go from there. You know if we just say if we have to come out Just throw a ball every snap, we’ll do that too, but the balance is what we’re looking for. And so we’ll just keep grinding on it.”