Ohio State vs. Penn State Game Notes: Is Ohio State’s Lackluster Run Game a Reason to Panic?

I will start here with my game notes, taken in real time as I was watching the game. I did this with the Alabama vs. Tennessee game and I really liked it, so I decided to do it with this game. I think I’m going to do it with all the big time games, at least as much as I can. It’s going to be tough to do next week because there’s Tennessee-Georgia at 3:30, Bama-LSU at night, and then also Clemson-Notre Dame at night as well (I think all three underdogs can win, but I’ll have to dive into it further in a predictions post later in the week).

Real-time game notes:

I believe in Ohio State during the week. Even when they look shaky on Saturdays, and I’m thinking to myself, “This team is fraudulent,” I change my mind during the week. Somehow I talk myself out of believing what my eyes were telling me during the actual game. Then, Saturday comes around, and they play a game and I’m like, “What is wrong with this offense?”

  • Ohio State is an experiment of what would happen if you had the greatest offensive talent in the country with the worst playcalling in the country. It’s like a reality TV show.
  • I’m having serious doubts about Ryan Day’s abilities as a playcaller right now. I thought he was one of the best in the nation, if not the very best. But right now, how can you say that?
  • Michigan ran for 418 yards on Penn State and through two drives, Ohio State literally cannot get a run back to the line of scrimmage against this Penn State team. It’s unbelievable. Ohio State has NFL players up and down the offensive line and they can’t gain a single yard running the ball.
  • Ohio State’s defense just got a second straight interception. They’re playing incredible right now. And yet it feels like Ohio State will be lucky to come away from this next drive with a 6-0 lead.
  • So they scored a touchdown, but then their best running back, Miyan Williams got hurt on the next drive. Ohio State run game is back to being unable to move the ball even an inch.
  • Defense let a 10 yard catch turn into a 58 yard touchdown. Poor tackling was the culprit.
  • It feels like it’s happening. It feels like the Penn State magic is alive and well here. The upset is in the making. The pieces are all there.
  • There is absolutely no way this Ohio State team can win a National Championship. I’m just calling it like I see it. They look terrible on offense. It’s the playcalling, it’s the execution—it’s everything.
  • They can score 50+ on terrible teams, but against even remotely competent teams it’s like they’re deer in the headlights. They piss down their legs.
  • I understand not playing well and not executing, but this feels different. Their offensive line is getting flattened against a Penn State defensive line that let Michigan run for 418 yards. Absolute domination.
  • Outside of the busted play, the Ohio State defense is playing well, but the offense is completely and totally incompetent. Like literally unable to pick up a single yard. I’m low-key baffled here as to how bad they’ve looked.
  • They feel like the book definition of a paper tiger. Michigan fans have to be salivating.
  • And then the defense began imploding on the next drive. Allowing massive chunk plays to Penn State like the secondary isn’t even there.
  • It’s bad right now for Ohio State. I think they might even get blown out. Penn State absorbed their best shot and is now up 14-10. They can’t gain a single millimeter running the ball. Crowd is into it. This might turn into a blowout. Like Penn State could win this game by 2-3 touchdowns the way it’s going now.
  • This Ohio State team has no chance against an SEC team. I’m calling it now. If you can’t run for a single inch against a Penn State team that let Michigan gash for 418, what are you going to do against an SEC team?
  • Ohio State is a paper tiger. I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt but it looks like the Schedule Truthers are right: they’re fraudulent.
  • How many screen plays have to get blown up before Ryan Day realizes it’s dumb to call them? When things are working, he goes away from them. When things aren’t working he doubles down on them. I just don’t get it.

Ohio State consistently dribbles down their collective leg in big games:

  • 2021 at Michigan: 42-27 loss, 297 rush yards allowed
  • 2021 vs. Oregon: 35-28 loss, 269 rush yards allowed
  • 2020 National Championship vs. Alabama: lost 52-24. Outgained 621 to 341.
  • 2021 Semifinal vs. Clemson: lost 29-23. Could’ve buried Clemson early, but instead settled for 3 early field goals from the red zone to build up 16-0 lead instead of 28-0.

I think Ryan Day is an elite recruiter. And he seems to be good at developing offensive talent, for sure. But his playcalling is literally the only thing holding this team back.

  • What is Ohio State’s biggest weakness? Their own offensive playcalling. It’s truly baffling. I’ve never seen anything like it.
  • This is 100% a coaching issue, I’m sorry to say it.
  • You know how people will spin a globe around, then put their finger down and just travel to wherever their finger lands? That’s like Ohio State’s offensive playcalling. Ryan Day just picks random plays out of a hat.
  • Ohio State’s ridiculous talent was kind of sort of overcoming the piss poor playcalling on that last drive of the first half, getting all the way down inside the 10 yard line with just 6 seconds left to play, but then the playcalling yet against was insurmountable. They called a pass play with no timeouts, Penn State was clearly ready for it, sent pressure and denied the goal line, and then got a strip sack on Stroud to end the half.
  • Just kick the field goal there. You are down 14-13. The field goal is a chip shot. Take some small positive momentum going into the half. I know you want a touchdown, but there are 6 seconds left on the clock. Why are you being greedy there?
  • Urban Meyer said at halftime that 5 seconds is the cut off line. 5 seconds or less, you kick the field goal. With 6 seconds, you take a shot to the endzone. But it’s gotta be out quick.
  • I think I disagree though, just based on how that game was going and the score at the time. You have the opportunity to retake the lead going into the half, I don’t know why you wouldn’t take that. You are on the road and losing. The crowd is looking for a reason to explode, and you’re giving an underdog team a possible reason to gain more confidence.
  • Even if CJ Stroud didn’t get sacked there, he was still holding on to the ball way too long. If you’re going to call that play there, the ball has to be out almost immediately–like hike the ball, one beat, release the ball. If it’s there, it’s there; if it’s not, just sail it out the back of the endzone.
  • Ohio State has not missed an opportunity to give the Penn State crowd something to cheer about.
  • They could’ve been up 21-0 early in this game. They had their boots on the throat of Penn State early on.

And then I just saw this?

Unreal.

This is about where I am with Ohio State:

But, like, how? Why?

CJ Stroud might be the #1 overall pick in the draft. Marvin Harrison is the best receiver in college football. Emeka Egbuka might be the second best. Julian Fleming will make it to the NFL. Cade Stover, the tight end, will be in the NFL.

Paris Johnson on the offensive line is a first round pick. Dawand Jones, the right tackle, will make it to the NFL. They have other offensive linemen that will make it to the NFL as well.

How and why is this offense “not as good as everyone thinks”? There is literally no reason for them to not be the best offense in the country.

Talent-wise, they are the best offense in the country. In my opinion, it’s not even close. There is no team out there with this much talent. Not even Tennessee. Tennessee is great, but they don’t have as much overall talent as Ohio State does. Ohio State’s offense will have more players go to the NFL than anyone else.

This is why I’m reaching the conclusion that it’s a coaching issue here. It’s on Ryan Day.

  • Okay, second half has started. Penn State fumbles on the opening kickoff but recovers it. Classic Penn State magic.
  • Then, on third and inches from their own 33, they go for it without hesitation and get it by an inch.
  • It’s a sign of disrespect that Penn State was so comfortable going for that right there.
  • Huge stop on 4th and 2 for the defense. That was at the Ohio State 19, and James Franklin pulled a Ryan Day. That’s a big win for the Ohio State defensive line.
  • You won’t hear it from the crowd, but that’s a momentum-shifting play. Penn State was moving the ball down the field well on that drive. They had a big completion downfield and were feeling themselves.
  • However, leave it to Ryan Day to fail to capitalize on it and somehow find a way to hand massive momentum to Penn State in the process.
  • Aaaand a 2 yard carry, then one of those toss plays (which they always call but never work) to Henderson for negative yards.
  • Then a completion for a first down to Marvin Harrison, but he gets hurt on the play. So now Ohio State’s two best offensive players are hurt.
  • Stroud now has no time to throw in the pocket. Receivers can’t get open at all with Harrison off the field. Looks like points are going to be at a premium here. Wouldn’t it have been nice to get a field goal at the end of the half?
  • Stroud overthrows a wide open Harrison down the sideline and Ohio State will punt.
  • Did Ryan Day even do anything at halftime as far as adjustments? What was he even doing at halftime? College football halftimes are like 45 minutes long. What was he doing in there?
  • Clifford completes a pass to Parker Washington that was tipped by TWO Ohio State defenders. Classic Penn State magic.
  • Pressure is getting to Sean Clifford a bit, but he’s always able to escape. Looking like Mahomes back there. He’s having a really good game. Those two early picks were ugly but since then, he’s been great. You can tell he’s playing his heart out in this game; it’s his final season at Penn State, he’s never beaten Ohio State, and above all, he knows his team’s season is on the line. They lose this game, all postseason hopes go down the drain.
  • Ohio State finally gets Clifford to the ground on third down to force a punt. But it’s okay for Penn State because the Greatest Offense in the History of College Football™ won’t gain a single millimeter against a defense that gave up 968 rushing yards to Michigan.
  • Ohio State has the tight end and the fullback consistently open over the middle, and then obviously Marvin Harrison is open on every play. But that’s about it. Egbuka and Fleming aren’t doing much.
  • Maybe because Ohio State just keeps running those stupid screen plays to them. That’s like the 10th one and only one of them has gone for positive yardage. Ryan Day, what the hell are you doing my guy?
  • Ohio State is held to a field goal, it’s good from 40 yards at the end of the third quarter. 16-14 Buckeyes. Probably would’ve been nice to also get that one at halftime, huh? But no. All these offensive genius coaches and their analytics are allergic to kicking field goals. It’s an epidemic in the NFL and apparently now college football.
  • Overall, this game is playing out about as well as Penn State could’ve asked. They’re forcing field goals consistently, their offense is moving the ball better than expected, and Ryan Day is apparently throwing the game with his playcalling. It’s right there for the taking for them.
  • For Ohio State, this is like one of those video game YouTube channels where a dude will play Pokemon Yellow Version with a mod that makes his Pokemon level down instead of up. Ryan Day is nuzlocking this game. He’s coaching on hard mode. “Can we beat Penn State on the road without a run game?” “Can we beat Penn State on the road while calling every other play as a wide receiver screen that goes for negative yards?” It’s like he’s deliberately making it as difficult as possible for his team.
  • Ohio State would be losing by 20 to Tennessee right now. Maybe more. Georgia, they’d be losing even worse. You kick field goals against those two teams, you are going to get boat-raced.
  • Ohio State hasn’t been as good against the run as the stats would indicate. It feels like Penn State is on the cusp of busting off a 60-70 yard run.
  • Penn State receivers making incredible catches, Penn State runners consistently falling forward to pick up a few extra yards on each rush, Sean Clifford consistently escaping the pressure in the pocket and finding people downfield. Penn State is just outplaying Ohio State right now. Keeping the OSU defense off balance on this drive. However, Ohio State did force a field goal. Penn State would’ve missed the field goal, but they false started and I’m sure they’ll hit the do-over. Penn. State. Magic.
  • What? Dude shanked it again? Unreal. BUT a flag against Ohio State for illegal formation to give the 5 yards right back to Penn State. And now Penn State is going for it on 4th and 1. And they get it. Penn State magic.
  • They said Ohio State had someone lined up over the center on the field goal attempt but I think it was pretty clear from the replay they didn’t. Questionable call there.
  • Penn State is going to win this game. It just has that “team of destiny” upset feel for Penn State right now.
  • TWO MISSED FIELD GOALS for Penn State and they BENEFIT from it. Amazing.
  • And then Mitchell Tinsley catches the ball, runs for the goal line, fumbles the ball on the 1, and then somehow comes up with his own fumble recovery IN THE ENDZONE for a touchdown. Penn. State. Magic.
  • Goodbye, Ohio State. You’re playing like absolute dogwater and Penn State is the luckiest team ever. That’s what you’re going to lose. You’re going to lose to Michigan, too.
  • Okay, the refs are now saying the ball was recovered on the one foot line, so it will be Penn State ball, 3rd and goal on the one foot line.
  • Is there any doubt Penn State punches this in?
  • Wow, they actually got stopped. It’s like 4th and one inch.
  • Penn State gets the touchdown. Runner got hit in the backfield, but still managed to break the tackle and force his way into the end zone. Ohio State can’t tackle. Penn State is winning this game. Not a doubt in my mind.
  • You’re still soft up front, Ohio State. Just not as soft as you were last year.
  • And you could be down just 21-19 right now, but no. You had to go for it at the end of the first half instead of kicking the field goal and taking the lead.
  • Okay, what the hell is going on with this Fox broadcast? It goes touchdown, commercial, kickoff, commercial. Public service announcement to all sports fans: if you have the money and you have the space, buy multiple TVs and have like 3 or 4 of them going on Saturdays and Sundays. The commercials are simply out of control.
  • On that note, I’m also watching Notre Dame vs. Syracuse game and Notre Dame is on the road up 31-17. Notre Dame looks pretty good. In fact they’re handling Syracuse a lot better than Clemson did last week. And Clemson got that game at home while ND has to go to Syracuse. Notre Dame and Clemson play next week in Clemson. Should be a fun one. In fact, I’m already predicting Notre Dame to pull the upset.
  • Ryan Day has been preaching “toughness” nonstop this year. And yet the Ohio State team is not tough. They simply are not.
  • Teams take on the identity of their head coach, and Ryan Day is a finesse head coach, no matter how much he says the word toughness. It’s just ingrained.
  • Holy shit, Ohio State just marched down the field and scored on their very next possession. Two big passes from Stroud, one to Harrison and one to Egbuka. And then the passing opens up the run, and Treyveon Henderson runs like 35 yards untouched into the endzone for an easy touchdown.
  • Imagine that, running the normal offense… works?
  • I’m telling you: Ryan Day is just fucking around in this game.
  • Aaaaand Ohio State gets hosed by the refs on their two point conversion attempt. Penn State jumped offsides but the refs called false start on Ohio State, so the Buckeyes have to kick the XP. Go figure. Penn State magic.
  • Whoa, buddy. JT Tuimoloau for Ohio State comes up with yet another massive play, strip-sacking Sean Clifford. Dude is a monster on the edge. Having an absolutely incredible game. Like, single-handedly changing the game for Ohio State. Like, if they didn’t have him, they would have zero chance in this game.
  • Ohio State now has the ball at the Penn State 24.
  • Let’s see how Ryan Day manages to squander it.
  • Whoa, Ryan Day actually calls a good play! Cade Stover, the tight end, over the middle, wide-ass open, then just big boy rumbles to the endzone, breaking tackles the whole way. Holy smokes.
  • It felt like Penn State had driven a stake through Ohio State’s heart with that touchdown on 4th and 1. And now it’s 30-21 Ohio State with the lead. A two-possession game.
  • I still don’t know if I trust the Ohio State defense to hold on to this lead. The run defense has been shaky, and the pass defense has been even shakier. Still over 8 minutes left to play in this game.
  • Kaytron Allen, 27 yard run. I had a feeling the Penn State was primed to bust off a big run.
  • Ohio State gets the stop, forces a field goal, which Penn State hits to make it 30-24. Let’s see if Ryan Day can actually dial up the correct plays to get the win here. A touchdown puts it out of reach, but what you really just need here is a long, methodical drive to pick up first downs and run out the clock. There’s just 5:49 remaining, and you cannot run the ball whatsoever. It’s going to be a challenge here.
  • Stroud, big pass over the middle to Marvin Harrison. Then sails one on a wide open Treyveon Henderson. That’s just bad. You stop the clock. Then Emeka Egbuka drops a surefire first down catch; ball was a little behind him, to be fair, but another absolutely killer miscue.
  • But Marvin Harrison Junior comes up big with the first down catch. Just a special, special player, man. 10 catches, 185 yards. Him and JT Tuimoloau are carrying Ohio State here. Marvin Harrison Jr. would be a top-5 NFL draft pick if he were eligible in 2023, but he has to be in college next year, too. Dude is insane.
  • Another Treyveon Henderson run tackled for a loss. They literally can’t get a yard on the ground. I feel like it’s not Henderson’s fault; the line just isn’t opening up anything for him.
  • Emeka Egbuka with a huge 42-yard catch down to inside the Penn State 5 yard line. Beautiful throw by Stroud.
  • CJ Stroud is unreal. He can complete that pass, and then fail to get the snap off for a delay of game on the next play. I am just in disbelief at how poorly coached this Ohio State offense is. Ryan Day has no idea what he’s doing.
  • And yet, the overwhelming talent of Ohio State bails his ass out. Treyveon Henderson runs it in for an easy touchdown. Wow, they ran it from the I-formation?!?!? It wasn’t a stupid-ass toss play with no hope? Unbelievable that you can run the ball successfully with multiple NFL players on your offensive line if you just call decent plays.
  • Unreal: JT Tuimoloau with a pick six on the ensuing Penn State drive. Right off the bat. Incredible. It is now 44-24, Ohio State with the lead. They have scored 28 points in like 6 minutes.
  • Penn State adds a late garbage time touchdown to make it 44-31. But this one is well in hand.
  • What a turn of events there. Wow.

I am not going to allow myself to get fooled by this 4th quarter scoring explosion by Ohio State, though.

This is not a National Championship team.

They will not beat Michigan if they play this way. You cannot play like garbage on offense for three quarters and expect to win a National Championship.

You cannot have the worst run game in America and expect to win a National Championship.

Ohio State has no chance against Michigan, Georgia or Tennessee, and I think even Bama would beat them. And you know how little I think of Bama this year.

Ryan Day after the game will say something about how they have to “clean a few things up” on offense, but it’s him who needs to clean some things up.

It’s all on him. He is the playcaller, and the playcalling is not good. He is allergic to good old fashioned power running, and he would rather run screen passes for no yards than throw downfield to his generational wide receiver.

He needs to give up playcalling while this team still has a chance.

His team’s superior talent bailed him out here. They saved him from himself today. He tried to lose that game, but all the 5-star talents on that roster bailed him out.

For his team’s sake, and while they are still undefeated and in control of their own destiny, he needs to either give up playcalling, or rethink the entire run game. It would be a terrible thing if he squanders this team’s shot at a National Championship due to his stubborn playcalling.


After having some time to think on it, maybe I was being a little too harsh on Ohio State and Ryan Day specifically. After all, they went into Happy Valley and won by 13 points.

Excluding the Covid year where the stadiums were empty, this is the largest margin of victory Ohio State has had over Penn State in Happy Valley since 2012, when Penn State was just coming off the Sandusky scandal. Penn State always plays OSU extremely tough, especially in State College. Excluding the 2020 game, the prior three meetings at Penn State (2018, 2016, 2014) were decided by a total of 5 points, and one of them was a Penn State win.

Penn State is a good team, they were at home, they have a one of the best home field crowds in America, and they were desperate. They were fighting for their season. They’d already lost in embarrassing fashion to Michigan on the road, and were out to prove that game was a fluke. Ohio State was always going to get their best shot possible; Penn State threw the kitchen sink.

I predicted a final score of 34-20 Ohio State, and the actual final score of 44-31 was a very similar margin. If you would’ve told someone before the game that Ohio State would win 44-31, and it would only be that close because Penn State added a late touchdown in garbage time, I don’t think anyone would’ve been surprised. I think that’s about what most people would’ve expected. And yet if you actually watched the game, it played out very differently from how most people (excluding die-hard Penn State fans) would’ve expected.

When you look at the stats, Ohio State wasn’t actually that bad other than running the ball.

They racked up 452 yards on 60 plays, or 7.5 yards per play. That’s pretty damn good.

CJ Stroud’s passing numbers were actually phenomenal. 26/33 passing, 354 yards, one TD and no INTs. He just had the one fumble before halftime, but I blame that on Day for putting him in that situation to begin with.

Stroud had tons of clutch throws, many of them to Marvin Harrison, but particularly that one deep shot to Egbuka. I don’t know how he didn’t get Heisman buzz for that performance, but that was a Heisman moment for sure. I mean, his team couldn’t run the ball and he still went 26/33 passing for 354 yards to lead his team to a huge win on the road against a ranked team. He was absolutely sensational in that fourth quarter with the game on the line. That was a do-or-die moment for him, and he came up huge. We shouldn’t let him get overshadowed here.

But still, I think the real takeaway from that game is that they can lean on their defense in big moments. Their defense is no longer the liability, the weak link. It’s a strength now. So if you look at it from this perspective, one where they do not need to have the most elite, efficient and unstoppable offense from sea to shining sea, then I guess you can come away from that Penn State game optimistic: your offense didn’t have its best day, and still you were able to win comfortably because you have a defense that is capable of getting stops, creating turnovers, and even scoring points.

JT Tuimoloau in particular had one of the greatest defensive performances I’ve ever seen a college football player have. For one thing, he’s a defensive end who had 2 interceptions in a game. That’s just insane right there. But he also had sacks, he had a forced fumble, he was blowing up the pocket–it was sheer dominance. Ohio State’s defense had four takeaways and he caused all four of them. The first pick they got on Clifford, he was the one who tipped the ball that Zach Harrison was able to pick off. When you talk about a bona fide game wrecker, that’s what he was in that game.

He was the #1 recruit in the nation in 2021, and now he’s showing why. He was also recruited to Ohio State to play basketball, and while he’s chosen football, you can clearly see the athleticism that he derives from his basketball background.

He is an absolute freak athlete, and he definitely has the potential to achieve his dream, which he says is to be the first Samoan player ever drafted first overall. He won’t be draft-eligible until 2024, but when that time comes, if he continues developing like this, he absolutely could do it. He’s a game-wrecker. And his emergence on that Ohio State defense has the potential to make them very scary. He’s the next great Ohio State defensive end, following up the Bosas and Chase Young, and then Cam Heyward before all of them. Can’t say enough about how great he was.

And so with a defense like this, maybe it’s not quite as imperative that you score touchdowns every time you’re in the red zone. Obviously you’d prefer it, but let’s be real: the reason we’ve all been in agreement that Ohio State’s biggest weakness is their red zone offense is because we understood they were not a team that could beat elite competition kicking field goals. We assumed their defense was going to give up massive points, and that if Ohio State kicked field goals, they’d fall irrevocably behind.

Perhaps now that’s not the case. Their defense gives their offense room for error. They are not going to have to beat the Michigans and Georgias and Tennessees and Alabamas 49-45. Maybe they can now win those games 28-24 or something like that.

But still, I can’t shake the feeling that this game against Penn State shouldn’t have been as close as it was in the 4th quarter. The Ohio State offense had mustered just 16 points through over 50 minutes of game time, and it felt like it was primarily due to head-scratching offensive playcalling and a terribly designed run scheme.

Their run blocking was bad, yet it’s not because they’re incapable of holding up against good teams. It’s that they just can’t execute. They have tons of talent on their line. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be much better than they are running the ball.

So I think it was a coaching issue, a scheme issue. It’s not a talent issue. It’s not like they’re getting bullied by teams with superior talent. It’s not as if they’re just too small, or not athletic enough, or not strong enough.

Right? Normally when a team gets dominated at the line of scrimmage it’s because they’re just outmatched in terms of talent. But that’s not the case with Ohio State. They have the #2 rated offensive tackle in the draft in Paris Johnson, while Dawand Jones comes in at #15. Luke Wypler is rated as the #3 center in the draft class.

Are they not being taught how to run block? Are they just not picking up the scheme? I don’t get it. There are NFL players all over the place and literally cannot create any push at all in the run game. They’re great in pass protection, but in run blocking, they legitimately might be the worst in the FBS.

I don’t get it at all. I really don’t. Maybe they’re weak at guard. But if that’s the case then why can’t they run outside?

I think it’s correctable. It’s not as if their players are incapable of run blocking. There is enough talent on that roster where they should be able to pick this up. It’s not as if they forgot to recruit anyone who could run block.

And they’ve shown the ability to run the ball well this season! They ran well against Notre Dame (172 rush yards on 4.9YPC), Wisconsin (281 rush yds, 10.4 YPC!), and Michigan State (237 rush yds on 5.2 YPC).

It was just against Iowa that they ran into a brick wall in the run game. And then Penn State, similar story, although Henderson was able to bust off that big run towards the end and have some success late once the passing game had taken the top off the defense.

It’s possible it was just a matter of Penn State copying the Iowa defensive gameplan. I think that’s what they did. And Iowa really sold out against the run—in other words, stacking the box and sending more defenders than there are blockers.

Doesn’t matter how much talent you have–if you have 6 blockers and you are running into an 8 man box, you are probably not going to have much success running the ball. And this happened more than a few times.

That’s on the playcalling. That’s stubbornness, insisting on running the ball into stacked boxes. That’s not taking what the defense is giving you. Maybe Ryan Day is so confident in his team’s talent that he believes any play he calls will work.

But while the problem should be correctable given that it’s not a personnel deficiency, that doesn’t mean it’s not a major concern. A team that can’t run the ball is in serious trouble.

I just want to make sure you people understand just how pathetically awful Ohio State’s run game has been the past two weeks.

I want to put things in context here.

According to Joel Klatt, who called both the Iowa and Penn State games for Ohio State, if you exclude the 4th quarter of the Penn State game, in seven quarters, Ohio State ran the ball 49 times for 2.1 yards per carry.

2.1.

That’s atrocious.

2.1 yards per carry on 49 carries.

Do you know how bad that is?

Boston College is the worst rushing team in the FBS. They’re ranked 131 out of 131.

Guess how many yards per carry they average?

2.3.

So Ohio State’s rushing attack in 7 quarters against Iowa and Penn State was by far the worst in the FBS.

By far.

You’re not winning a Championship that way.

That’s why I’m making such a big deal about this.

They have NFL talent all over the place and somehow have turned into literally the worst rushing team in the FBS.

That has to be on the coaching and playcalling, right? There can’t be any other explanation for it.

Because the alternative is that even teams like Boston College and Akron and Colorado State have better talent on their offensive line. And we know that’s not the case.

The next three weeks Ohio State plays Northwestern, Indiana and Maryland. After that it’s the Michigan game. They have 3 weeks to figure out how to run the football. And they have three weeks to figure out how to run the football, and how to seal off the edge on screen plays (or just stop calling for them).

I think Ohio State should refuse to call a pass play at all against Northwestern. Tell the team all week: we’re not throwing the ball at all here, so if we can’t figure out how to run the ball we’re going to lose.

I’m only half kidding.

In all honesty, they should just embrace the fact that they’re a pass-first vertical team. Stop stubbornly trying to run the ball into stacked boxes. I know you’re Ohio State and you’re supremely talented, but 6 blockers vs. 8 defenders is not going to work out in your favor, especially not against legitimate teams like Iowa and Penn State.

Use the pass to open up the run. Run the ball as a change of pace, or use your running backs primarily as check down options, kind of like how 2019 LSU’s offense worked. On that LSU team, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the main running back and he only had 215 rushing attempts over 15 games, or 14.3 per game. However, he did have 55 receptions that season, or 3.7 per game. His 1414 total rush yards figure is good, but in a 15 game season it was less than 100 yards per game on average. That’s low for a big time college football team. But 2019 LSU just wasn’t a running football team: CEH had 215 carries on the season while Burrow had 527 pass attempts. That LSU team was skewed heavily towards the passing game.

Ohio State can be that way as well if they choose to be. I know it’s a bit different since they play in the north, but there is really only one game they have left that could require them to run the ball against the elements, and that’s the Michigan game. After that, the Big Ten Championship game is indoors.

And honestly the Michigan game hinges more on stopping the run than establishing it. Way more, I’d say. If they can contain the Michigan run game, they win easily.


Let’s look at a few plays from this game to see if we can diagnose some of the issues that held back the Ohio State offense.

This is a third down from early in the game where Ohio State ran a screen pass to Egbuka:

It got blown up for no gain. But you can see that Ohio State had two blockers out there against three defenders. I know you expect your ball carrier to make a man miss, but that’s probably not going to happen against a team like Penn State that has legitimate athletes that can go toe-to-toe with you.

Ohio State then attempted a 53 yard field goal on 4th and 6, which I thought was a poor decision. You’re on their 35, just go for it on 4th down there. 53 yards is a really long field goal for a college kicker.

This play, they had 5 blockers against 6 defenders. The blocking wasn’t good to begin with, but you’re just not going to win that play when you’re outnumbered like that:

It’s just not a very well-designed play in my view.

Compare that to how Michigan was running the ball against Penn State a couple of weeks ago. It’s a third and short situation, and you can see that Penn State has 9 in the box, expecting the run. Michigan has an 8 man line, and they’re able to get everyone blocked because the 9th guy for Penn State (the linebacker, number 8 up at the top of the screen) is there to seal off the long side of the field, while the run goes to the short side.

It’s no mystery why this play worked: Michigan had enough blockers to take care of all the defenders.

And that was a consistent theme throughout the game.

When Michigan runs, they commit to the run. They’re honest about it: they line up 7-8 guys to make sure they have all the defenders accounted for. They don’t try to pull a fast one on you with their run plays–they’re not surprises. They run the ball with intent and purpose.

Ohio State, for some reason, believes they can run the ball even when they’re outnumbered up front. They use the run game mainly to try to pull a fast one on you, it seems like. They feel like they can have success on run plays just through the element of surprise alone, but it doesn’t work against defenses like Iowa and Penn State.

Here’s a run play by Ohio State that actually did work–one of the few outside of the 4th quarter–and it’s not difficult to see why it worked: because they had enough blockers to account for all the defenders:

Penn State is respecting the pass because it’s 2nd and short, so they don’t load up the box. Ohio State has 6 on the line against a 6 man box, and the play is successful. It’s well-blocked, and Henderson is able to get into the secondary for extra yards.

When you put your running backs in position to succeed, they succeed. But I feel like in general, Ohio State doesn’t do a good job of this. They are not really all that committed to running the ball. It’s like they only run to try to catch you off guard. They run a lot from passing formations, or they try to get cute and run outside zone/stretch plays instead of just straight up the gut. They don’t call a whole lot of power runs.

They need to rethink their whole approach to running the football, because it feels like they’re half-assing it most of the time.

I could be completely wrong here, and someone who knows football better than I do could call me out, but I feel like Ohio State often tries to run the ball from passing formations, instead of running the ball from run formations. And thus it’s a lot easier for teams to stop the run if they’re already blitzing.

Commit to power running. Accept the fact that you are not going to be able to run the ball with 6 blockers against a stacked box. If you’re going to run it, run it with conviction. You are Ohio State. You have NFL players everywhere. You should be able to line up with the other team expecting a run and still be able to run it. You should be able to overpower the other team consistently.

The only way you have a chance of doing that is by ensuring you have enough blockers to take care of all the defenders. There’s no way around this when you’re playing high quality opponents. You may be able to get away with it against lesser teams, but not teams like Iowa and Penn State–and definitely not teams like Michigan, Georgia and Alabama. It’s just not possible.

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