COLUMBUS — In the wake of a turbulent 21-7 win over Northwestern on Saturday, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day met with the media on Tuesday and offered his final thoughts on the victory while also looking ahead to Saturday’s matchup with the Indiana Hoosiers.
While the extreme weather conditions, which featured wind gusts ranging from 30-60 mph throughout the game, didn’t do the Ohio State offense any favors in effectively negating its prolific passing game, the struggles in the run game once again took center stage after the game.
Ohio State was limited to just 207 rushing yards on a day on which it was the only option to move the ball, and it was limited by a Northwestern defense that had just surrendered 257 rushing yards to Maryland two weeks prior. Given the conditions, Northwestern was routinely able to stack the box to slow down the one-dimensional Ohio State offense, but Day said on Tuesday the lack of a dominant rushing attack had more to do with his own team’s lack of execution than the conditions.
“I think we all need to do better … Going back and watching the film, we gotta block better, we gotta run better, and we have to try and do a better job of equating numbers,” Day said. “All of the above because certainly in games where they know you’re going to run it, you have to come up with answers. But just moving forward in general, we know we can do a better job. So, we’ll get back to work this week and get after it.”
Of course, last week’s lackluster ground performance cannot simply be explained away as a mere misstep given Ohio State’s struggles running the ball in the two weeks prior in wins over Iowa and Penn State. Running back depth has been tested in that stretch —and throughout the entire season —with both Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson missing time. Most problematic, however, has been the recent play of the offensive line, which has not fared particularly well at the line of scrimmage in any of the past three wins.
Day was asked on Tuesday about the potential for personnel changes up front in the weeks to come, particularly at guard, where Matthew Jones and Donovan Jackson have had their share of struggles. Although he was complimentary of the limited snaps Josh Fryar received on Saturday as part of Ohio State’s heavier packages, Day believes his starting five continues to be the best his team can offer to keep the offense moving.
“We’re always looking at that,” he said. “If there is a better guy or two who we can put on the field, we’ll do that. But right now, we feel like we’re playing the best five (offensive linemen).”
Perhaps one thing Day and Ohio State may have figured out on Saturday that could aid the run game is the element of using quarterback C.J. Stroud’s feet as a weapon. Stroud rushed six times for 79 yards against Northwestern out of pure necessity given the offense’s struggles and the conditions, and Day hinted Tuesday there may be more of it coming down the road.
“I think C.J. (Stroud) embraced (running), and you could see what he can do,” Day said. “I think it can be a weapon for us moving forward. Maybe we found a little something there. But that also has pluses and minuses as well.”
Stroud’s willingness to run remains to be seen moving forward, but don’t expect his legs to become a significant element of the Ohio State offense. For Ohio State to reach its goals, the traditional running will need to show significant improvement over the last three regular-season games of the season, a fact Day and his team knows all too well after those same struggles played a role in Ohio State’s downfall against Michigan a season ago.
Day went on to say, “At the end of the day, our running backs have to run. And our offensive line has to block, the tight ends have to block, the receivers have to be a part of it, whether it’s the perimeter run game with the bubble (screens) or coming down to block safeties. Everyone has to be involved with it, and we just have to execute better.”