Running the football was a struggle at times for the Ohio State Buckeyes last season. Statistically, that struggle didn’t seem like much of a struggle at all as J.K. Dobbins again eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and Mike Weber wound up just 46 yards shy of doing the same.
But despite what the stats suggested, it was hard to argue the Ohio State running attack simply wasn’t the dominant, overpowering attack the program has been accustomed to for decades. The explosive, chunk-yardage runs weren’t there, and often times the short-yardage situations produced frustrating results.
While it’s only been three games, all of which have been against overwhelmed opponents, it appears the 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes are well on their way to re-establishing their dominance on the ground.
Ohio State ran for a season-best 306 yards in last week’s win at Indiana, a week after running for 270 yards against Cincinnati. They have totaled at least 235 yards rushing in all three games this season, and Saturday’s game against Miami will almost certainly run that streak to four games to start the season.
It helps that Dobbins came into this season hungry after a junior season he repeatedly called poor by his own standards throughout the offseason. Having a quarterback in Justin Fields, who is also a threat to burn defenses with his feet, is certainly beneficial as well, as defenses are often a step slower in diagnosing where the ball is going.
But like any running game, effective or not, it all starts up front with the offensive line, and that’s where Ohio State’s running game has taken off in 2019.
Despite having to replace four of five starters from last year’s unit, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa has found a successful recipe in guards Jonah Jackson and Wyatt Davis, center Josh Myers, and tackles Brandon Bowen and lone returning starter Thayer Munford.
Bowen started six games at right guard in 2017 before suffering a broken leg that kept him sidelined for nearly two years, and Jackson started 11 games at Rutgers last season before coming to Ohio State as a graduate transfer.
Each member of that starting group has graded out as champions following every game thus far, which says everything about how the coaching staff feels about the play of the offensive line early on.
“It’s kind of been a cool thing with all of us grading out as champions … It’s cool to think that we’re all executing at a high level, and if we continue on this path, we could be something really special,” Davis said.
Davis said there has been an emphasis since the beginning of camp on being a physically dominant unit and finishing blocks, which is often the difference between plays gaining moderate yardage and plays potentially going for big yardage.
“We wanted to change the culture, the assumptions people were already making about us before the season even started,” Davis said.
He said of finishing blocks, “I feel like the Indiana game we did a good job of (holding our blocks longer), and that’s why you were able to see some of those huge, breakout runs by J.K. and Master Teague.”
Of all the new starters along the offensive line, Myers was the lone player to have never started a game at the college level coming into the season. Myers said he has learned a “tremendous amount” about himself through his first three starts, admitting there were some nerves during his first start.
Now, with every start he adds, Myers is becoming more comfortable as the starting center at Ohio State, which bodes well for the continued recent tradition of strong center play and, ultimately, the overall play of the unit.
“Now, I’m just playing ball with my boys,” Myers said. “Now, you can just drown all the outside noise out and have fun.”
Of the team’s success running the ball so far, he said, “I think we strive to be the best in the country at run blocking because if you can create that movement and open up the run game like that, everything else opens up.”
The talent and opposition will soon ramp up as the Big Ten schedule opens up next week. Whether the dominant Ohio State run game holds up against elite run defenses remains to be seen, but that’s no matter this week because the focus remains on the task at hand.
“We’re doing our best to not look ahead and focus on what we can control right now,” Myers said when asked about the run defenses of Wisconsin and Michigan State. “And I think that’s just working every week … and, really, just staying fresh on our run game and constantly working on it.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.