After scoring 20 points in its victory over the Northern Illinois Huskies, the Ohio State football team convened Monday morning, and the recurring theme of the day was the team’s lackluster offense through three games this season.
Currently ranked 53rd in the nation in points per game, a lot of scrutiny in recent weeks has fallen on the offensive line, which coach Urban Meyer called a focal point of the OSU football program prior to the game against the Huskies.
Senior Taylor Decker, the starting left tackle and team captain, opened up on the offensive line on Saturday following the Buckeyes’ 20-13 victory.
“Everybody is going to play odd against us now, we’ve showed that we struggle against it. And that kind of takes away our double teams, which is what we like to do and run the ball up the middle,” Decker said.
Running the ball up the middle was junior running back Ezekiel Elliott’s signature play in 2014, but he has not looked like the same guy who rushed for over 200 yards in all three of OSU’s 2014 postseason victories.
The St. Louis native is averaging just 5.4 yards per carry, a full 1.5 yards less than last season. Remove his 80-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech on opening night and his average would drop to 4.1, which would rank 119th in the nation.
“You prepare for one defense and they come on another one,” Decker said. “When we double team we can move people and we can displace them. That odd defense, we just have to prepare for it better and have some better answers and just execute.”
Elliott was not the only player on the offensive side of the ball to struggle. Before being replaced by redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett in the second quarter, redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones was intercepted twice, completing only four passing attempts against the 80th-ranked Husky defense.
Decker said he feels part of the struggle of the offense can be placed on the performance of the offensive line, which he does not feel is playing up to its standard.
“It is very frustrating because I know we’re capable of executing much better. Our offense is being held back by us,” he said.
After calling Saturday’s game one of the “worst-executed” offensive performances since he arrived in Columbus, Meyer echoed Decker’s sentiment that the offensive line must improve.
“I’m not okay with five turnovers and lacking execution and not being able to control the line of scrimmage, because that’s a recipe for failure, at some point you’ll fail miserably,” Meyer said. “Turnovers, if you can’t control the line of scrimmage, you’re not going to win a big game. And those two things have to get fixed fast.”
On Monday, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash offered why he believes the offense is struggling.
“When you’re facing an offense like ours, they’re loaded with a talented group of offensive linemen and skilled players and quarterbacks, a lot of these teams feel like they probably have to do something different,” Ash said. “If somebody came out offensively against us defensively and did something completely different than what we’d prepared for, guess what, it’s going to be a bad day for the Buckeye defense, too.”
But on Monday, Meyer sounded more confident that the offense is well on its way to improvement.
“If you look historically what an Ohio State offense is for us, it’s control the line of scrimmage, best perimeter blocking in America, which we had last year, and a very good, solid play, action passing attack. That’s not what’s going on. So we’re going to get that fixed,” Meyer said. “I wish we were playing tomorrow.”
Meyer is not alone in his confidence that the Scarlet and Gray offense will turn the corner. After the game on Saturday, Decker maintained that the offense would round into form.
“At this time last year we weren’t playing at that level. Year-to-year we keep getting better and I have all the confidence in the world in our line,” Decker said.
Anxious to rectify the offense, the Buckeyes will look to support a top-ranked defense that has led them thus far during their undefeated season on Saturday when they are set to face Western Michigan at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.