The Buckeyes delivered another routine drubbing of Indiana in a 38-10 win on Saturday at the Horseshoe. Terrelle Pryor threw for a career-high 280 yards—in the first half. The Silver Bullet defense shut down Ben Chappell and a Hoosiers offense that had taken advantage of cardboard cutout defenses in their first four games.
So what’s missing as the No. 2 team in the country moves to 6-0? Only the foundation of a program that has won the fifth-most games in Division I football history: the running game.
In this case, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sure, the Buckeyes are averaging over five yards per rush. Top running back Dan Herron has gained 4.6 yards per carry.
But any realistic Buckeye fan that has watched can tell you that those rushing stats have been padded by a combination of garbage time runs, weak opposing defenses, and a number of home-run rushes. Not that there’s anything wrong with long runs, but in between there have been a lot of minimal gains, and we’re not even talking “three yards and a cloud of dust,” the preferred strategy of Woody Hayes.
Brandon Saine, who is listed alongside Herron as the No. 1 back on the depth chart, has shown that his value is in the passing game, as evidenced by his four catches and zero carries on Saturday.
Pryor, who was supposedly playing at 100 percent despite sustaining a quad strain last week, did not run the ball on Saturday (his three carries were all sacks). When just the threat of him running is taken away, it handicaps the overall running game even more.
Until Pryor proves he can run effectively again, Herron will have to carry the load. OSU has solid depth with young backs Jordan Hall, Jamaal Berry, and Carlos Hyde in the mix, but none of them have been handed the rock in significant situations this season.
The offensive line has been consistent in pass protection but has certainly been a part of the problem in the running game. The holes either haven’t been there, or the running backs are hesitating to hit them.
Jim Tressel, who became the fastest Buckeye head coach to 100 wins on Saturday, has shown the versatility to compose a high-octane passing attack, but the coach whose favorite play is the punt is no doubt pining for the running game to go with it. The Vest has stepped out of the comfortable conservatism of his normal play-calling, and the struggles in the running game are no small part of that.
The rushing attack is by no means a glaring hole in the team. I am nitpicking, but there will be a time this season when the running game will have to be effective. Whether it’s next Saturday at Wisconsin, November 20 at Iowa, or in their bowl game, OSU will find a time when their passing game is being shut down and they will need to run to win the game.
In fact, there was foreshadowing of this in the game at Illinois, when Herron was able to step up and help the Bucks hang on for the win. However, the stakes and the opponent will only get better, and that is when Ohio State may have to prove that the running game isn’t a weakness.