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Ohio State red-zone offense making wrong kind of history for Urban Meyer

John Brice10/25/18
Mike Weber 2 by Birm:Lettermen Row

First in the Big Ten in scoring and yardage. Fourth among Power-5 schools, including second among those teams who already have logged eight games.

Consider that a helpful reminder that Ohio State’s offense, it turns out, does not stink despite a paltry 20-point output in last Saturday’s galling, 49-20 loss at Purdue.

It does, however, how plenty of room for improvement — most notably within the red zone.

“It’s glaringly obvious what the issues are,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday during the Big Ten teleconference. “They’re glaring, and that’s the red zone on offense. And the ability to run the ball when you have to run it.”

Ohio State’s red-zone scuffles could be largely explained away as it raced to a 7-0 start and No. 2 national ranking. They’re understandably magnified after five trips inside Purdue’s 20 yielded zero touchdowns last week and included three trips that yielded zero points.

In fact, a deeper dive into the Ohio State red-zone offense this year revealed the unit already has failed to score more times inside opponents’ 20-yard lines (nine through eight games) than it did throughout the entire 14-game 2017 campaign, when it scored on 61 of 68 trips.

Those red-zone impediments have been compounded by the aforementioned struggles in the running game. After 25 red-zone rushing touchdowns a year ago, the Buckeyes have mustered just 10 through eight games.

Moreover, in a Big Ten championship season that culminated with a win in the Cotton Bowl, the Buckeyes closed the year ranked 23rd nationally in red-zone scoring. They’ve plummeted to No. 116 two-thirds of the way through this season.

OSU ranks 69th nationally in rushing offense this year at 171.8 yards-per-game; that’s down 71 yards from a year ago, when the Buckeyes also averaged 5.78 yards per carry. This year has dipped to 4.36.

“This bye week is going to give us an opportunity to evaluate some schemes,” Meyer said. “There are other things we do very well. And there are things that we don’t.”

Dwayne Haskins is the nation’s passing leader, rewriting the OSU annals now on a weekly basis, and the Ohio State receiving corps likely has no equal in the college game — even with the Austin Mack injury. They’re scoring at elite levels.

Ohio State-Ryan Day-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day is leaving no stone unturned to fix the statistical problems for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Still, Meyer’s best squads have capitalized in the red zone. The Buckeyes scored on 87 percent of their trips in 2016, when 54 of 62 trips resulted in points. In 2014, they scored a whopping 53 red-zone touchdowns and on 63 of 74 trips.

After consecutive days off for players to open this bye week after the team’s first loss since last November at Iowa, the Buckeyes have returned to practice where finding solutions in the red zone has been emphasized. Meyer said he met Monday with offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson throughout a 12-hour session.

“Well, once again it’s very complicated just with personnel and what we’re seeing,” Meyer said. “And once again, I’ll know more [after the week]. … I know we’re going to work on the red zone the next three days straight.”

The red zone is where the field shrinks and windows tighten. In other words, it’s an area that now mirrors the margin for error for the Buckeyes for the rest of this season.