Ohio State Football: Buckeyes looking to get running game back to normal

Ohio State is 3-0 this season despite a running game Josh Myers described as “kind of weird.”

The Miamisburg product, who is in his second season as the starting center for the third-ranked Buckeyes, said running for more than 200 yards per game is a good thing, but he acknowledged wanting more.

“We do have mixed feelings on the running game right now,” Myers said. “It just could be prettier.”

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The Buckeyes are averaging 208.7 yards per game on the ground.

That is good for third in the Big Ten and 26th nationally but almost 60 yards less than they logged per contest last season.

Not that the Ohio State offense is struggling overall.

With quarterback Justin Fields and the passing game picking up most of the slack, the Buckeyes are averaging 511.3 total yards this season (about 18 yards less than ’19), and their scoring average of 46.3 points per game is nearly identical to last season’s 46.9.

If there is a number to worry about as far as the running game, it would be 4.8. That is the yards per carry this season, down from 6.0 a year ago.

“It could be better than it is, and I feel like in so many of the games it’s been so close to popping and it just hasn’t for various reasons,” Myers said. “It’s frustrating but also we’re moving the ball on the ground still so ‘mixed feelings’ is a good way of putting it.”

He also pointed out 2020 includes many differences from 2019.

Not only is 2,000-yard rusher J.K. Dobbins gone to the NFL, two starting offensive linemen had to be replaced as well.

Then there is the matter of the coronavirus pandemic. That robbed the Buckeyes of opportunities to create chemistry in the spring and reduced their practice time in pads in the fall.

A schedule consisting only of Big Ten games also elevated the learning curve for new starters Harry Miller and Nicholas Petit-Frere.

New right tackle Petit-Frère has graded out a champion in all three contests, and the coaching staff named him the offensive player of the Rutgers game, but Miller has had some ups and downs as the new left guard.

The latter includes being called for holding multiple times in the win over the Scarlet Knights, but no one is sounding the alarm the five-star sophomore yet.

“I think when you’re in year two, you can kind of get thrown into the fire a little bit,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “Most guys are going into year three like Nick and some of the guys. This is year two for Harry, so he’s learning, and that’s one of the things that I think really makes him have a chance to be a really good player is his ability to learn. He’s very, very intelligent.”

Myers, who sat for two years before entering the starting lineup last season, agreed most linemen make a big leap from year two to year three in the program.

He admitted he might have felt ready to play in his second year but conceded looking back now that might not have been the case.

“I thought, ‘If you throw me in there, I’ll get the job done,’” Myers said of his 2018 mindset after redshirting in 2017. "So I was definitely very much improved from my freshman year, but I think I still had a ways to go, which is why you didn’t see me on the field.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to be a young guy and a starter.”

While Myers and fellow third-year player/first-year starter Wyatt Davis had the luxury of breaking in against Florida Atlantic last season, that has not been the case this year with Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers presenting three different types of defenses and unique challenges.

“You can’t really replicate some of the defenses that we see on game day in practice,” Day said. “When we go against some of these other teams that played different styles and things that we’re not (doing), well then you have to learn from it and guys like (senior left tackle Thayer Munford) and Josh and Wyatt have a kind of like a Rolodex of plays in their brain and things to look back upon. When you’re new, you don’t.”

Myers confirmed he and Miller are still building personal chemistry on the field as well.

“A couple of things have happened, and those are things that we’re working to eliminate,” Myers said. "We’ll be just fine. We know what we have to work on, and we’ve been working on those things and just talking through it and making sure you.

“A big part of it is is when the game does come just relaxing and understanding what we’ve done to get to where we are and just making sure that we don’t get too too anxious, not wanting to try and kill somebody and not wanting to do too much. Just calming down and doing our job. That’s a big part of it.”

This week the challenge is undefeated Indiana.

The ninth-ranked Hoosiers' rise has caught much of college football off guard, but Myers said he saw them improving over the past couple of years.

“IU has been a good solid football program for a while now, and you could kind of see this coming where they would have a breakout year like this so I’m not really surprised to be honest,” Myers said.

“Even last year they had a lot of the tools that they needed to be really successful. They had a really good defensive scheme and good defensive players. Their offense I know struggled a little bit earlier last year, but later in the year they got it going so it just seems like they had a quicker start this year and they’re firing on all cylinders.”

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