Seeking Sustenance

On their way to a 1-1 record Ohio State has hit some big plays, but has struggled to develop an offensive rhythm or manufacture many long drives.

Urban Meyer preaches the big play. He’s constantly looking for the player who can take a hand off or short pass for 80 yards or get behind defenses and strike over the top. Despite the disappointing .500 record, the Buckeyes have some of those big plays so far this season.

Devin Smith got behind everyone to haul in an 80-yard touchdown against Navy and notched a 58-yard reception against Virginia Tech. Dontre Wilson made a circus catch 40 yards down field against the Hokies while Michael Thomas turned a quick slant into a 53-yard score.

Those big plays are great, and Meyer and the Buckeyes want more of them, but there's something to be said for the ability to grind out drives and consistently get positive yards. In that regard the offense has fallen short this season.

“We’ve just got to get in a rhythm, that’s something we haven’t really been able to do,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “Virginia Tech stacking the box like that took us out of our game plan and we weren’t prepared for it so it’s hard to be consistent when you haven’t really worked on that during the week.”

As the sophomore tailback alluded to, some of the struggles have been a product of the opposing defenses. Navy brought their 3-4 front to M&T Bank Stadium while Virginia Tech played an aggressive bear front that put eight or nine Hokies in the box against Ohio State.

The result has been a series of abbreviated drives from the Buckeyes. In 23 drives over two games Ohio State has averaged just 5.3 plays and 34.6 yards a possession. Only one drive has lasted 10 or more plays with six going for eight or more yards (five of those came against the Midshipmen). Three of the 23 drives have gone for negative yards while the Buckeyes have suffered five three-and-outs with a sixth drive ending on an interception on the third play from scrimmage.

The only way to establish the rhythm Ohio State has been lacking, running back coach Stan Drayton said, is to hit those big plays and loosen up the defense.

“When an opponent throws a curveball at you, when you are seeing some things that are different, that force your base offense to make adjustments, you’ve got to make big plays,” he said Monday. “It’s not necessarily getting in a consistent rhythm, you’ve got to find a way to make a play, take a shot, get an explosive (play).

“Until you do those things, you may never really get into a rhythm. Come last Saturday we had to do some things that were a little unconventional. We had to have the mindset of taking shots to loosen up the defense a little bit. When we did we were able to get the run game moving a little bit. We just weren’t able to maintain that.”

Of Ohio State’s seven touchdowns this season, their most extended drive came against Navy, a 10-play, 80-yard march. The Buckeyes also managed one prolonged drive against the Hokies, a seven-play, 83-yard touchdown drive for their first score.

It is expected that Kent State will bring a more conventional defense into Ohio Stadium Saturday, which may help the Buckeyes sustain some drives and give the defense a longer break on the sidelines.

Thomas said that if the Golden Flashes, or any other opponent this season, bring in something unconventional, they’ll be able to build drives.

“I feel like everyone just took last week as a learning experience and knows that we have to produce to keep the offense moving,” he said. “We’ve got to beat man coverage, we’ve got to get open, lock hips and do the right things.

“I just trust in the coaches. The coaches will get it done and they’ll have us ready to go.”

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