Buckeyes Sputtering In Red Zone

Ohio State's offense has been one of the best in the country so far this season, but once the Buckeyes get inside their opponent's 20 yard-line they come back down to earth.

After the Kent State game I took a look at which Ohio State players might emerge as red zone threats this season. While there are still plenty of viable candidates to fill that role, two games later and with an open week looming it seems like a good time to examine the red zone offense as a whole.

The Buckeyes are 4-1 through five games and the offensive numbers, especially over the last three games, have been stellar. The Buckeyes are putting up 524 yards of offense a game, good for 15th in the country, while Barrett’s 17 touchdowns are fifth in the country. Ohio State is scoring at the seventh best clip in the country with 44.6 points per game. The red zone results, however, don’t line up with the overall success.

Ohio State is getting into the red zone with the best in the country, crossing their opponents 20 yard-line 5.6 times a game, good for fifth in the country. In those 28 trips, however, the Buckeyes have notched just 19 touchdowns and four field goals. They’ve missed one field goal, turned the ball over on downs twice and tossed two interceptions.

Those struggles were highlighted in the 52-24 win over Maryland when Ohio State turned the ball over on downs twice inside the Terps’ 3 yard-line.

“I was discouraged by the fact that we didn’t punch the ball in the red zone a few times,” Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator Tom Herman said after the Maryland game. “We’ve certainly got some things to work on in that area of our game, which we’ve been so dominant in the last couple of years. I’m pleased with the progress, pleased with the direction but certainly not satisfied or impressed.”

The Buckeyes were impressive in the red zone last year as their numbers there more clearly mirrored their overall offensive success. In 2013 Ohio State was fifth in the country in red zone scoring percentage, putting up points in 60 of their 63 attempts. They scored 53 touchdowns, reaching the end zone on over 84 percent of red zone trips to lead the country.

This season it hasn’t been as good. The Buckeyes scoring percentage of 82 percent in the red zone is 70th in the country. They’ve scored touchdowns on just under 68 percent of their red zone trips, just 44th in the country.

In 64 plays in the red zone this season Ohio State has ran the ball 38 times and called 26 pass plays. Those runs have gone for 104 yards and nine touchdowns, gaining just 2.74 yards a carry. Threw the air, meanwhile, Ohio State has completed 16 of 25 passes for 143 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. J.T. Barrett was also sacked once for a loss of seven yards.

The Buckeyes, it seems, have not figured out the best play-calling options inside the 20.

“I called some questionable plays based on the looks thinking we could just plow our way in, and we didn’t,” Herman said. “They had guys in the right gaps and defended us well. They were trying to force us to throw the football down there, and when we did we were successful. Towards the end it was probably not the most prudent thing to do to throw the football so we were trying to cram it in to a bad look, and that’s my fault.”

Picking apart the Buckeyes mediocre red zone offense – at least compared to their overall offensive output – may be overly critical, but at some point this season Ohio State will face a must-score situation in the red zone. They’ve been successful getting into the end zone from distance, the average touchdown toss from Barrett has gone for over 26 yards this season, but at some point the Buckeyes will have to prove their mettle when the field gets smaller.

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