In Ohio State’s final three games last season the Buckeyes scored 10 touchdowns in the red zone in 14 chances.
They added field goals on three of their other four red zone opportunities against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon and, of course, Ohio State won all three games on its way to a national title. After that run, the Buckeyes were named the unanimous preseason No. 1, but things didn’t start off quite as fast on offense.
The Buckeyes are 5-0, but have scored just six touchdowns in 16 trips to the red zone, including none in three tries against Indiana. Instead Ohio State settled for two field goals and a missed field goal in its Big Ten opener.
That prompted the Buckeyes to work more than normal on red zone offense this week in practice as they prepare for Saturday’s homecoming matchup against Maryland, head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday.
“That’s got to be a strength,” Meyer added, though he noted there hasn’t been a final decision on whether or not to play J.T. Barrett once the team enters the red zone.
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who scored three touchdowns against Indiana from well beyond the red zone, confirmed the Buckeyes are focusing more on red zone offense in practice, and added that he feels a breakthrough might be coming soon.
Elliott, who scored on runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards against the Hoosiers, said it simply comes down to executing the same plays that are already being run in the red zone.
“Just kind of more reps in practice and the more we practice it the more we’re gonna execute,” Elliott said Wednesday. “Once we start executing, it’s not like we’re getting bad looks, we just gotta make the plays honestly.”
Meyer noted that the 2014 matchup against Maryland — 52-24 Ohio State win — was a turning point on the season, and it included four touchdowns and a field goal in seven trips to the red zone.
Beyond that game and the postseason, red zone play was a strength for the 2014 Buckeyes with both Cardale Jones and Barrett in at quarterback. Now Meyer is tasked with fixing his team’s slow offensive start, but Buckeye fans might just have to wait until Saturday to find out if those plans include Barrett, or if Elliott’s style of simple execution will do the trick.