J.K. Dobbins-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins is looking forward to a better season with the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Ohio State: Can Buckeyes get ground game back in high gear again?

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about the Ohio State rushing attack? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

Ohio State maybe didn’t know exactly what the entire bargain would entail last season on offense, but it’s highly unlikely that it wouldn’t make the deal again if it could. Emphasizing the passing attack, building around a generational quarterback and airing out the football with a talented, veteran group of wide receivers produced the most prolific scoring attack in the Big Ten and wound up rewriting the school record books. If it came at the expense of some yards on the ground, the Buckeyes could live with that.

Of course, there were times the tradeoff was probably more severe than Ohio State anticipated on the ground, particularly when it came to short-yardage situations. From a big-picture perspective, even with red-zone breakdowns in the loss at Purdue, that wasn’t really a fatal flaw for the Big Ten champions — particularly when compared with the worst statistical defense in school history. But the Buckeyes are making the ground game a bigger emphasis this spring anyway, and there are reasons to expect it will be much more reliable this season even without rocket-armed Dwayne Haskins around to keep defenses honest and with an offensive line in the middle of an overhaul.

For starters, if Justin Fields does wind up winning the quarterback job, Ohio State will again have a true dual-threat taking snaps. The Georgia transfer would prefer to use his arm instead of his legs, but when he does need to run, he has some jaw-dropping athleticism at his disposal. Forcing defenses to account for him in a backfield with J.K. Dobbins is certainly going to be a problem for opponents and open up opportunities to expand the offense as a whole.

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields could give the Buckeyes another weapon on the ground. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

As for Dobbins, he’s been upfront about owning his share of the blame based on the way he played last season, trying to do too much with the football at the expense of playing within the system while working in a timeshare with Mike Weber. Having seen on film where that got him and the problems that ultra-aggressive mindset created, Dobbins has returned with a refocused mindset this spring and appears to also be in top-notch shape heading into his junior season with the Buckeyes. Count that as another positive for the ground game.

And then there’s the offensive line. Even with Thayer Munford out with an injury and Jonah Jackson not yet on campus, Ohio State appears to be building a deeper, more versatile group this season. Honestly, the absences of those two projected starters might wind up being a silver lining for the Buckeyes as they get extra reps to build depth with guys like Branden Bowen and Nicholas Petit-Frere at tackle and Gavin Cupp at guard currently working with the first unit. There seemed to be a disconnect at times last year with the RPO blocking schemes Ohio State was using. And whether the coaching staff has learned from that and changed its approach, it simply needed a year to adjust or perhaps some combination of both, the Buckeyes appear to have enough talent to get the desired results up front.

As long as Ryan Day is around, Ohio State is going to want to throw the football. But there were reminders last season about the importance of still being able to complement that with effective rushing, and all signs are pointing to a bounce-back in that area for the Buckeyes moving forward.

Ryan Day evaluates Ohio State with two weeks left in spring
Watch this video on YouTube.

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