COLUMBUS – Halfway through the college football regular season, Ohio State is still searching for answers.
The most notable questions occupying the Buckeyes’ attention are their running game, especially in short yardage situations, and pass defense.
“We, as coaches and players, have to do a better job of executing the run game. That’s the weakness of our team right now, balance on offense, and pass defense,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said at his weekly press conference on Monday.
That search for answers will continue when No. 3 OSU (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) plays Minnesota (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for the fourth time in six weeks after throwing for 455 yards and six touchdowns in a 49-26 win over Indiana, leads the country with 25 touchdown passes. But, unlike many of Meyer’s previous quarterbacks, he does not run well.
The running game has become enough of an issue that Meyer said the possibility of working back-up quarterback Tate Martell, who does run well, into the offense has been discussed more than a few times in the coaches’ offices.
“There has been and there continues to be that conversation. Tate is a very dynamic player and those are questions we have every two hours,” Meyer said.
Ohio State fans got a look at how Meyer used a running quarterback along with a passing quarterback when his 2006 Florida team dominated OSU 41-14 in the BCS national championship game.
Starter Chris Leak threw the ball 36 times in that game and his back-up, Tim Tebow as a freshman, came in to run the ball 10 times for 39 yards and a touchdown and threw one pass.
Ohio State ranks first in the Big Ten in passing offense at 364.7 yards a game but is fifth in rushing at 201.0 yards a game. Maybe more concerning is that OSU has averaged only 3.2 yards a carry the last two weeks against Indiana and Penn State.
After consistently naming offensive linemen as “champions” the rest of the season, Meyer did not include anyone from the offensive line among the group winning that designation from the offensive coaching staff after the Indiana game.
“We had five (offensive line) champions for several weeks in a row. This week we didn’t play particularly well. In protection they’re very good. We’ve got to get back to more balance. We’ve been saying that and we’re going to work on that again this week,” Meyer said.
Asked about the possibility of changes in Ohio State’s approach to pass defense, which is to play man-to-man pressure defense on receivers, Meyer said, “Press coverage is very hard. We want to challenge every throw. We’ve had some excellent corners around here, I believe we have excellent corners now.
“It’s a skill that requires an incredible amount of work. When you’re good, it’s great. In press coverage you disrupt passes constantly. That takes a lot of work. It’s something we obviously believe in and will continue to believe in as long as we can. Its a skill set that is very difficult. The risk-reward is that once you get great at that you’re playing great defense,” he said.
– PURDUE AT NIGHT: Ohio State’s game at Purdue on Oct. 20 will kick off at 7:30 p.m., on ABC-TV.
– INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Malik Harrison and defensive end Jonathan Cooper left last Saturday night’s game against Indiana with unspecified injuries. Their status is still being evaluated.
“They’re much better today. We’ll probably know more later today (Monday) or Tuesday,” Meyer said.
Meyer went to his knees late in last Saturday night’s game because of headache pain. He has had similar situations in the past and had surgery for a cyst on his brain before he got to Ohio State.
“I’ve been dealing with the cyst for many years and we had the surgery several years ago. When it does take place they give me some medicine. I feel fine now. It’s just something I have to monitor,” he said.
Also, Meyer said there is “a chance” offensive lineman Branden Bowen could return this season despite having surgery in early September. “He’s close,” Meyer said.
Bowen was a starter on the offensive line last season before suffering two broken bones in his leg in the sixth game of the season. The surgery in September was his third since the injury.
– APPLAUSE FOR HARTLINE: Meyer said he is impressed with the job Brian Hartline has done as OSU’s receivers coach since taking over when Zach Smith was fired in late July.
“He’s been great. He’s learning on the run still, doing some great things. They (Ohio State’s receivers) are playing very well,” Meyer said.
Asked if Hartline could get the job next season, he said, “Oh, he sure could.”