It’s Sunday, Oct. 21, just a day after one of the worst showings in the history of Ohio State football history. The Buckeyes were embarrassed the night before by a mediocre Purdue team, and took a thorough whooping on both sides of the ball, though much of the anger is directed towards the defense, which allowed 49 points in the beat down.
The offense, however, is not without blame, for one of the few times all season. You see, a Heisman-caliber quarterback and an offensive coordinator like Ryan Day have a bit of a masking impact to them. Their success can cover for weaknesses in a group as a whole, and for much of Ohio State’s season, they did just that. There were times — like against Minnesota and Michigan State — where the offense struggled, but the focus was rarely on them because of how badly the defense played all of the time.
Because of that mask, on Jan. 2, when Day officially took over for Urban Meyer, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa knew that he was probably safe, despite his struggles in his three years with Ohio State. He knew that even though the friend who hired him was gone, he had been saved by an elite quarterback that he was able to mostly keep upright.
He also knew that Dwayne Haskins was a few months out from being in the NFL, and that another season like 2018 from the offensive line would spell the end of his tenure in Columbus.
When I say “another season like 2018” I think it’s important to illustrate exactly what I mean by that. Was Ohio State’s line awful? No, not by any means. There were some legitimately good games from the group, like the showing against Michigan, and the amount of talent up front was able to give Haskins a fairly clean pocket for most of the season.
The struggles, however, were not with the passing game. Ohio State’s offense wanted to pass, and that meant a shift in focus for the offensive line. That shift went pretty well, all things considered, and the passing game thrived thanks in part to that successful transition up front.
The struggles were with the rushing attack. Chalk it up to the lack of a rushing threat at quarterback, a lackluster season from J.K. Dobbins, or whatever you want, but the truth of the matter is that Ohio State’s offensive line struggled all year in rush blocking. They struggled to open up holes consistently, almost never created gaps for big plays, and allowed a less than stellar 21.7% stuff rate, good enough for 105th in the country. Not great.
That’s the kind of thing that Studrawa cannot afford a repeat performance of. His 2019 security blankets are retired and/or off the the NFL, respectively, and Ohio State is going to need a much better rushing attack in 2019. Justin Fields is good, and has a massive ceiling, but he’s not going to be Haskins right away. He will need Dobbins to start off hot and get back to about six yards per carry in order to keep heat off of the passing attack, clear up running lanes for Fields on the outside, and most importantly, establish some confidence for the new faces up front.
That last point, new faces, may be the most concerning phrase imaginable for Studrawa right now. Ohio State has four new starters up front this year. That’s a whole lot of uncertainty, and while Rutgers transfer guard Jonah Jackson can help make things a little easier, the only returning starter from last year is tackle Thayer Munford. Michael Jordan, Isaiah Prince, Demetrius Knox and Malcolm Pridgeon have all moved on, and whatever you may think of them, they were certainly more proven than their likely replacements.
So, who are those likely replacements, and can they save Studrawa’s job?
Well, outside of Munford at left tackle, the new starters seem to be fairly obvious. We know that Josh Myers is playing at center, and Jonah Jackson is playing left guard. We’re pretty sure that Branden Bowen is taking over at the other tackle spot, and Wyatt Davis is at guard next to him. We also know that Joshua Alabi, Harry Miller, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Gavin Cupp are reportedly ready if called upon.
That, on paper, looks like a pretty good group. It also looks like a group with a whole lot more depth than we saw last year, and a group that can run-block much better than what we saw last year. They’ll certainly need improvement in that department, because Ohio State will almost surely be far more run-dependent in the early stages of Justin Fields’ tenure than they ever were in 2018.
That means that players like Myers and Davis, both first time starters, will need to be developed and ready to handle a full workload paving the way up the middle. It means that Bowen and Munford will be fully prepared to return off of injuries, and that Jackson — a 2018 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention — will be completely up to speed with his new offense. All of that comes back to Coach Stud.
If Ohio State’s running attack improves, Fields can stay up right, and Dobbins returns to form, Studrawa likely saves his job and buys himself some security moving forward. The talent is there for that exact result, if Studrawa is up to the task.
If the Buckeyes, however, still can’t run, or fall off in the passing department, it’s hard to imagine Day having much patience for a coach that he didn’t hire, with struggles in both recruiting and on the field coaching.
Let’s hope for everyone’s sake, that’s a scenario that we don’t have to see unfold.