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How Ohio State’s Rushing Attack Finally Broke Through Against Cincinnati

The Buckeyes’ entire offense played some damn good assignment football on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Ohio State’s current starting running back J.K. Dobbins failed to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark and score a touchdown in the same game until the start of November. Locked in a timeshare with Mike Weber and stuck behind an offensive line that often couldn’t get out of its own way, Dobbins’ sophomore slump forced the Buckeyes to rely on their passing game perhaps more than they ever have in recent memory. The results manifested themselves in unsightly fashion throughout all of last season, with the most egregious of these offenses coming in their abhorrent loss to Purdue.

But 2019 is a new year, and if the Buckeyes’ performance last Saturday against Cincinnati is any indication of what’s to come, it seems the dog days are finally over for J.K. Dobbins and the rest of Ohio State’s rushing attack.

It bears repeating that merely a week prior, Cincinnati completely humiliated Chip Kelly and the entire UCLA offense in a somewhat stunning result to open their season. The Bearcats held their opponents to 1.7 rushing yards per carry on 36 carries, with only two of those attempts ending in sacks. Despite UCLA’s early season struggles, keeping any opponent bottled up to that extent for a full game is nothing short of extremely impressive.

Conversely, Ohio State’s performance against Florida Atlantic left much to be desired, particularly with respect to running the ball effectively. After the Buckeyes raced out to a four touchdown lead in the game’s opening nine minutes, an extended scoring drought followed that dragged on for quite some time. One of the major reasons for this was because Dobbins managed only 4.3 yards per carry on the day, and the longest Ohio State running play of the afternoon went for just 17 yards. It wasn’t necessarily a bad performance for Dobbins, but given the disparity in talent between squads, it’s fair to assume fans and the team alike expected more out of the Buckeye rushing offense.

Given all that context, Ohio State’s dominance over Cincinnati should be highly encouraging to all Buckeyes involved. Dobbins ripped off a 60 yard touchdown run on his way to a 141 yard performance that saw him average 8.3 yards per carry, and Master Teague III showed up in the 2nd half looking like a shiftier version of Carlos Hyde circa 2012. More importantly, all of the offensive lineman played in tremendous synchronization with one another, as each of them executed the team’s zone-heavy run scheme to perfection from first snap to last.

Against Florida Atlantic last week, we saw Ryan Day use a fairly even mix of zone blocking and power concepts in an attempt to get the rushing attack going. While Wyatt Davis and Branden Bowen held down the strong side of the line well, Jonah Jackson struggled immensely with his footwork when tasked with pulling on power runs, and Thayer Munford had some difficulties with knowing when and where to block beyond the line of scrimmage. Jackson’s struggles in particular helped the Florida Atlantic defense key on the directions the offensive guards were pulling — and therefore where the running plays were heading — which contributed to the Buckeye’s massive 30+ minute scoring drought.

Against Cincinnati, Ryan Day focused much more on establishing the Buckeyes’ zone rushing scheme, and the offensive line as a whole turned in a textbook performance. Jonah Jackson was particularly impressive after a lackluster showing the previous game, especially on Dobbins’ 60-yard touchdown run:

Despite Wyatt Davis being just a little late to getting to the next level and Jake Hausmann whiffing on his backside blocks, Jackson’s seal of the 3-4 Will linebacker on this play is so excellent that he ends up boxing out the Mike linebacker that was actually Davis’ responsibility. The Buckeyes were a tad fortunate that Cincinnati’s middle linebacker was a bit too late in reading the exchange between Justin Fields and Dobbins, but those moments of indecision are going to keep happening as long as Ohio State has a legitimate rushing threat at quarterback. Even for a defense as stingy as Cincinnati’s, a split-second of inaction can cost anybody in a game that usually comes down to mere inches.

Jonah Jackson continued to shine all game long as he consistently worked out of designed double teams to make blocks at the second level. Here’s another great example from later in the game that saw Jackson get off his initial block and launch the Will linebacker four yards downfield to clear an easy first down path for Teague. Had Teague cut and followed Jackson into the weakside hole this created, he would have had an even larger gain:

But the Buckeyes didn’t completely put their power concepts on the shelf, as Ryan Day did a great job of mixing up the blocking as the game progressed into run-down-the-clock mode. Wyatt Davis—still only a sophomore—may already have the best footwork on the entire offensive line, as he showcased on this inside run early in the 4th quarter:

Davis picked up a blitzing linebacker in the weakside C-gap without having to turn his shoulders away from parallel to the line of scrimmage. That is an unbelievably high-level block for any offensive lineman to pull off, and his execution allowed Teague to rumble ahead for an 11 yard gain that put the Buckeyes back in the red zone once again. Davis has already showcased a knack for getting into position and aggressively sealing off his run blocking assignments, and it will be interesting to see how his early season success translates into conference play as the year unfolds.

But perhaps the best run blocking of the game came on Fields’ second touchdown run late in the 3rd quarter. After Teague got stuffed up the middle on the previous play, Day called a quarterback run to the short side of the field with Cincinnati’s goal line defense aligned towards taking away the opposite end:

Thayer Munford and J.K. Dobbins delivered two devastating blocks here, as Munford absolutely devoured Cincinnati’s Will linebacker on the edge while Dobbins took out the legs of the only other player in the vicinity that had a chance to stop Fields short of the goal line. Given Munford’s struggles with blocking in space from the previous game, seeing him make such critical seal-offs against a much more talented defense this week was a very welcome sight.

This was easily Dobbins’ most impressive game since his 200+ yard effort against Maryland last season, and this week he gets to return to Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana where he made his spectacular debut as a freshman in relief of Mike Weber’s injury in 2017. That game saw Dobbins rumble for 181 yards on 29 carries, although he failed to find the endzone despite his stellar performance. With the Buckeye offensive line appearing to find its zone blocking stride early this season, it’s hard not to imagine an encore for Dobbins is in the cards.