Run game looks to take steps forward under new offensive line coach Frye

Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye speaks to the media Jan. 31. Credit: Jacob Benge | Assistant Sports Editor

During the 2013 and 2014 college football seasons, Ryan Day and Justin Frye coached together at Boston College and helped lead the Eagles to back-to-back bowl appearances.

Fast forward to today, and Day and Frye have reunited at Ohio State in roles similar to their positions at Boston College. Frye joined the Buckeyes’ program in January from UCLA as the Bruins’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, remaining in the latter position at Ohio State.

Frye, who played at Indiana from 2002-06, will also serve as the associate head coach of the offense. While Frye said there’s a “learning curve” to changing programs, his past history with Day has allowed his transition from UCLA to Ohio State go more smoothly.

“Having history with him, kind of growing up in the business a little bit and knowing his vision and things that he has, is going to make it a lot easier that way,” Frye said. “I’m just excited, honestly, to get back closer to home for me and my family and then him running the programs. It was very enticing.”

Frye coached under Chip Kelly during his time with the Bruins. Like Frye, Day also has history with Kelly as he played quarterback under him for three seasons at New Hampshire before joining the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 as quarterbacks coach.

While at UCLA, the Bruins ranked within the top-14 rushing offenses each of the last two seasons, averaging over 215 rushing yards per game. Frye said Kelly’s openness to try new things helped him achieve the success he hopes to bring to the Buckeyes.

“The word ‘no’ doesn’t exist,” Frye said. “There was never an ironclad of like, ‘No, we don’t do that.’ Let’s see, let’s look at it, let’s talk through it. Let’s twist it a little more so it becomes more like what we do, but there’s still a wrinkle.”

More so, Frye will add another experienced offensive mind to Ohio State that finished with the top-scoring offense in the Big Ten Conference a season ago. UCLA recorded the best scoring offense in the Pac-12 behind an average of 35.6 points per game under Frye as offensive coordinator.

Day said it was a “great fit” for Frye to join the Buckeyes’ program, as he’ll return to familiar territory having played in the Big Ten, and he said he knows what to expect from him.

“He’s very, very talented,” Day said. “He really connects well with players. Very good technically and fundamentally.”

Ohio State’s rushing offense ranked fifth in the conference last season, averaging 180.6 yards per game but eclipsing more than 110 yards just twice in its final five games. The Buckeyes will return three starters along an offensive line they’d like to see provide more consistency up front to open holes for the run game.

Sophomore offensive lineman Luke Wypler said he’s enjoyed Frye’s addition as offensive line coach, noting that his perspective on coaching his players has been effective early.

“He’s done an excellent job kind of connecting with our unit,” Wypler said. “I think he really takes a great approach to coaching, kind of coaching everyone individually and trying to get us better every day.”

Senior offensive lineman Dawand Jones said he sees similar success working with Frye, particularly when it comes to fine-tuning the smallest aspects of playing along the offensive line.

“You can definitely see the differences in my pass sets and just my run game,” Jones said. “The way he teaches stuff is a little bit better. Film and then it’s kind of a little more hands-on with coach Frye.”

Frye said he doesn’t expect to overhaul the approach the Buckeyes will have along the offensive line: he aims to “enhance” it.

With running backs sophomore TreVeyon Henderson and junior Miyan Williams set to return as regular ball carriers, Frye said he hopes to find the best starting five offensive linemen along with depth at each position to build on Ohio State’s style of offense.

“I don’t need to come in and revamp or change a bunch of things. I’m here to enhance and make those things better and along the way,” Frye said. “If you want it to be a challenge, it could be, but with these guys here it’s not going to be, because at the end of the day, we’re all the offensive coaches in that unit. We’re just trying to get our guys better.”

Ohio State often found success when it balanced its passing attack with its rushing offense. When the passing yardage outweighed the Buckeyes’ rushing offense, they often found themselves knotted in close games last season, such as their 26-17 win at Nebraska when they ran for 90 yards and 110 yards in their narrow Rose Bowl victory over the Utes.

The Buckeyes totaled 128 and 64 rushing yards in its two losses to then-No. 12 Oregon and then-No. 5 Michigan, respectively. The defeat to the Wolverines notably sticks out to Wypler, who said he hopes what Frye brings to the offensive line room will help elevate the Buckeyes to where they want to be.

“It’s a sickening feeling in our stomach. Just the thought of not being able to make it to the goals and everything we have set for ourselves,” Wypler said. “Even though we might have worked hard last season, this year it’s just a different feeling, a different mentality. Even though you went hard, you can go harder. There’s always another thing to accomplish.”

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