Another game, another home run for Mike Weber.
The Ohio State sophomore running back, criticized last season for his inability to finish off runs in the same fashion as his predecessor, Ezekiel Elliott, found the end zone again Saturday.
His first-quarter 43-yard run — his second touchdown of the game and the third for the Buckeyes — helped put Ohio State out of reach for outmanned Illinois in a 52-14 win that clinched the Big Ten East title.
It was Weber’s third long touchdown run in the past two games, but it was different from the 47- and 82-yard runs he had the week before against Michigan State. On those two, blocks by center Billy Price, left tackle Jamarco Jones and the rest of the offensive line allowed Weber to run untouched.
Against Illinois, after Price and the offensive line folded over the Illinois defensive front — one aspect of the Illini that had concerned coach Urban Meyer going into the game — Weber ran through an attempted tackle by a linebacker, then turned on the speed.
“He showed off his wheels the last couple of weeks,” Jones said.
Weber, the returning starter, was hobbled early in the season by a torn hamstring suffered before preseason camp. He was always going to have a partner this season in freshman J.K. Dobbins, who proved as an early enrollee 10 months ago that he deserved playing time.
But Dobbins received the buzz and most of the playing time while Weber healed. Then the past two games, Weber came back in a big way, with 162 yards against Michigan State and 108 against Illinois, the lion’s share of the Buckeyes’ 325 yards rushing.
“I think we’re just coming together and getting stronger and stronger every week,” Jones said. “Mike’s been looking really good. He’s finally back to 100 percent.
“It’s just a testament to our practice habits. We’re getting stronger in practice, going up against our D-line and our scout team, and we’re just getting closer as a unit, and it’s showing on the field.”
The Buckeyes, who turned back to the running game after a 55-24 loss to unranked Iowa, had things clicking on offense with 543 yards against Illinois.
“You get the running game going,” Price said, “put a guy on a guy, execute pretty highly — our running backs are lights out, speed, get (them) out in open space — and good things happen.”