One has to wonder that as Urban Meyer, Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day go through the Ohio State offense packing list Friday for the bus trip to Michigan, whether a major part of it looks something like this:
• Power running game.
• Don’t forget both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are capable.
• Don’t forget J.T. Barrett can run it, too, but don’t make it Barrett-centric like last year.
• Do some wide stuff, but don’t forget about throwing upper cuts inside.
• Don’t forget Billy Price, Jamarco Jones, Michael Jordan, Demetrius Knox and Isaiah Prince have been mashing people of late.
• Don’t forget the power running game.
Seems matter of fact, but the last time Ohio State went on the road it sure looked like the power running game wasn’t on the manifest. A reminder — that was the trip to Iowa, when the Hawkeyes pulled what still might be the most stunning upset of the 2017 season, a 55-24 win over the then-third-ranked Buckeyes.
A lot of things conspired to make them look elsewhere for production that day, especially after two quick Iowa touchdowns just before halftime broke a 17-all tie and put the Buckeyes in scramble mode.
But the week after Meyer said he issued “a mandate” to coordinator Wilson, co-coordinator Day and to the offensive staff to get Dobbins and Weber more involved with pure run plays, not just the zone-read options which the Hawkeyes found easy to force Barrett to keep.
The past two games, the Buckeyes have run for 335 yards against Michigan State, which had the nation’s No. 3 rush defense, and 325 against Illinois, which had been giving up an average of 199.1 yards. Much of that yardage was gained on straight handoffs to Weber and Dobbins, as Price and company fired off at the snap and, with help from tight end Marcus Baugh and the wide receivers, created bowling lanes of daylight.
It has rekindled a confidence in an offense which overall is No. 4 in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten in average yards per game (546.2). It is led by Barrett, who is No. 6 in the nation in passing efficiency and No. 2 in the Big Ten in total offense (300.3).
“I feel like that’s part of who we are here at Ohio State, we’re a run-first type of team, want to establish the run, get the offensive line rolling off the ball,” Barrett said. “I think it gets everything clicking as far as what we’re trying to do.”
Much of that rise has been because of the increasing maturity of the offensive line, which had to bring along Demetrius Knox, who replaced the injured Branden Bowen at right guard in game seven. Meyer and his coaches leaned on the linemen the past two weeks and they delivered.
“Right now, they are one of the strengths of our team,” Meyer said.
But Michigan has the No. 3 total defense in the country — “This D line is the real deal,” Meyer said — and it will offer the toughest challenge to date.
“They know who they are, as far as the defense, know where everybody is at, and play well together, and their effort is always there each and every play,” Barrett said.
Again, it will be important for the Buckeyes not to forget that packing list.
“It’s definitely a physical game, and there’s a lot of emotion behind it,” Barrett said. “With that, I think getting those (offensive line) guys going early coming off the ball I think is going to be critical for us, and not have them on their heels in kind of third-and-long situations, second-and-long situations. Kind of making sure we have managed everything, especially early in the game.”