Balancing act

Buckeyes' goal is to get running, passing games in sync vs. Spartans

Tim May
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins gets blocks from guards Demetrius Knox, left, and Malcolm Pridgeon on a 42-yard touchdown run against Nebraska. The Buckeyes, who rushed for 229 yards against the Cornhuskers, next face Michigan State, which leads the nation in run defense. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Two prominent stats have converged for the Ohio State offense that, if read by a stock analyst, would seem to promise a prolific final quarter to the regular season — though football, of course, isn’t played on a graph.

Consider that headed into a game Saturday at Michigan State:

• The No. 10 Buckeyes for the first time will field two running backs who have topped 2,000 yards in career rushing: junior Mike Weber (2,329) and sophomore J.K. Dobbins (2,087).

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• Quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., with 3,053 yards passing this season, is tied with predecessor J.T. Barrett for third-most in a season at Ohio State, just 277 yards off the record of 3,330 set by Joe Germaine in 1998. With 32 touchdown passes, Haskins is four short of Barrett’s record set last season.

Those numbers indicate things should be coming together in a big way for the Buckeyes, but it takes only anecdotal data to find that the offensive family has been slightly dysfunctional the past five games. So much so that, with Haskins on a tear passing the ball, the running game became just the other kid in the room until a 49-20 loss at Purdue caused all involved to pay more attention to it.

That time came during the off week before the Nebraska game. Dobbins responded by breaking out with a 163 yards and three touchdowns, and the Buckeyes totaled 229 yards rushing against the Huskers, second this season only to the 375 in the opener against Oregon State.

“We just talked about being a little bit more patient, and giving our line and our tight ends and our running backs a chance to build some momentum,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Thursday.

Reasserting that part of the game was imperative, running backs coach Tony Alford said.

“Ohio State is known for being a physical program — not from one year to the next, but through the course of time,” Alford said. “We put an emphasis on getting back to that.”

But against the Huskers, Haskins and the passing game weren’t so sharp. His 252 yards were the second-lowest of his season, with the two TD passes matching his season low. It seems the offense becomes what it emphasizes.

“We had two weeks to prepare for Nebraska, and we were going to run the football, and that’s what we did,” Haskins said.

He added, “The running game did really good last week, and I’m happy for the O-line and running backs. They deserved that game. So this week we need balance on both.”

That is the trick Wilson and the other offensive coordinator, Ryan Day, are trying to pull off this week, meshing the run with the pass. Taking into account Michigan State is No. 1 nationally in run defense (71.7-yard average), a balanced recipe would seem to be essential.

Haskins, despite being second nationally in passing yards per game at 339.2 and tied for first in passing TDs, understands what a revived running game could mean.

“It means everything,” Haskins said. “It helps out on first-and-10, we run the football and get 5 yards, down and distance is key. Just having that energy for the offensive linemen to drive off the ball, it makes the running backs want to pass-block more, catch the ball more, and run the football.

“So it helps the whole offense in total.”


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