OSU run game seems to be hitting its stride

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State running back Mike Weber scores a touchdown in Saturday's win over Michigan State, part of his 104-yard day against the nation's top-ranked run defense. [Adam Cairns]

It has taken longer than desired, but Ohio State believes that its bread and butter on offense is finally rounding into form.

As dazzling as its passing game was early in the season, the Buckeyes’ offensive identity has always been grounded in, well, the ground game. That’s the program’s history, and even in coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, a power run game was at the heart of it.

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That phase flat-lined during a four-week stretch culminating in a loss to Purdue. Ohio State spent the ensuing off week working on a fix. Some of it was schematic. Run/pass option plays were de-emphasized, which makes sense given that defenses didn’t respect Dwayne Haskins Jr. as a runner.

“When you’re running the ball, you kind of have three different options,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said. “You read somebody, you run away from somebody, or you change the look and kind of splash the water a little bit. We’ve found different ways to do that.”

But the biggest change has simply been in mentality. The Buckeyes decided they were going to run downhill and with conviction. Against Nebraska, J.K. Dobbins ran for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Against Michigan State, which had the top-ranked run defense in the country, Mike Weber ran for 104 yards and a score.

The Buckeyes will try to keep it rolling this week at Maryland.

Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford said the Buckeyes’ linemen were stung by the criticism of the run game.

“We were like, ‘Forget that. We’re about to run the ball and shut everybody up,’ ” Munford said.

During the run game’s slump, the linemen said that the run/pass options had them playing on their heels at times, not knowing whether to run-block or pass-block because Haskins’ decisions were based on what defenses allowed.

That has changed.

“I think there’s something to be said for saying we’re going to hand the ball to the tailback and you guys block for him and if there’s an extra guy in the box, there’s an extra guy in the box,” Day said. “There was an extra guy in the box last year with J.T. (Barrett). There’s always an extra guy there.

“Sometimes, we’ve just got to knock people out and run people over. I think the running backs have run really hard and the offensive line has done a really good job as well.”

Meyer said that Weber’s game against Michigan State was his best this season. Both he and Dobbins have broken or evaded tackles the past two weeks better than in previous weeks.

“I think it’s better to have more straightforward runs,” Weber said. “That way, there’s no confusion or no timidity. If we run at guys like we’ve been doing, old-style football, then eventually the defense should break.”

Maryland is ranked 30th in the county in total defense, and the Terrapins are giving up only 4.0 yards per carry. But if Saturday’s game is a decent test, next week’s against Michigan will be the ultimate one. The Wolverines have the country’s top-ranked defense and yield just 3.1 yards per carry.

“I wouldn’t say it’s where it needs to be until we have 200 yards apiece,” Weber said of Ohio State blending the pass and run games. “But I feel like it is improving. You have to have a good balance, especially in November when it gets real grimy and really good teams start to show up.”

A good defense shows up this week. A great one does next week.


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