Ohio State’s running backs have been underutilized in losses

When it comes to the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, they aren’t used to losing, especially in the Urban Meyer era. Since the head coach came back to Columbus prior to the 2012 season, the scarlet and gray have dominated and have been among the nation’s best. The Buckeyes are 68-8 with Meyer leading the charge. That’s impressive, to say the least.

On Saturday, his greatness didn’t matter. His championship rings didn’t matter. None of that mattered. All that mattered was the fact that Ohio State was out-coached, out-prepared, and out-played by the Hawkeyes in Iowa, which led to the Buckeyes getting demolished, 55-24.

It’s the first time they’ve lost multiple regular season games with Meyer at the helm.1 The 55 points Iowa scored was the most any Meyer-coached team has ever allowed. The Hawkeyes, who were 21-point underdogs, scored more than 30 points against Ohio State for just the third time since they began playing each other in 1922.2

For Meyer and the Buckeyes, there seems to be a common theme in four of their last five losses since the beginning of the 2015 season: the running backs are underutilized.

On Saturday, Ohio State running backs combined for just 15 carries compared to J.T. Barrett’s 14. If you take away third-string running back Antonio Williams’ four carries on the final drive, they had just 11. That’s embarrassing, to say the least. With talented running backs like J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber in the backfield, those two running backs should get the ball much more than that, especially with the way quarterback J.T. Barrett was struggling throwing the ball. Not only should they get the ball more, but the running backs should have more carries than the quarterback, too. With those two athletic workhorses, Dobbins and Weber could lead a team to a win by themselves, whether the quarterback is struggling or not. Unfortunately, they weren’t given that opportunity Saturday afternoon in Iowa.

It’s not like Dobbins and Weber weren’t productive with the ball in their hands. The true freshman had six carries for 51 yards while Weber totaled five carries for 27 yards. What’s even worse: The two had just one (1!) combined carry in the second half.

I get that when you are trailing by a lot, you must pass the ball. But Ohio State was in the game until there was just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter and Iowa took a 38-17 lead, a lead that seemed much more than just 21 points with the way that the Buckeyes offense was struggling.

Somehow, this isn’t the first time the running back group has been underutilized. In four of Ohio State’s last five losses dating back to the start of the 2015 season, they have somewhat disappeared as well. Let’s take a look at the other three, besides Saturday’s trouncing in Iowa City.

November 21, 2015: 24-17 loss at Michigan State

  • J.T. Barrett: 15 carries, 44 yards
  • Ezekiel Elliott: 12 carries, 33 yards one touchdown

December 31, 2016: 31-0 shutout against Clemson in Playoff

  • Mike Weber: five carries, 24 yards
  • J.T. Barrett: 11 carries, minus-2 yards

September 9, 2017: 31-16 loss to Oklahoma

  • J.K. Dobbins: 13 carries, 72 yards, one touchdown
  • J.T. Barrett: 18 carries, 66 yards
  • Mike Weber: three carries 29 yards

After all four of the losses, including Saturday’s, Meyer seems to realize that he should have used his running backs more. Yet, here we are. Hindsight is 20-20, but with a struggling quarterback that couldn’t seem to move the offense much Saturday afternoon, you’d think that you’d hand the ball off to two of your best playmakers on offense. Guess not.

Whether it’s Zeke, Weber, or Dobbins, all three are extremely talented. The Buckeyes have no reason not to give the ball to them, especially with a quarterback that was having an off day.

The Silver Bullets struggled and played arguably the worst game as a group since Meyer came back to Columbus (and most likely even longer than that), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Dobbins and Weber should have received a lot more carries than they did.

Meyer and crew will likely learn from this loss, but it’s too late now. While Ohio State still has a chance to win the Big Ten championship, it’s going to take quite a miracle to have any chance at getting back into the Playoff hunt.

  1. Read that again. Unreal. []
  2. The other two were in 2004 (33 points) and 1960 (35 points). The Hawkeyes had never scored more than 40 against Ohio State. []