With the Ohio State Buckeyes set to kick off their 2018 football season in 10 days, WFNY will have a bit of a preview for the scarlet and gray before they begin their season this fall. Although the Buckeyes lost plenty of talent either due to graduation or the NFL Draft, it doesn’t mean that they will have to rebuild, they will instead reload, much like they have in the past. In fact, the word rebuild most likely doesn’t even exist in dictionaries across Columbus. You could argue that this year’s team is somehow better than last year’s in some ways. It truly shows just how deep this roster is, thanks to the recruiting efforts by the coaching staff, development of the players, and just how talented these kids are while they try and mesh together to potentially win a national championship at season’s end.
On this fine Hump Day, we take a look at the Buckeyes’ dual-threat in the backfield. Not quarterback, but at running back. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have a chance to be the best running back duo in program history if things go their way this fall.
Ezekiel Elliott, Eddie George, Tim Spencer, Beanie Wells, Keith Byars, Carlos Hyde, the list goes on and on when you talk about great running backs who have donned the scarlet and gray and succeeded during their time with the Ohio State Buckeyes.1
It may take some time for J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber to catch up to those names, but one glaring difference between Ohio State’s running back duo this fall and those other names is the fact that Dobbins and Weber have a chance to be one of the best pair of running backs to share playing time during the same season in program history.
In 2017, Dobbins notched 1,403 yards and seven touchdowns on 194 carries as a true freshman, while Weber ran for 626 yards and 10 touchdowns on 101 carries. It’s the first time since Maurice Clarett (1,257 rushing yards) and Lydell Ross (619) did so in 2002 that Ohio State running backs each ran for at least 1,000 yards and 600 yards in the same season. Ironically, Clarrett did that as a true freshman, while Dobbins broke Clarett’s freshman rushing record this past season.
Since Urban Meyer took over the Buckeyes in 2012, he has yet to have a situation where he has a 1 and 1a at running back. In each of the last six seasons, either Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett either led the team or were second on the team in rushing yards as quarterbacks. Meyer has tended to lean on one running back to take the majority of the carries during his time in Columbus. That slightly changed in 2017 and will change even more this season after Weber decided to return to Ohio State after he contemplated forgoing his two years of eligibility to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
While losing a quarterback like Barrett — a leader who was one of the most accomplished signal callers in program history and was in charge of the offense for the majority of the last four years — isn’t ideal, his departure could open the door for Dobbins and Weber to receive more carries.
Barrett accounted for 165 of the team’s 589 carries last season, which was second on the team and 28 percent of the total carries. With a pass-first gunslinger in Dwayne Haskins Jr. now leading the offense, the Buckeyes’ playcalling will be quite different this year than in previous years in the Meyer era. Instead of leaning on a run option-type style where the quarterback (Miller or Barrett) keeps the ball, the Buckeyes will either pass the ball through the air or hand it off to their running backs much more often this fall. Haskins can run the ball when needed, but he’s much more of an air-it-out quarterback than run-the-ball-down-your-throat style.
Add in the fact that the running backs will be leaned on to help ease the new gunslinger in as the team’s new starting quarterback, and that means even more opportunities for both Dobbins and Weber. When Haskins is comfortable in the new role, his size, arm strength, and ability to throw it anywhere and everywhere on the field will open up the field for the ground attack as well. Although it’s unknown how exactly Ohio State will change their offense, both wide receivers and running backs will likely receive plenty more opportunities, and a talented duo like Dobbins and Weber in the backfield will take advantage of it.
They’re both excited, to say the least.
“I feel like it’s going to help a lot. In my first year, (J.T. Barrett) had more (carries) than me,” Weber said. “I feel like those carries are going to hit us a little bit. The carries that the quarterback was having, it is good for us too. …We started doing it towards the end of last year but we didn’t really get into it because of how the game went. I feel like we will get into it a lot this year.”
“If you run the ball more than 30 times a game, which we have been, since (Barrett) is gone, there could be more carries for us,” Weber said during spring practice. “I feel we can (each) get 15 to 18 a game unless we are blowing someone out or we get pulled.”
“That is the goal every year. I am not a selfish guy,” Dobbins said. “I am a team player, so whatever I have to do to help the team win, that’s what it is.”
Dobbins will likely be named the starting running back, but that doesn’t mean Weber is too far behind. In fact, you could argue that the redshirt junior would start on almost any other team in the Big Ten and more than half in the country. It’s on the coaching staff to find ways to utilize both players correctly because you can never have too many athletes on the field, especially at the same time.
“Man, if you’re running the ball, you can control the game,” Weber said this past spring. “Coach Meyer has a good situation on his hands with two good backs that can pound the ball and take it to the house on any play. I feel like that’s a good resource to have.”
Running backs coach Tony Alford doesn’t seem too concerned about splitting up carries between two running backs capable of rushing for 1,000-plus yards. They can split time, keeping each other fresh and splitting time on the field and on the sidelines. Then again, they could also be on the field at the same time, giving the Buckeyes a two-back package. Although that’s seemingly an unknown formation in the Meyer era, it seems that it could be the case at times. Having as much talent on the field as possible seems ideal, and the Buckeyes seem to be preparing to do just that by having both Dobbins and Weber on the field at the same time throughout this fall.
“We’re going to do what we do. In the offseason, you do some studies and study people who are doing things you might want to look into, but that’s not just Georgia, that’s anything when you evaluate what you’re doing,” Alford said. “We’ve done some things throughout the spring and we have certainly got that (two-back set) in the arsenal.”
“We put it in last year during the bowl game and ran a bit of that last year,” Dobbins said of a potential two-back formation. “It brings explosiveness. I feel like defenses won’t know what to do against it.”
“I think we will do the two-back thing regardless of who the quarterback is,” Weber said of the possibility. “We started doing it towards the end of last year but we didn’t really get into it because of how the game went. I feel like we will get into it a lot this year. We have been working on it a lot, especially early in the spring. We added a lot of different plays to it. They have been working really good for us, and hopefully, we get back to it.”
Rewinding all the way back to 1975, Archie Griffin and fullback Pete Johnson may currently be the best single-season running back duo to ever don the scarlet and gray. That season, the two-time Heisman winner rushed for 1,450 yards while Johnson tallied 1,059 rushing yards in 12 games. They’re not only currently the best pair of backs to ever share the same backfield at Ohio State, but one of the best duos in college football history as well.
It may be tough to break that mark as a pair in the Buckeyes’ backfield this fall, but with the type of talent and the number of opportunities both Dobbins and Weber are expected top receive this year, there’s no doubt that it’s possible. Add in the fact that both have run for over 1,000 yards on the ground in a single season during their respective freshman years at Ohio State and the possibilities are endless for what the pair can do in 2018. There’s a reason Dobbins (18-to-1) has the ninth-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy at season’s end, according to Bovada. People know just how good he can be in his second year at Ohio State. When you combine his skill set with Weber’s, it makes for a very special combination, one that could rival the Griffin-Johnson duo as the best running back tandem in program history.