The blocking ability of the offensive line for Ohio State has been a key to the 9-1 record of the Buckeyes. Redshirt senior center Pat Elflein and redshirt junior guard Billy Price have been instrumental in opening up wide lanes for the offense, but the ability of the running backs and wide receivers to throw blocks downfield is the true instrumental piece to rushing the ball.
Against Maryland, junior H-back Curtis Samuel was lined up in the slot on the right side of the offensive line. The ball was snapped, and redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett rolled to his right. Samuel drove the cornerback in front of him straight back into Maryland’s own end zone, opening up a lane for Barrett to push in for a touchdown.
The Buckeyes are averaging 6.0 yards per carry since 2013, which is the highest mark among all Power 5 teams. The offensive line is the biggest reason, but some fans might not realize how much the blocking of the running backs and H-backs has been a factor. Barrett has picked up a 5.25 yards per carry on average for his career, with a large portion of his carries coming behind the blocking of his running backs and H-backs.’
Namely, Curtis Samuel and redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber have led the way for their quarterback. OSU running backs coach Tony Alford spoke highly of both men, and said the junior H-back’s blocking has been one of his best aspects this season.
“You just watch the way he’s blocking, and obviously he’s very gifted with the ball in his hands,” Alford said. “We’ve always known that. But then you just watch his full game and how he plays and how he runs routes … just the precision as he does his entire job, his job description.”
Samuel is the only player in the nation with 600 rushing and receiving yards, and is shaping up to eclipse 1,500 total yards. According to Alford, there is more to Samuel than meets the eye. The ability of the all-purpose back/receiver to remove defenders from the play on sweeps by running backs and quarterback runs has earned him high marks from his teammates and coaches.
Last season, OSU was spoiled with the ability of its running back to throw punishing blocks on opponents’ defenders. However, Alford made a comparison of Samuel to a current-campus legend in Columbus.
“He’s playing at a very high level, to watch the way he blocked against Maryland was, I mean I took it into my room and said, “Guys, this is how you finish plays.” It’s very reminiscent of how (Ezekiel Elliott) did things.”
After racking up the yards against Maryland on Saturday, there were 25 players named champions by OSU coach Urban Meyer. Of those players, four were wide receivers.
Playing wideout normally means being predominantly known for running long routes and hauling in acrobatic catches. But against Maryland, the players earned the recognition not for their hands, but for the blocking aspect of their game. Meyer said it was because of “selfless play,” and singled out redshirt sophomore Noah Brown and Samuel.
“I think, if anything, our receivers have done a great job at blocking,” he said. “You see the runs that have been explosive runs, that’s something that has been a difference in their play. As far as the passing game … they haven’t changed. Have they done a better job, I do believe so, but I don’t think it was something drastic.”
“Zone 6,” the moniker of wide receivers coach Zach Smith’s unit, has been carrying its weight in the run game. It’s a down-and-dirty part of football that is rarely discussed for wideouts, but OSU has lucked out in the group it has.
Not to be outdone, Weber has been racking up the yards while also knocking heads against opposing defenders. He too has been known for opening up wide lanes and knocking opponents to the turf.
It’s an aspect of play that might not make a mark on the statsheet or wow the fans, but it is a part of the game that matters immensely. Even with such a vital task on the shoulders of Weber, Alford said it’s just business as usual for a running back playing under Meyer, and requires a sharp eye for when to attack.
“Just kind of know when to deliver shots,” he said. “That’s kind of a timing thing and the more you do it the better you get at it obviously. But there’s still room for improvement. Mike’s a tenacious football player and he’s a tough guy.”
Samuel was asked about the ability of Weber to lead the way through the hole and lay a load to the defender in front of him. Simply put, he felt that the first-year running back was more than capable of handling things in the trenches.
“If anybody I want in front of me running, it’s Mike,” Samuel said.