For the first time since last year’s 62-3 victory against Maryland, the Ohio State offense finished a game with more passing yards than rushing yards in its 31-16 loss to Oklahoma.
Unlike that game against Maryland, it was not for an outburst of high yardage totals in both categories. Rather, it was the result of an offense that seemed out of sync, fell behind quickly in the second half and attempted to pass its way out of the hole.
“We thought we had some running game going,” co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said after the game. “We thought we had some mix and pass, but again we were just pretty much out of rhythm.”
The offense finished the game with 167 rushing yards on 34 attempts, while redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett completed 19-of-35 pass attempts for a total of 183 yards. The only touchdown came from freshman running back J.K. Dobbins on the ground, the first score of his collegiate career.
Dobbins — who rushed for 181 yards on 29 carries against Indiana — was the starting running back in this game and led the team in rush yards with 72.
“J.K. was hitting the ball pretty hard and doing some good things,” Meyer said.
Despite Dobbins’ performance, it was Barrett who led the team in carries.
Barrett has often led the team in carries. He did it in each of the last three games of the 2016 season — including the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson. Saturday, he often broke out to the side on option plays, and opted to keep the ball for the quarterback run rather than dump it off to the running back following him along the sideline.
And while Barrett was successful running the football on the option plays, the coaching staff does not want him to be the team’s leading rusher.
“[J.T.] compliments the running game; he’s not a featured guy,” Wilson said. “J.T. was the viable read guy, and they made him keep the ball. I think our tailbacks need to be our runners.”
But in order for Barrett to assume the role as solely a compliment and not as a featured runner, Ohio State must have all of its offensive weapons ready.
Heading into the game, the coaching staff had hoped to rely on a tandem of running backs, with Dobbins listed as the planned starter and redshirt sophomore Mike Weber — who has been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury — as another option.
But the hamstring injury for Weber again emerged as an issue for him during the game, and it limited his ability to consistently contribute. He rushed just three times for 29 yards, and though he did catch a pass, it was clear he wasn’t at 100 percent. Weber acknowledged as much during the postgame press conference, and he said this might not be an issue that goes away quickly.
“The goal was to come in here and help the team the best way I can, and it didn’t work,” Weber said. “I was told that that was going to happen throughout the season. My best way is to manage it the best way I can and do what I can for the team.”
Being limited to just four plays over the past two games, Weber has been able to do nothing but watch as Dobbins, a true freshman who received high marks throughout fall camp, has done exactly what the coaching staff expected from him: excel on the field.
Though the combination of the lingering injury and the performance of Dobbins could limit Weber’s playing time moving forward, the third-year running back doesn’t choose to view it that way.
“I try not to think about stuff like that,” Weber said. “It’s what about that team at the end of the day. My job was to get healthy and help the team the best way I can.”
One thing Weber feels confident about is that if he can stay healthy, he and Dobbins could make for quite the running back threat that could ultimately prove to be just what Barrett needs to take that step back in the running game that the coaching staff wants to see.
“It’s going to look scary, actually,” Weber said. “I get healthy and he gets better each game. I help him each game and he helps me. We both come out on the field fresh. It should be really scary.”