PISCATAWAY, New Jersey — Running back Mike Weber has not received a clean bill of health all season long.
Before Saturday’s game against Rutgers, the redshirt sophomore had been unable to make appearances in more than one drive during any game this season due to lingering hamstring injuries.
But in Ohio State’s 56-0 win over the Scarlet Knights, Weber appeared to be fully healthy once again for the Buckeyes as he rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries with three touchdowns — his first touchdowns of the season.
“I mean it felt good. It’s been a long process of waiting and setbacks and going through a lot of things,” Weber said after the game. “It was like a relief that I’ve been wanting to get for a long time and I’m glad I got it and go from here.”
During Weber’s extended absence, freshman J.K. Dobbins has served as the team’s primary running back for the Buckeyes. With 75 carries and 573 rushing yards, Dobbins has given quarterback J.T. Barrett an option out of the backfield in the run game with his consistent production. Even in the game against the Scarlet Knights with Weber fully healthy, Dobbins was the leader between the two in total rush yards with 53 on six carries, averaging 8.8 yards per carry.
But with Weber now back in the mix, how does head coach Urban Meyer balance the workload between Weber — the third freshman running back in Ohio State history to rush for over 1,000 yards — and Dobbins, who will likely become the fourth player to accomplish the feat?
The first key to keeping the dynamic duo productive will be to ensure that Weber stays healthy.
Over the summer, he had been dealing with a hamstring injury that was initially believed to be severe enough to limit him in practice, but not anything potentially major.
After missing all of the Indiana game and only taking three carries in the team’s loss to Oklahoma in Week 2, it became clear that something was wrong with Weber. Following the Oklahoma game, Weber said that the medical staff had told him hamstring tweaks were “going to happen throughout the season” and that all he could do was manage them as best he could.
Meyer said after the Rutgers’ victory that the injury could have been much worse.
“It was a significant tear right before training camp,” Meyer said. “They almost had to do surgery on him. So we were dealing with maybe a year loss right before training camp.”
And though Weber said he never considered surgery to be an option, he knew returning to full health was not going to be easy and would require special care during the weeks compared to the normal routine the running back had been accustomed to the year prior.
“I probably had the worst Grade 2 [injury], close to a Grade 3, but coach said it was possible to come back this year, but it was going to be a long wait,” Weber said. “Really just staying on top of it, doing everything I can even when I am feeling good to keep it to where I want it to be. Stay in the training room, just doing everything I can to make sure my hamstring doesn’t give out on me again.”
Staying healthy will be important for the running back tandem to work moving forward, and Barrett said he believes that while having both running backs available will be electric when they are healthy, it could also prove to be pivotal in keeping Weber healthy. He added that Weber’s health could help in keeping the newest member of the offensive backfield fresh through his first college football season.
“Yeah because J.K., he loves it because now he gets a little break now and then, you know,” Barrett said. “But those guys going back and forth, it’s going to create a little havoc for the defense because it’s not like it regresses. One guy comes out, I mean they’re both, one of the top backs in the country.”
Meyer still has plans for what he believes that backfield can eventually look like.
“I’d like to eventually go two-back,” Meyer said on Sept. 20. “I’ve done that before where I have those two because they’re a good complements to each other.”
For now, the team has yet to deploy that two-back look, but Weber said just having himself and Dobbins healthy and ready to go will provide the Buckeyes with a dangerous pairing in the backfield.
“We’re going to be really scary if we get things going like we want it to,” Weber said. “That one-two punch that we see like in the future, I think if we get everything together, it can be really scary.”