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Football: The difference in Ohio State’s offense moving forward could be Mike Weber

Ohio State redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber (25) runs the ball in the first half in the game against Illinois on Nov. 18. Ohio State won 52-14. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Ohio State shouldn’t have needed a 30-point loss to a team that just lost at home to Purdue to know it needed to run the ball more.

The Buckeyes have two of the best running backs in the Big Ten, and for some reason it took an embarrassing loss at Iowa for head coach Urban Meyer to figure out that J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber should touch the ball 30-plus times combined each game.

It wasn’t surprising the Buckeyes went back to the ground game after being trounced against an inferior opponent, but Weber’s play has been surprising, and it’s what makes Ohio State’s offense even more dangerous moving forward.

“If you can get the running game going, put a guy on a guy and execute pretty highly,” center Billy Price said, “then our running backs are lights-out speed, get out in open space, then good things happen.”

Weber started the scoring against Michigan State with a 47-yard touchdown run, then topped that with an 82-yarder. The thought was: Maybe Weber is finally healthy and this is a running back that can hit long runs for scores.

He scored twice Saturday in a 52-14 drubbing of Illinois. One was another long touchdown run of more than 40 yards.

That thought of “Is this a new Mike Weber?” has additional supporting evidence, which would give Ohio State two legitimate homerun threats at running back.

So why wasn’t he running like this before?

“Weber is just 100 percent healthy,” Meyer said. “We were bragging about him all summer and then had the tough injury. But he’s doing very well.”

Meyer said last week that Weber’s hamstring injury was severe enough to consider surgery. So maybe he truly is finally healthy and that’s what is making the difference in his game and perceived improved quickness since the Iowa game.

No one has really been able to figure out Ohio State’s colossal conundrum against the Hawkeyes.

“What just happened,” has been a repeating question for three weeks. Meyer raised it after a fourth-quarter comeback against Penn State. Fans and media asked it following a complete collapse against Iowa the week after, then it came up again in an annihilation of Michigan State the week after that.

Still, no one really has a good answer for the Iowa game, especially after the blowout of a ranked Michigan State. Maybe fans can just chalk it up as an unexplainable letdown and hope that Ohio State team doesn’t show up again because this Ohio State team that clobbered Michigan State and kicked the snot out of a terrible Illinois team is pretty good — maybe playoff good.

Weber is a major part of that.

“If we get the running game going, everything else opens up,” Price said.

Meyer and the offensive coaching staff have talked all year about the possibility of playing both Weber and Dobbins in a formation. That’s now possible. And what a better week to do that than against Michigan.

Weber is averaging 13.5 yards per carry the past two games and has gained more than 100 yards in each. The offensive line has been making its case as one of the best units in the country, but the running backs are doing their job, like they have been all year.

Weber’s production in the past two games is unequivocal to the first nine games, and it’s a welcomed addition.

Meyer and the coaching staff somehow didn’t see the writing on the wall that the running game was always the team’s identity. But that gaffe by the staff might not matter because Ohio State is in the playoff picture, and if Weber’s performances the past two games are an indicator of a new Weber, he can make this offense College-Football-Playoff good.

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