Ohio State showed what it could do with the running back position in the final game of the 2017 season.
Leading up to the 2017 Cotton Bowl, where the No. 5 Buckeyes took on No. 12 USC, much of the attention was on if the offense would utilize the two-running back set. Using both then-freshman J.K. Dobbins and then-redshirt sophomore Mike Weber in the same backfield was something the offense had been trying to integrate during bowl practice.
However, it was used only once, and neither Dobbins nor Weber touched the ball on that play. Quarterback J.T. Barrett handed the ball off to then-redshirt junior Parris Campbell for a 21-yard gain on an H-back sweep to the right.
Even without giving the ball to either of the two main rushers on the roster, Ohio State showed it could have some things up its sleeve for the running backs in 2018.
When it comes to preparing for the upcoming season, the running back room could take a page out of the book of the players blocking for them.
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said he wants his five best players on the field at one time, even if that means shifting a guard to center, which he has done twice with Pat Elflein and Billy Price. He could be in the process of doing again with junior guard Michael Jordan, who has been seen at fall practice taking reps at center.
The same could be said at running back with both Weber and Dobbins bringing something unique and valuable for the Ohio State backfield.
In his first season at Ohio State, Dobbins made an impact right away, setting the freshman record with 1,403 rushing yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. The second-team All-Big Ten honoree also had seven rushing touchdowns in his first collegiate season.
While Dobbins was more of an every-down back, utilized in both the running game and the passing game, Weber, now a redshirt junior, was used more in scoring situations, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and leading Ohio State running backs with 10 rushing touchdowns in only 12 games played.
The storyline prior to the start of last season was how much playing time would Dobbins get with a rusher like Weber, who was coming off a season in which he was named the Big Ten Thompson-Randle Freshman of the Year, in front of him.
However, after Weber suffered a hamstring injury during training camp, the majority of the carries were given to Dobbins, one of six true freshmen to start the season opener in Ohio State history.
Rushing for 181 yards against Indiana, Dobbins ignited a position battle throughout the regular season for both he and Weber split carries, eventually, with the help of Barrett at quarterback, leading the Big Ten in rushing.
When it comes to giving the ball to the hot hand in 2018, that doesn’t necessarily mean Weber or Dobbins. Ohio State has two running backs coming in from the 2018 class in former four-star prospects Master Teague and Brian Snead.
Each has already made a difference on the practice field, losing their black stripe prior to the first game against Oregon State on Sept. 1, signifying their initiation into the Ohio State football program.
Teague had already made a visible impact prior to the start of his first fall camp. After enrolling in January, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound back had 73 yards and one rushing touchdown on 14 carries in the 2018 Spring Game.
With the new redshirt rule, players are able to play in up to four games without burning their collegiate redshirt. Snead and Teague have an opportunity this season to make an impact.
Ohio State has depth at what could be one of the most integral positions for offensive success in the upcoming season, especially with a quarterback position coming into 2018 with zero career starts.
With Barrett gone from the quarterback room, Ohio State loses his passing ability, but also a dual-threat running ability.
Redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins, who is first in line for the starting quarterback job, is more of a pro-style player. He has the ability to run, showing that with a 22-yard scramble against Michigan last year, but that is not a primary part of his game.
Both Dobbins and Weber, and possibly Teague and Snead, could have to make up the carries that Barrett left last season, creating more of a need for running back production than ever before.
At this point, as the Buckeyes prepare for the first game against the Beavers, the team looks to have the luxury of giving the ball to the hot hand.