In Ohio State’s loss to Iowa last season, the run game was a major issue.
But it was because the team abandoned it when it was a major strength of the offense.
Then-freshman running back J.K. Dobbins rushed for 8.5 yards per carry on only six attempts, while then-redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber finished with five carries for 27 yards.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett ended up taking more carries than both of the backs combined, finishing with 14 rushes for 63 yards and throwing 34 passes for 208 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
On Saturday, Ohio State’s loss to Purdue was in part due to the lack of run game, but not because the team abandoned it. It was because the running game faltered and stalled for four quarters against a Boilermaker run defense that came in at No. 53 in the nation.
Dobbins and Weber combined for 69 yards on 20 carries, with zero touchdowns. In the first half, the Ohio State running game recorded 34 yards on 15 carries.
The lack of production from the “two-headed monster,” as offensive coordinator Ryan Day once said, forced redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins to attempt an Ohio State-record 73 passes.
Head coach Urban Meyer said the team will “obviously not” work at its full capacity being dependent on Haskins in the future.
The Buckeyes ran for 76 yards, the second straight game in which backs ran for fewer than 100 yards. The last time Ohio State ran for under 100 yards was the 31-0 rout against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal two seasons ago.
“I look up at the board and I see the rushing yardage again and we’re just gonna, you know we just gotta get something going,” Meyer said. “You can’t just throw for 400 yards and then, you know that’s worked a few times but, down the stretch here we gotta get some run game.”
Dobbins has 120 carries for 521 yards and four touchdowns this season, totaling 4.3 yards per carry. He had 113 carries for 863 yards and five touchdowns in the first eight games of his freshman season, good for 7.6 yards per rush.
The sophomore running back only has one 100-yard rushing game this season and has not averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry in four weeks.
The decline of Dobbins has made a clear impact on the team’s run game as a whole, with Ohio State averaging fewer yards per carry in every game since the opening Oregon State matchup, before moving up to three yards per rush against the Boilermakers.
Haskins said the blame cannot go on any specific player for the lack of production in the run game.
“I never thought I would have to throw 72 times to win the game,” Haskins said. “I wouldn’t say it has nothing to do with Mike or J.K. or the O-line. Just got to do better, making some bigger holes, making some defenders miss and it will all come together.”
Ohio State ranks in the bottom half of the NCAA in rush offense following the loss to Purdue, coming in at No. 69 with 171.8 yards per game. The Buckeyes finished No. 17 in rushing yards last season.
As much as the Buckeyes are becoming a pass-first offense through Haskins, and as much as they have a quarterback breaking records with each game he’s played, the run game has failed to give him anything that resembles support.
Saturday’s defeat at Purdue reminded everyone that Haskins, being forced to throw 47 passes in the second half, made an effort to carry his team to the finish line.
It didn’t work. Now, the Buckeyes have a week off before facing Nebraska, which holds the No. 49 worst rush defense in the nation.
Whether it is Dobbins and Weber not finding space or the offensive line not giving them the opportunity, Haskins is going to do what he’s done all season long: figure out how to win by himself.
“I’m going to keep getting better. I’m nowhere near where I can be. I’m still at the beginning,” Haskins said. “Right now, we are 7-1. Not what we thought we were going to do against Purdue, but I’m excited for the opportunity to go and win more games. We are going to make the most of it.”