J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber came into Saturday’s game against Nebraska with trust issues.
Both running backs stood in the backfield, never knowing what redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins was going to do in the run-pass option Ohio State that ran against a loaded box. Both running backs ran behind an offensive line that, at points, seemed clueless in terms of run blocking or pass protection.
To put it simply, Dobbins, a sophomore, and Weber, a redshirt junior, were in the middle of an identity crisis playing for an offense with an identity crisis.
Senior right tackle Isaiah Prince knew this. He had known this for the past two weeks. He wanted a change.
“I’m not going to lie. I went up to Ryan Day and asked, ‘Just get behind me. Keep running the ball and we are going to keep being physical,’” Prince said. “I said it all game, I said it all week, I said it last week. Get behind me, run the ball.”
Over the past four games, Weber said his team had “tried to get cute with the run game,” going away from what made both Dobbins and himself special: the traditional run play.
“It didn’t work in the past,” Weber said. “Never did work for us.”
So, according to Prince, the offensive line and the running back room made a deal.
“The O-line, we sat with the running backs before the game and we said ‘You run as hard as you can. We will block as hard as we can. You have to get something positive out of that,’” Prince said. “That was the agreement before the game and that is what we did during the game”
Weber and Dobbins combined for 254 rushing yards on 32 carries, averaging a combined 7.94 yards per rush.
Dobbins had a big day, recording a career-high three rushing touchdowns, and his second 100-yard game of the season, 163 yards on 23 carries, the most yards he had had in a game since the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin last season.
According to head coach Urban Meyer, the running game, especially in the red zone, was something Ohio State worked on at length during the two weeks of preparation for the Cornhuskers.
After converting three of four opportunities in the red zone, two of which were traditional run plays, Meyer said it worked.
“I think we pounded the ball in there pretty good,” Meyer said. “We worked ad nauseam at that. The amount of time that we spent at that was over the top, and I felt the line of scrimmage change.”
For Prince and the offensive line, it was way more than just giving Weber and Dobbins success.
It was about silencing the critics.
“I think we all felt the sense of relief, in terms of the offensive line and the running backs,” Prince said. “I think we were tired of hearing the criticism of us not being able to run the ball and us not being physical. I think we all took that to heart and it showed up today.”
For sophomore left tackle Thayer Munford, he, along with the rest of the offensive line, was happy Ohio State was running traditional, downhill running plays as opposed to the plays Weber called “too cute.”
It was consistently keeping the same mentality at the offensive line, that violence, that physicality, tiring out the Nebraska defensive line up front even when they loaded the box similarly to what opponents had done in the past.
For the running backs, Weber said it’s the same thing, using that physicality, pushing through a loaded box, not caring how many defensive linemen are in that box.
This was something Dobbins said Ohio State proved it could do.
“We knew what we could do,” Dobbins said. “I don’t know what was happening, but today showed that we still got it.”
This running approach worked for Ohio State against Nebraska. It has worked for past Ohio State teams, using a dual-threat quarterback to its advantage. However, it does not mean this running approach will be successful against every opponent.
But Weber wants the RPO gone.
He said if Ohio State uses the traditional running game, utilizing Haskins’ arm when it’s on, the Buckeyes’ offense could be unstoppable.
“If we do it, then watch out,” Weber said. “Any defense.”
More than anything though, Weber seems to want that consistency, that trust back with the Ohio State offense.
After Dobbins’ first touchdown of the day, Prince, who had made the agreement with the running backs, who had pushed the Ohio State offensive staff to utilize more of a traditional running style, said four words to the running back.
Four words he had been waiting to say after a running back ran behind him on the left side. Four words that gained back the trust of the running back room.
“I told you so.”