COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State running back Mike Weber is feeling pretty confident heading into the 2017 season.
A couple weeks after spring practice wrapped up, Weber offered a bet to two of the most highly regarded running backs in the country — Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and LSU’s Derrius Guice.
— Mike Weber (@mikeweberjr) May 3, 2017
At first glance, it might sound like a losing proposition. Check out the stats from last year. Weber trailed Barkley by exactly 400 yards and Guice by nearly 300.
That doesn’t tell the full story, though. When Guice tweeted that he probably had far fewer carries than either Big Ten starter (he backed up Leonard Fournette for much of the season), Weber quickly corrected him. He pointed out that even Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett had more carries than him last season, which sounds like hyperbole but isn’t. That alone is evidence of how upside down Ohio State’s offense was last year. Even excluding QB sacks, which count in his total, Barrett averaged a yard less per carry than Weber on 23 more attempts.
Weber averaged more yards per carry than Barkley, who toted the ball nearly 100 times more than Weber and Guice. Weber was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and became just the third freshman in Ohio State history to run for 1,000 yards.
More importantly, he has a new offensive coordinator. The play-calling in the Fiesta Bowl, in which Weber almost went the entire first half without a carry, was indefensible and widely mocked as the Buckeyes floundered their way to a shutout loss.
“We didn’t follow the plan,” head coach Urban Meyer said afterward.
Last season’s offensive coordinator, Ed Warinner, is now the offensive line coach at Minnesota. Ohio State replaced him with renowned innovator Kevin Wilson. During Wilson’s time at Indiana, the Hoosiers had a season in which Tevin Coleman rushed for 2,000 yards. Weber likes what he sees from Wilson.
“There are a few plays that I’ve been asking for last year that he brought to the table,” Weber said during spring practice. “I appreciate it, the plays that he brought in. I feel like he runs the ball more and finds different ways and different schemes to run the ball … that’s something that we as running backs appreciate.”
Ohio State’s offense languished the last two seasons as the tempo favored by Tom Herman was rarely used. But Wilson is a big tempo believer, and it’s a safe bet that going faster will help Weber put up better numbers. It’s simple math.
“If we play faster, there’s going to be more plays,” running backs coach Tony Alford said. “If there are more plays, there are more opportunities.”
Alford has noticed a difference in Weber, saying he is more dedicated than ever. He noted that he wanted that to happen sooner, but he thinks his tailback could be primed for a standout year.
“He’s a real dude, if you will, so he’s been a lot of fun to work with,” Alford said. “He’s a much better pro now than what he was as far as how he’s handling his business, his approach to the game, his approach to how he takes care of his body, his approach to the younger players in the room as far as trying to help them.
“It’s all changed. He’s taken it to heart, and he’s taking care of himself. It makes sense that he’s getting better.”
It also makes sense why he’s betting on himself.