COLUMBUS, Ohio — For Ohio State opponents, the Buckeyes’ inexplicable love of running the quarterback is the gift that keeps on giving.
In a 31-16 loss to Oklahoma, Barrett carried the ball 18 times. Ohio State’s running backs combined for 16 carries. It didn’t end well, because it often doesn’t against good teams when Barrett is carrying it more than his running backs.
Mike Weber only carried the ball three times against Oklahoma, though he wasn’t 100 percent and his hamstring tightness caused some problems. Still, he averaged a fraction shy of 10 yards per carry on those runs. J.K. Dobbins looked sharp, too, and was inches from breaking loose for a score on a couple of different plays. Weber averaged 9.7 yards and Dobbins 5.5. Barrett averaged 3.7.
“I wasn’t happy with it,” Urban Meyer said of the run game. “So we’ll just keep re-evaluating and I saw what you saw. J.K. was hitting the ball pretty hard and doing some good things. Mike Weber did some good things. And we’re just not getting enough flow on offense. And I’m seeing the same things you guys are seeing.”
Barrett is the least-efficient rusher on the team. That’s a fact, not an opinion. In 2016, only one of the 10 players with a rushing attempt averaged worse than Barrett’s 4.1 yards per carry. It was punter Cameron Johnston, who rushed once for 3 yards. Curtis Samuel nearly doubled Barrett at 7.9 and Weber averaged 6.0. But who led the team in rushing attempts over the season? Barrett, and it wasn’t that close. Even taking sacks out of the equation — and a good bit of those were Barrett’s fault — he didn’t match Weber’s average.
This season is no different. Dobbins is averaging 6.0 yards per carry, and Barrett is once again at 4.1. So why then do Meyer and his assistants insist at times on ramming Barrett again and again?
Let’s run through a few such instances. See if you notice a theme.
2017 Oklahoma: 18 carries for Barrett, 16 for running backs
2016 Clemson: 11 carries for Barrett, 11 for running backs
2015 Michigan State: 15 carries for Barrett, 14 for running backs
2014 Virginia Tech: 24 carries for Barrett, 15 for running backs
Four games, four losses — three of them at home in prime time. Just as in the other three games, there was no real reason against the Sooners for the Buckeyes to abandon their backfield.
A couple of instances, in particular, stand out as head-scratching decisions. Early in the second quarter, Weber came in and ripped off runs of 13 and 9 yards to help get a first-and-goal for the Buckeyes. Instead of going back to a running back, the Buckeyes ran Barrett for a 3-yard loss, followed by an incomplete pass that turned third down into a passing down, as well. Ohio State settled for a field goal.
Ohio State came out of halftime seemingly understanding the error of its ways. Dobbins had a 12-yard run and later a 6-yard run for a touchdown to cap off a balanced drive. Oklahoma answered with a score of its own, but the Buckeyes were soon back in business. The first three plays of the next drive were runs from Dobbins of 8, 13 and 16 yards. Did Ohio State go back to him or Weber once it got back to the red zone? Of course not. Barrett ran for 2 yards, lost a yard and then threw an incomplete pass. Field goal.
“I think I put us in two poor second-down calls in the scoring zone, both in the first half and the second half,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “I expected their defense to adjust to a formation they didn’t and we tried to run a play into a loaded look. It was a bad call on my part.”
Generally speaking, Ohio State also should have sprinkled in more carries throughout the first half — and maybe the second, too, if the Buckeyes hadn’t put themselves in a position to need to throw non-stop in a comeback attempt.
Here’s the breakdown of the first half: Barrett completed 5 of 11 passes for 25 yards. He ran the ball 10 times for 33 yards. Dobbins and Weber had a combined 6 carries for 34 yards.
“We were very much out of rhythm, and that’s a credit to Oklahoma,” Wilson said.
It also was a credit against the coaching staff — particularly Meyer, since it’s ultimately his offense and this habit spans three offensive coordinators. The Buckeyes once again gave their worst rusher more than half the team’s carries. Just as they did against Virginia Tech, Michigan State and Clemson, they paid dearly for it.