The next Lendale White and Reggie Bush? Mike Weber sees big things for Buckeyes’ new backfield
COLUMBUS, Ohio — One thing you don’t want to do after one blowout win, especially against a mid-major program like Bowling Green, is to get too far ahead of yourself.
It’s easy to watch the Buckeyes’ record-setting Saturday and start thinking about national championships for a very young and inexperienced team a la the 2014 group. You see J.T. Barrett shredding the Falcons defense with precision passing, smart and timely read-options and planned quarterback runs and you think about the record-setting year he had in 2014.
That season as a redshirt freshman, Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. You think back to that year and add to that what we saw Saturday, and it sets the bar high for what could happen this fall. The hyperbole and the hype will get bigger and bigger with every dominant performance, and you try – just try – to avoid it.
Well, most of the time you do, unless you’re Mike Weber. The redshirt freshman running back played the first game of his Ohio State career Saturday, rushing for 139 yards on 19 carries. He wasted no time looking for the ignition switch on the 2016 hype train. Weber, who was asked postgame how effective he and junior Curtis Samuel can be together, invoked the names of two former NFL draft picks — a first and a second-round choice, no less.
“Lendale White and Reggie Bush,” he said without hesitation. “We can get there.”
For good measure, Weber upped the ante.
“(We can) probably even be better,” the Detroit native added. “I think we can be a really good one-two punch.”
Saturday, that was certainly the case. Weber was the hammer, pounding Bowling Green’s defense between the tackles. Samuel was all over the place, carrying the ball 13 times for 84 yards and catching a team-high nine passes for 177 yards, scoring three times.
That’s how a one-two punch works.
In 2004, the first year that White and Bush — the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner — were the primary ball carriers for the Trojans, the duo opened the season with a 24-13 win against Virginia Tech. White carried the ball 15 times for 78 yards, but didn’t find the end zone. Bush had nine carries for just 32 yards, but he hauled in a team-high five receptions for 127 yards and three scores.
It’s a bold comparison, certainly, especially when you understand that it’s been one game, but the Buckeyes aren’t shying away from it.
“We do sometimes,” Weber said when asked if there’s discussion about that comparison. “We kind of laugh it off, though. A lot of people do know it can be that way.”
The value in having two running backs is obvious. In a game as physical as football, the ability to have fresh legs and avoid taking 35 hits a game can’t be discounted. If your tailbacks were the same player, you’d still be better served to have them split carries, but for Weber and Samuel, it’s different.
These are two very good running backs — Weber was the country’s ninth-ranked back in 2015 and Samuel the eighth-ranked athlete in the country in the 2014 recruiting class — but they are different. They hit you in different ways, but they do similar things. Does that make sense? It does to Bush, er…Samuel.
“(Mike) can run outside, he can run inside,” Samuel said Saturday. “I can run outside. I can run inside. It just keeps us balanced in the run game. Teams can’t just say we’re going to do one thing when either of us are in the game.”
Weber added context to that thought.
“It gives defenses different looks,” Weber said. “I come in there, right up the middle, and run really hard. When Curtis comes in, he makes some moves, gets around the edge, the defenses get tired of that. We tag-team it.”
That tag team could give the Big Ten fits in 2016, and it really doesn’t matter who is White and who is Bush, though the comparison between the 6-foot, 200-pound Samuel and the 6-foot, 200-pound Bush is easy to make. Danny Landberg, Samuel’s high school coach at Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, N.Y., said as much in July.
“He was brought (to Ohio State) to be in that Percy Harvin-role, which is who he looked up to when he was younger,” Landberg said of Samuel. “I always thought he was more a Reggie Bush-type. His 0-to-60, from a change of direction mode, that’s where he’s best.”
It doesn’t matter who plays what role to Weber. There are bigger goals, most notably to keep putting notches in the win column and to make this more than just a one-game comparison.
“Reggie won the Heisman. If I won a Heisman that’d be crazy, but I’m not looking for that. I just want to win,” Weber added. “Curtis is real dynamic. I’m more of the thunder, he’s more of the lightning.
“We’re a good one-two punch. Me and him made a lot of plays. Hopefully, that’s how the season will go.“