COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the third time in four weeks, Urban Meyer spent his postgame press conference answering questions about Curtis Samuel.
But unlike the previous two press conferences-turned-interrogations, on Saturday, Meyer stood by his use of the player he once deemed Ohio State’s top playmaker.
“Do you know what an H-back is?” an agitated Meyer responded when pressed on Samuel’s role. “That’s what the hybrid ‘H’ does: he carries the ball in the backfield and he also catches the ball.”
The Buckeyes head coach had the stat sheet to back it up.
Tallying seven carries as well as seven receptions, Samuel tied running back Mike Weber for the most touches of any Ohio State player in the Buckeyes’ 24-20 win over Northwestern on Saturday. It wasn’t Samuel’s most explosive day. In fact, he netted only 99 yards — more than 42 fewer than his per game average.
But to say Samuel wasn’t featured prominently against the Wildcats? That simply wouldn’t be an accurate depiction of the Ohio State offense’s most recent outing.
“That’s what we want,” Meyer said of his usage of Samuel, who totaled just 10 touches in last week’s loss to Penn State. “Fifty-fifty [catches and carries]. I wouldn’t mind eight each. Eight catches, eight handoffs.”
The game plan from Meyer was clear: get Samuel the ball, both early and often.
After waiting 23 plays to receive his first touch against the Nittany Lions, Samuel caught the ball on Ohio State’s fist offensive play of the game on Saturday before adding a 15-yard catch later in the drive to set up a 1-yard Weber touchdown.
Northwestern’s clock-eating drives threw a wrench into the Buckeyes’ plans, but Samuel still notched six touches before halftime. Eight second-half touches would follow, including a fourth quarter 3-yard rushing touchdown, which proved to be the game-winning score.
If Meyer had any complaints about his offense, they had little to do with his staff’s use of Samuel, which has become a recent topic of conversation in Columbus.
“We’ve got to block a little better for him,” Meyer said. “He should have more yards than that.”
Unlike against Penn State, however, there was little questioning Ohio State’s efforts in putting him in a position to do just that.
While Samuel totaled just four more touches against the Wildcats than he did against the Nittany Lions, that represented a more than seven percent increase of his use when taking into account the team’s total plays. According to Meyer, the goal is to get the ball into Samuel’s hands around 15 times each a game — a mark that would have easily been met had Northwestern not held the ball for eight minutes and 29 seconds in the opening quarter.
Like previous weeks, the Ohio State offense still appeared disjointed, but that didn’t have much to do with Samuel. If anything, he provided a steadying force, particularly in the passing game, where he accumulated 68 of his 99 yards.
“He had a bunch of catches in the first half,” said Buckeyes offensive coordinator Ed Warinner. “Then we switched it up at halftime and said, ‘Let’s try to get him the ball on the ground.’
“We’re trying to have a balance. Our goal is 15 touches and that’s just about as balanced as you can get.”
And yet still, the questions about Samuel persist.
Maybe it’s because he’s not putting up the Heisman-like numbers he did earlier in the season and against the weaker portion of the Buckeyes’ schedule. Or perhaps it’s because aesthetically, this offense simply doesn’t appear as explosive as it has in past years.
Regardless of the reason, Samuel’s use remains a hot topic — even as a struggling passing game around him prevents him from playing to his potential.
Heading into the final month of the season, however, Meyer is hardly concerning himself with any remaining outside criticism.
“Is this team whatever everybody wants them to be? Probably not yet,” he admitted. “But they’re working very hard to get to that point.”
Saturday’s use of Samuel was a step in the right direction.