Football

Buckeye Breakdown: ‘Tote Nation’ Looks to Carry the Load in 2017

Buckeye Breakdown Tote Nation Ohio State Football Ohio State Buckeyes Demario McCall

As we continue our positional breakdowns of players who could step into prominent roles this season, it is now time to take a look at the Ohio State running game. With last year’s leading rusher Mike Weber returning, the Buckeyes will look to replace the production left from the 700+ yards Curtis Samuel contributed.

Make no mistake, with much of the offseason focusing on the Unicorn that is Kevin Wilson’s offensive prowess, the 2017 Buckeyes are still a power running team first and foremost.

The leader of the unit is Redshirt Sophomore Mike Weber (Detroit, MI), who last year became only the third freshman Running Back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Only Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards) and Robert Smith (1,126 yards) were more productive than Mike Weber and his 1,096 yards as first-year “toters.”

Weber will likely see an increased workload as he only surpassed 20 carries in a game once last season. He also saw his touches dwindle once November came, culminating in a five-carry performance versus Clemson.

With an increased focus on ball security this off season, Mike has looked confident in bouncing back from two fumbles against the Tigers in the playoff game.

As Tony Gerdeman wrote about earlier this week, there will be a fair amount of carries up for grabs this season. The obvious leader for those carries is Sophomore Demario McCall (North Ridgeville, OH), who carried the momentum created in 2016 with an impressive Spring campaign.

McCall displays very good speed and elusiveness in the open field, but also runs very well between the tackles due to his vision. As you will see in the compilation below, Demario has superb instincts and is very good at setting up his blocks to maximize gains, and proves to be an effective pass blocker as well.

Demario McCall at Work

“Tote Nation” as a unit does many things well. From running between the tackles to breaking long runs, this group is filled with star power from top to bottom. The depth chart, however, will likely be settled on one discernible trait — pass protection.

We watched in 2014 the importance of an effective pass blocker in the backfield as Ezekiel Elliott’s ability to quickly and accurately diagnose the most dangerous man proved to be one of the many factors that propelled that team to the National Championship. Mike Weber does a fantastic job in pass protection, which provides flexibility within the offense where he can be an every-down back, even chipping the edge rushers like he was forced to do versus Clemson.

Both J.K. Dobbins and Antonio Williams possess the ability to be effective ball carriers in 2017. The difference, however, lies in their ability to be reliable and consistent in the passing game. Dobbins appears to have the edge heading into Fall camp based on his performance in the Spring Game where he showed an aggressive approach to pass protection. He showed patience when working inside-out to diagnose the most dangerous defender. Williams, on the other hand, struggled to decipher the blitz and appeared to rush through the process.

In a position battle where subtleties prove to be the difference, protecting the Quarterback will play a large part in setting the depth chart at the Running Back position.

Protecting the Quarterback