Before Urban Meyer got to Ohio State, he had never actually had a 1,000-yard rusher at tailback. This fueled questions about whether his system was limiting what a running back could do in his offense. The thought was that Meyer was more interested in splitting carries among running backs, the quarterback, and any slot receivers who might be brave enough to run the ball.
In other words, it was not the offense a premier running back would want to be in.
In Meyer’s first season at Ohio State, running back Carlos Hyde rushed for 970 yards, falling short of that elusive 1,000-yard mark. Hyde’s season kept the belief alive that Urban Meyer’s offense wasn’t able to produce a 1,000-yard tailback. Of course, Hyde missed two-plus games to injury in 2012, but don’t let facts get in the way of a good theory.
Hyde would then blow that theory out of the water in 2013, rushing for 1,521 yards while missing the first three games of the season.
That started three consecutive years of Meyer and the Buckeyes having a premier running back carrying the load. In 2014 and 2015, Ezekiel Elliott followed Hyde’s lead and upped the ante with over 3,600 yards rushing in his two seasons as a starter. Elliott was the very definition of premier.
Last season, it was redshirt freshman Mike Weber who had the unenviable task of trying to live up to the expectations built by Hyde and Elliott. He was good, rushing for 1,096 yards, but he wasn’t elite.
He has grown a lot since the last time he took the field, however, and not just on the field.
“Last year he was an immature guy,” Meyer said. “Never a bad guy, always a good young man. But his grades took off. He earned good enough grades to move off campus. He’s really doing nice things. It’s the typical maturity you have from a third-year player.”
Looking back, Meyer saw the same things that the fans did. Weber was good, sometimes great, but didn’t finish as strongly as the Buckeyes needed him to.
“He wasn’t good enough,” Meyer said. “He didn’t have the breakaway speed. He needs to pick up his feet. He’s lost seven pounds. He’s legitimately fast now. He wasn’t fast. He wasn’t mature. He’s very mature right now. Tony Alford’s done a really nice job with him. I’m really pleased. I’m hoping you guys see a different back. And he was good, but he wasn’t premier.”
Being a premier back is the goal for Weber. That is what Alford and Meyer want, and that is what they are working toward. For some running backs, there is no point in pursuing such a thing. For Weber, however, his coaches believe this is an attainable goal.
“I do think he can [be a premier back] and we need it,” Meyer admitted. “That’s a must. And it’s time. I don’t think he was a premier back last year. I thought he was good. J.T. [Barrett] needs him to be a premier back. You want to be a great quarterback, have a premier running back right next to you.”