Mike Weber’s return to Ohio State gives Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson an unusual luxury: a duo of 1,000-yard rushers to pair in the backfield.
Weber put up 1,096 yards during his redshirt freshman season of 2016. Then, while Weber missed big chunks of the 2017 season with injuries, J.K. Dobbins racked up 1,403 yards on the ground as a true freshman.
It’s not totally unprecedented for Ohio State to return a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. It happened in 2015, when Braxton Miller (1,000+ in 2012 and 2013) and Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 in 2014) both came back. But by that point, Miller had shifted from quarterback to wide receiver, and wasn’t a focal point of the run game any more.
Weber and Dobbins returning together is remarkable because Buckeyes have not had a pair of 1,000-yard running backs both come back for another season in at least 50 years.
For much of the 2017 season, players and coaches hinted that it was possible that Weber and Dobbins would be on the field at the same time. However, outside of a brief cameo during the Cotton Bowl win over USC, it didn’t happen.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett played a big role in the rushing attack in 2017, with 166 carries. That was 65 more than Weber got, and just 28 short of Dobbins’ team-high.
Now, with Barrett off to the NFL and the Buckeye offense seemingly destined for a new look in the fall, the running backs figure to get many more carries and the Weber/Dobbins show may finally take center stage.
“I just think that the running will be more on me and J.K. and more passing down the field,” said Weber.
Weber may have been basing that on conversations he had with Urban Meyer and the offensive coaching staff following the Cotton Bowl. He told reporters that he asked about “things like touches” and heard what he needed to in order to come back for another season.
While the coaching staff will want to ensure that Weber gets the ball enough to keep the junior star happy, they’ll also want to keep Dobbins, their sophomore sensation, on the field as well. That’s where the formations with both backs enter the game plan.
“Coming into the USC game, we felt really good about it, but we just didn’t get to it,” said Weber. “We practiced it like crazy during the bowl season. We had a lot of good plays out of it, but how the game went, we didn’t get a chance to show it. I feel like we’re going to show it a lot this year.”
Dobbins agreed, “I feel like we’ll be better together because we’ll have packages together and it will be hard for defenses to figure out what we’re doing.”
Unsurprisingly, neither player provided specifics on exactly how they might be used together, although Weber gave some intriguing hints.
“We’ve even got sets where we go out to wideout, just that we’re both on the field at the same time,” he said. “Coaches really came up with good ideas to get us both on the field at the same time.”
“It’s exciting because it’s going to take a lot of pressure off of just me because they’re going to have to worry about two of us,” said Dobbins. “I’m sure Coach Meyer will put in something to have both of us on the field, and that will be deadly.”
The last time Ohio State had two players rush for 1,000 yards in a season was 2013 when Carlos Hyde (1,521) and Braxton Miller (1,271) did it.
The last time a pair of Buckeye running backs hit the millennium mark in the same season was 1975, when Pete Johnson (1,059) and Archie Griffin (1,450) did it en route to an unbeaten regular season.
Simply by returning to play together for another season, Dobbins and Weber are already breaking new ground at Ohio State. This fall, they have a chance to break records, and perhaps break the Buckeyes back into the College Football Playoff field as well.