Ohio State football: Buckeyes crowded backfield a great thing


As the Ohio State football program sizes up Oklahoma in Week 2, the Bucks are loaded in the backfield, but that’s not such a bad thing.

J.K. Dobbins turned plenty of heads against Indiana, breaking the record for a freshman running back debut in Ohio State history. The talent was always there, but now that Dobbins has established he is game ready, the Buckeye backfield is now very crowded.

That couldn’t be better news for Kevin Wilson and Urban Meyer.

Dobbins ran for 181 yards on 29 carries, incredible for a true freshman making his first career start in a nationally televised prime time game. Indiana’s defense is also far better than the scoreboard would indicate.

Antonio Williams, who filled in as the number two back against the Hoosiers, scored twice in that game. Mike Weber, the incumbent starter at running back, rushed for 1,096 yards himself in 2016 and is now listed as a co-starter with Dobbins at the position. Instead of worrying about the pecking order at the position, Buckeye fans should see this for the benefit that it is.

The obvious benefit is obviously depth. Curtis Samuel was the de facto back up running back to Weber last season, but he was also the only receiver that J.T. Barrett could trust consistently. Demario McCall flashed at times, but J.T. Barrett was the team’s second leading rusher on the season.

Kevin Wilson’s Indiana teams did not rely on the quarterback to run the ball, so building real depth at the running back position is a product of his philosophy. With Weber, Dobbins, and Williams all looking capable, this gives the Buckeyes plenty of options in the backfield.

Another key benefit is that Mike Weber can now ensure that his hamstring is 100 percent ready to go. If Weber were the only option at the position, chances are he would have played against Indiana. With that same scenario in mind, what if Weber got hurt? What if his hamstring was aggravated even more? Without seeing that Dobbins can carry the load and that Williams can muscle his way in short yardage situations, that would be a tough scenario. Now, Weber can rest and work his way back at the appropriate pace.

Balance at the position is also a key benefit for the Buckeyes. With what looks like three capable rushers and two potential lead backs, this gives Kevin Wilson his best tandem at the position since 2015, when Jordan Howard and Devine Redding both ran for over 1,000 yards and each had approximately 200 carries.

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That Indiana offense was ranked 24th in the country in points per game. In the year prior when Tevin Coleman was a 2,000 yard rusher, Indiana was only 90th in points per game. The moral of the story is that Kevin Wilson’s offense is at its best when he can deploy multiple lead running backs. With Weber and Dobbins, there are two contrasting styles that are equally effective. It doesn’t hurt that Antonio Williams is a solid reserve option to spell either player.

The last benefit might be the best of all. With multiple running backs able to take on a lead role. J.T. Barrett does not need to have nearly as many dedicated running plays called for him. Barrett had the most carries on the team in 2016 with 205 attempts. By spreading those carries around to the backfield, Barrett can avoid some hits throughout the year. It also allows him more opportunities to continue work with his receivers to make improvements to the passing game.

This doesn’t mean that he won’t run the ball. It just means that Barrett when run the ball more selectively and as an option, not as the plan. This will help the offense maintain better balance as the year goes on.

Next: Joe Russo's Lessons Learned Against Indiana

You can never have too much talent on the roster. With so much talent at one position, this just gives Kevin Wilson more options and more confidence in the team to execute his game plan.