Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed Ohio State’s three potential weak spots — the secondary’s ability to contain explosive plays, the defensive line’s run-stopping ability (particularly in the middle of the line), and the offense’s ability to stretch the field vertically with explosive passing. But all of that assumes that the running game will be A-OK under a combination of J.T. Barrett, Curtis Samuel, and most importantly, Mike Weber.
We have good reason to expect Mike Weber will be fantastic. They were similarly elite recruits, with Weber rating .9603 and Elliott at .9693 in the 247 Composite. The offensive line should reload similarly to the 2014 campaign, but with increased depth. And Weber will have Samuel and Barrett to take some of the carries when he needs a breather.
But what the run game critically needs to replace is Ezekiel Elliott’s dependability on third and short. When the offense was in a must-convert situation, the team could almost always count on Zeke picking up the yardage necessary.
The most telling metric here is power success rate, where the Buckeyes ranked seventh in total last season. Power success rate is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, with two or fewer yards to go, that pick up the first down or a touchdown. Ohio State was able to do this an astounding 77.2% of the time (7th in the country), which is likely why they ran the ball on 44% of passing downs (14th-most in the country).
In short, the Buckeyes were able to convert over 3⁄4 of third and fourth downs by running the ball, so they ran the ball on nearly half of all passing downs last season. That’s because Zeke could be trusted to pick up the first down.
On third down with three or fewer yards to go, Zeke averaged 5.77 yards per carry and picked up first downs on 71% of his carries. He also had nine fourth down carries, converting six, including three runs of ten yards or more. That means that Elliott had an explosive run on a third of his fourth down attempts.
If you know that you’re going to be successful 71% of the time that you hand the ball to your running back in pressure-packed, must-convert situations, then you have an incredible advantage. That kind of dependability is what Weber must work towards for Ohio State to have a shot at the playoff this season — Warinner and Meyer must be able to trust Weber enough to convert third and short.