Mike Weber lived up to the hype as a freshman and proved to be every bit the bowling-ball back that everyone hoped he’d be. By gaining 1,069 rushing yards, he joined Robert Smith and Maurice Clarett as the only Ohio State freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Weber wasn’t his accumulated stats, but rather how he went about picking up his yards:
Weber’s average of 6.0 yards per attempt was great, but it actually understates just how effective he was running the football. Per PFF, he forced 41 missed tackles on the season, regularly running over anybody and everybody that was in his path. Weber didn’t exactly make a habit of running away from defenses, but he was also seldom caught from behind.
Of course, Weber didn’t end his first season as the Buckeyes’ featured back with a bang the same way that Ezekiel Elliott did. After averaging 16.4 carries per game during the first seven games of the season, Weber averaged just 11.16 carries per game during the team’s final six games. Weber’s worst game of the season was against Penn State, when he gained just 71 yards on 21 carries. He wouldn’t surpass 14 carries in a game the rest of the season.
Weber wasn’t exactly ineffective after the Penn State game, as he averaged over six yards per carry against the likes of Northwestern, Nebraska, Maryland and Michigan State:
Still, he was largely an afterthought in the offense against Michigan and Clemson. His two fumbles during Ohio State’s loss to Clemson likely remain fresh in fan’s minds, but he only fumbled four times all season and it never seemed to be a consistent problem.
The larger issue seemed to be Ohio State’s lack of a passing game combined with three capable runners to choose from. Weber's 182 rushes for the second-most on the team behind J.T. Barrett and Curtis Samuel chipped in 97 rush attempts as well. The Buckeyes’ reliance on mixing in outside run plays and quarterback-designed runs was warranted considering the ability of Samuel and Barrett, but it also took away from Ohio State’s nastiness up front and their ability to methodically ware down the defense.
Enter new-Buckeyes offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
“He knows I got the ball a little bit less than maybe I was supposed to and he likes to run the ball...We’ll just go from there.” — Mike Weber
No stranger to elite running backs, Wilson has overseen the development of some of the NFL’s brightest stars. He coached Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma and later Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard at Indiana. While the talent of the above backs is undeniable, their great college careers were thanks in large part to Wilson’s decision to feature them in his offense.
There’s been a lot of talk about what exactly Wilson’s offense will look like, but picking apart past games doesn’t tell the whole story. He consistently evolved the Hoosiers’ offense to include innovative spread-based schemes, but he also changed the direction of his offense from year to year based on his personnel.
No single player had more than 165 rush attempts during Wilson’s first three seasons at Indiana. That’s about the time that Tevin Coleman began to emerge as the team’s best player and Wilson was happy to feed him the ball. Coleman racked up 270 carries and gained 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior, including 228 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes in Columbus:
The play design in the above clip is excellent, as Indiana takes advantage of the uncovered tight end and uses a pin and pull technique to create great blocking angles, but the real story is how Wilson stuck with his marquee back despite limited success up to that point. 142 of Coleman’s 228 yards that day came on just two runs, as the Buckeyes limited him to under 3.5 yards per carry on his other 25 carries.
LGHL’s own Christopher Jason has touched on this before, but one of the most infuriating parts of Ohio State’s offense last season was their overcompensation on addressing a problem from the week before. If Curtis Samuel didn’t get enough touches one week, there was a great chance he’d have five during the first possession the next game. The same went for Weber. The end result was a predictable offense with no fluid passing game to speak of that eventually wilted during the biggest game of the season.
Wilson isn’t a wizard who is going to completely redesign Ohio State’s offense into a new-look machine. Rather, he’s an incredibly successful and smart offensive mind who has proven to possess the ability to not only use innovative schemes and plays, but also to stick to a game plan and consistently utilize his best players.
Mike Weber returns as the Buckeyes’ most-accomplished offensive threat other than J.T. Barrett. Ohio State’s new receivers will need to prove that they can develop chemistry with Barrett and consistently beat man coverage, but there’s no reason why the focal point of the Buckeyes’ offense shouldn’t be their bowling-ball running back. Weber’s first season in Columbus was anything but a disappointment, but there’s a good chance we’ve only begun to see what he’s capable of.