College football is a “what have you done for me recently” sport. That was evident in 2015, when Cardale Jones was named the starter over J.T. Barrett, and shows up in scenarios every year, for many teams. It’s very easy and common for people to forget how good a player truly is after one poor performance. This shift seems to have happened with Ohio State redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber.
In Weber’s first season as the primary ball carrier for the Buckeyes, the Detroit native ran for 1,096 yards (49th best in the country) and nine touchdowns on 182 carries. He averaged six yards a rush, and 84 yards a game. He did all of that, despite not being the actual primary ball carrier on the team, as that distinction technically falls to quarterback J.T. Barrett, who had 23 more carries.
Despite very solid stats, especially given his age, many fans and analysts alike are unsure of Weber heading into the 2017 campaign. There was a wide spread flip of opinions on Weber on December 31st, 2016, when Weber and his fellow Buckeyes put up a dreadful performance against eventual national champion Clemson.
Weber ran for just 24 yards on five carries, and struggled to find any semblance of space in Clemson’s stout front seven. He also fumbled on two of those five carries, and while Ohio State recovered one, the damage had been done to Weber’s reputation, as many fans and analysts alike were not kind to Weber after the game.
Sure, Weber didn’t have a good game, but he is not alone in bearing the blame. The passing game was completely stagnant, and the offensive line was downright awful. It’s hard to run successfully when your offensive line is disjointed, the play calling is unimaginative, and the defense knows you can’t pass.
Despite the terrible finale, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to Mike Weber and Ohio State’s running game in 2017. For one, Weber’s freshman year stats don’t look very different from Ezekiel Elliott’s first season as a starter in Columbus.
Obviously, Elliott is most well known for how he ended the 2014 season. He ran for 696 yards and eight touchdowns on 76 attempts, and played a huge part in Ohio State’s incredible three game run that ended in a championship. However, if you just look at Elliott’s 2014 regular season, his numbers are very similar to Weber’s 2016 performance.
In the first 12 games of the 2014 season, Elliott ran for 1182 yards and 10 touchdowns on 197 carries. Six yards a carry, 98.5 a game. In Weber’s first 12 games of the 2016 season, he ran for 1072 yards and nine touchdowns on 177 carries. Just about 6.1 yards a carry, a little over 89 a game. While Elliott was a far better blocker and receiver than Weber is, based on pure rushing ability, Mike Weber and Ezekiel Elliott were just about equal in their first season.
They’re obviously very different running backs. Ezekiel Elliott was a significantly better running back in those last three games, and in his final season in Columbus than he was for his first 12 games. However, if that jump that Elliott made is any indicator, Mike Weber could be in for a fantastic season in 2017, and when looking at his film, it’s easy to see that he’s just bursting with potential.
This run against Bowling Green in the first week of the season is a great place to start, mainly because it showcases a lot of Weber’s natural talent that most running backs do not have at 19 years old. When Weber gets the handoff, he reads the pressure coming from the tackle very early on. That pressure is due to a missed down block by center Pat Elflein, as the guard, Billy Price, is meant to pull and kick out the linebacker, which he does.
Weber cuts left to avoid the tackle, and while many young running backs would look to cut further out to get the edge on this play, Weber stays patient, and hits the hole up the middle that Jamarco Jones opens up. Because of Weber’s vision and some nifty footwork, he turns a two yard run into a first down, and nearly a touchdown.
On this play, also against Bowling Green, Weber really gets the chance to show off his vision, footwork, and patience. It’s a counter play, with the left guard, Michael Jordan, and the tight end, Marcus Baugh, both pulling to open up a hole on the outside for Weber. Bowling Green has two safeties high, and it’s the near safety’s job to crash in if he reads run, while the other safety and corners are in coverage in the case of a play action. This safety would have caused a lot of problems if it wasn’t for Weber’s skill.
Jordan does his job, picking up a linebacker inside, and Baugh does his job as well, though if it wasn’t for Weber, Baugh would’ve likely blocked the safety, allowing the linebacker to bear down on Weber and contain the play. Weber makes the smart move when he reads the safety, by staying on Baugh’s outside hip, forcing Baugh to block the linebacker. This isolates Weber and the safety, a matchup that Weber will win nine times out of ten because of his ability to change direction quickly. Once again, Weber’s vision, and quick feet turn a possible loss into a big gain.
Next up is one of Weber’s best plays of the season. While he doesn’t have the breakaway speed of a guy like Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Weber is truly one of the best halfbacks in the country in open space. Thanks to a big block from Pat Elflein, Weber has a huge lane to use for getting up to full speed before getting to the second level. He accelerates through the hole, but does so under control (reckless running plagued him in the early stages of the season). He has a safety to deal with about ten yards out, and does so beautifully, using the safety’s pursuit angle against him.
If he puts everything together this offseason, this is the kind of run that could become a touchdown with more development.
Later on in that same game, Weber got to showcase his underrated speed on this beautiful inverted veer play. JT Barrett reads the defensive end’s indecisiveness, and holds the ball for just long enough to keep the end away from Weber. Marcus Baugh kicks out the edge linebacker perfectly, allowing Billy Price to get downfield and take out a safety on his pull block. Add in a great block by Parris Campbell, and Weber has a wide open hole to run through.
Weber accelerates through the hole, follows his blockers, and stays inside of the Campbell block. It’s rare to see a young back trust his blockers like Weber does on this play, and it’s that trust that makes it work. Once Weber hits the 40 yard line, no one is catching him, even if he isn’t a track star like Elliott was.
Fun little note, this play probably looks very familiar, if you watched Ohio State’s double overtime thriller over Michigan. It’s a very similar concept to the play that sunk Michigan, albeit with Curtis Samuel getting the ball instead of Weber.
The Penn State game is often talked about as being a terrible team performance, which isn’t really true. The defense was as good as usual, and Mike Weber had some fantastic runs, despite his offensive line. This play showcases Weber’s potential so perfectly, because it’s one of the plays where everything just came together for him on one run. He accelerates quickly, uses his vision, runs downhill, cuts, and most importantly, stays under control, and keeps his balance. He uses a stiff arm to get five extra yards, and just gashes a defense that had been stifling the Buckeyes to that point.
One of the main thing that comes with experience is consistency, and with a year of experience under his belt, Mike Weber could be very dangerous next year on plays like this if he can do them more frequently. These flashes last season were rare, but they were rare, and they’ll only become more frequent as Weber continues to mature and adjust to the speed of the game.
The last play we’ll look at is one of Weber’s best plays on the year. It didn’t go for a massive gain, but it’s just so fun to watch, and it’s so telling of who he could be as a player. Weber hits the hole, lowers his shoulder, and tears right through three tackles. He shows off some impressive balance, sheds another tackle, and very nearly hits the edge for a 50 yard, Carlos Hyde-esque touchdown run.
The difference between Weber’s freshman season and his sophomore season may be a lot like this play, and a lot of other plays from the 2016 season. Weber had what felt like 100 runs that he almost broke for a touchdown. “Almost” might be the best way to describe his season. If he develops like he should, those “almosts” could turn into touchdowns, and Mike Weber could turn into a first round pick.