Over the first three games of the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes have showcased their ability to be a passing tour de force. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has balled out, including a 344-yard breakthrough against the Bucks’ toughest opponent this year, TCU. But, with Urban Meyer back on the sidelines, we could see a change in the way OSU’s offense operates this weekend.
Meyer has already reiterated during this week’s coach’s press conference that he wants to see the running game improve. While production from J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber hasn’t been Heisman caliber, they do pack a punch against opposing defenses. Meyer wants to see that improve, and what better way to see improvement than to test it out in real, meaningful snaps.
Whether it be more run-pass option plays centered around Haskins and Dobbins/Weber, or straight up the middle rushing, the focus for the Tulane Green Wave will be to stop the Buckeyes’ running game. With Dobbins and Weber having the speed and power to break through the line of scrimmage, everything hinges on the linebacking play of Zachery Harris and Lawrence Graham.
A great outing from them could keep Tulane in the game; allow the running game to blossom, and the Green Wave defense will be chasing down a rusher into the end zone.
Stacking the cards this weekend, Tulane will have to use this game as a rebound. In their last game (UAB), the Green Wave defense gave up 269 yards on the ground in a losing effort. Granted, UAB had 59 attempts on the ground, but if you do the math, the yards per carry average was 4.8. That’s not really good. What’s also not really good—at least from Tulane’s perspective—is that UAB isn’t in the same category as Ohio State. Ohio State has a much, much more effective ground game. If Dobbins gets a full head of steam on Saturday, he may have 269 yards on the ground all by himself.
On the depth chart, Zachery Harris and Marvin Moody are the ones listed as starters at LB. However, looking at the last two games worth of stats, it’s been Harris and Graham leading the way with tackles. Last weekend, Harris and Graham both walked away with nine tackles apiece—with Graham leading the way in solo tackles at seven. Regardless of who is playing behind the line, they’ll need to be fresh; tired tacklers leads to broken tackles, and both Dobbins and Weber have the ability to not only speed past you, but can run through you in the process.
Here’s an example of what happens when the linebackers can’t get to Weber.
MIKE WEBER AGAIN!! 35-0 Buckeyes! pic.twitter.com/2dK38uMe3a— Buckeye Videos+ (@BuckeyeVideos) November 11, 2017
Those kinds of runs will give Meyer what he’s looking for: improvement on the ground. Downfield blocking by the OSU offense will compound the problems of Tulane’s LBs. Not only do they have to track down whomever has the ball, but because of the weight and height differential at the offensive line, whomever has the ball will, more than likely, have a path to run through.
While rushing hasn’t seen huge numbers, it’s worth mentioning that Ohio State’s first three opponents were Power 5 programs. Rutgers might be the closest team to Tulane that OSU has faced. In that game, the Buckeyes had 242 total rush yards off 40 rushes. Giving up 5.6 yards per pop is a good way for the Green Wave to be warming up the buses at halftime. Stop the run, and they might have a chance at making this game interesting—especially if Meyer is dead set on emphasizing the run in his first game back as head coach.
Playing against Ohio State is a more physical version of chess. Stop the run game and Ohio State will try and beat you in the air. Haskins has an arm, and will still continue to make throws this week. How many he’ll get is anybody’s guess, but if the Buckeye run game goes cold, Haskins will start airing it out.
For Tulane, stopping the run is only half the equation—but it’s an important one. If they fail to stop the run, then Dobbins and Weber (and maybe even Brian Snead or Master Teague) will get in on the action. Urban Meyer is hungry to get back onto the field to coach, and will want to hit the ground running against Tulane before he coaches in one of the biggest games of the season against Penn State.
Tulane is up against a Goliath this week, but they can make things interesting by holding the OSU rushers in check.