Ohio State Buckeyes running back Mike Weber saw Ezekiel Elliott take off in the postseason two years ago with eight touchdowns and 696 rushing yards in three games and pictured himself doing the same thing.
“I did most definitely,” Weber said. “I just sat back and watched and saw how they took on the expectations and a lot of people doubted them and they came out on top, so it was pretty cool.”
Weber now occupies Elliott’s old spot on the depth chart, and Elliott is an all-pro running back and rookie of the year candidate for the Dallas Cowboys.
Weber, a redshirt freshman, will follow in Elliott’s footsteps when he plays in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 31 in Glendale, Ariz. No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) plays No. 2 Clemson (12-1) in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It will be hard for Weber to dodge the comparisons to Elliott.
“I try not to really think about it and just go out there and play the best that I can and be the best Mike that I can be,” Weber said at press conference Dec. 15 at Ohio State. “I do hear stuff like that, but I do my best to tune that out and do everything that I’ve got to do to help this team win.”
Ohio State’s coaches have shown Weber film on Elliott, hoping he would adopt Elliott’s practice habits. They haven’t necessarily pointed to Elliott’s big plays, like the 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Alabama. They have focused more on pointing to Elliott’s blocking ability and his extra effort at the end of runs.
“Everybody’s focus gets razor sharp at this time of the year because everybody knows what is at stake,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “Mike has been consistent. His growth has been great. He has to make an impact in this next game for us to play well and to be effective offensively. We expect him to, and he’s ready to do that.”
“What we always try to do is show him some of the things Zeke did and his growth and development on video and talk to him about some of those habits. He is trying to apply some of those to himself.”
Weber was a teammate of Elliott’s last season but didn’t play as a freshman. He grew up a lot right after last season’s Fiesta Bowl, center Pat Elflein said, because he knew Elliott was leaving for the NFL Draft.
“He was the next guy in, and he responded,” Elflein said. “He answered the call and he did that and he’s been playing good football because of it. Not looking too far ahead, but when it’s his time to come and be the older guy, he’s going to be the leader because of that.”
Weber rushed 177 times for 1,072 yards in the regular season with nine touchdowns. He became the third Ohio State freshman to rush for 1,000 yards. He was named a freshman All-American by USA Today and won the Big Ten freshman of the year award.
“One of the things about Mike, he matured very much as a practice player,” Warinner said. “His effort and attention to detail and his habits started to grow and be what you want. You could see that growth carry over to the field. He has been very reliable for us. He’s made big plays in just about every game. The way he has approached football and the way he has approached practice, just his growth in all areas has carried over to the field. He’s been a great asset for us.”