No DeLoreans were spotted in the parking lots around Memorial Stadium on Saturday, but Ohio State’s 51-10 win over Indiana had a certain “Back to the Future” feel.
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes won big (the most lopsided victory in the series since 2006).
Their defense played well (The Hoosiers’ 257 total yards were the fewest by an Ohio State Big Ten opponent since Week 2 of last season).
They scored in all three phases of the game (a hallmark of the Jim Tressel era from 2001-10).
But perhaps most significantly, the running backs were the tip of the spear on offense for Ohio State.
J.K. Dobbins carried the load early, running for 175 yards in the first half and finishing with 193. Master Teague picked up where he left off, picking up a career-high 106 yards on the ground, and Indiana had no answer.
While quarterback Justin Fields completed 14 of 24 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, he ran only three times (plus a sack).
“I’m proud of our offensive staff,” head coach Ryan Day said, praising offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich, running backs coach Tony Alford, receivers coach Brian Hartline and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa by name. “We’ve gone from a passing attack last year to now we’re starting to run the ball, and I think that shows the versatility of our offense.”
After running on only 48 percent of its plays last season (the lowest since at least 2001 but most likely ever), Ohio State has so far run 60 percent of the time in 2019 (including QB scrambles as runs but not sacks).
That is partly a function of having huge leads in the second half of all three contests, but game situation tells only part of the story.
The Buckeyes ran 25 times and threw 16 passes in the first half at Indiana, and that ratio was no accident.
“I think when you can have a balanced attack it’s important, but when you get that run going, you can really control that game,” Day said. “That’s what we did today.”
Running backs doing the bulk of the, well, running certainly isn’t new at Ohio State, but it is something the hasn’t been seen as much in recent years with the quarterback becoming a major component of the ground game.
Saturday at Indiana was the 15th time two Ohio State players have run for at least 100 yards in the same game since 2001, but only the second time neither was a quarterback. (Dobbins and Mike Weber ran for 124 and 162 yards, respectively, against Michigan State in 2017.)
With the multi-talented Fields replacing pocket passer Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, the Buckeyes were expected to run the ball more in 2019 with the quarterback run game playing a big part.
So far, Fields has run only when necessary, though.
His 6.6 runs per game are one more than Ohio State quarterbacks averaged last season but still about half of the average from the Urban Meyer era (12.99).
Into the void have stepped Dobbins, Teague and a new-look-but-old-school offensive line complemented by a deep group of tight ends.
“Last year was a little bit different with Dwayne,” Day said. “Just a different set of dynamics. This year we’ve got multiple tight ends, a big veteran offensive line. I think we are creating some depth at running back, and then to be able to do that and throw play-action pass is really the idea. Where does it go from here? I don’t know, but I remember (asking) in the preseason, ‘Where’s the journey? What is this offense going to look like?’ We’re starting to forge our identity.”
READ MORE: Hoosiers can’t stop 2-pronged rushing attack
Of course, running the ball is in the DNA of Ohio State football, but it has been done a variety of ways over the years.
Forty-five times since 1950, Ohio State has had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game.
The quarterback was one of them 23 times, including 11 under Meyer from 2012-18.
Woody Hayes, who was more creative and flexible than he is often remembered, coached 10 games at Ohio State in which the quarterback and a running back hit triple digits while 12 others in his 28 seasons had a pair of running backs break the century mark.
Two Buckeye backs went over 100 yards three times under Earle Bruce and five times under John Cooper, but it never happened in the Tressel era and just once in Meyer’s seven seasons, so Saturday certainly had a certain historic feel.
What’s next for the Buckeyes in 2019?
Whatever is necessary.
“The goal is to move the ball down the field, control the game and score points,” Day said. “What best gives you that opportunity? We’re finding that as we go here. I think Justin has been doing a good job and the receivers have done a good job as well, but it’s a different identity and it’s still going to be changing week in and week out.”
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