GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mike Weber cannot stop fiddling with the torn sleeve on his undershirt. Nervous energy aside, the Ohio State running back just needed something to do with his left hand as he tried to dissect what happened with his team's offense during its 31-0 Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson.
“Different things on defense. Like fumbling. Fumbling the ball, dropping wide open passes that are converted into interceptions, giving up pressures on the edge and throwing interceptions,” Weber said. “I feel like we turned the ball over way too much today. And when you do that at this level, especially at the college football level, you lose.”
Weber is definitely at fault for a few of the things he mentioned. He dropped a pass on third down when he was wide open in the flat on Ohio State's first drive of the game. Had he caught it, the Buckeyes would have moved the sticks and at least gotten some positive mojo going. Would it have changed the outcome of the game? Who knows. But Weber didn't help things later when he got the ball by fumbling twice on his first three carries.
“I just feel like it wasn’t our day,” he said. “It wasn’t our day.”
To add salt to the wound, Weber received his fifth and final carry of the night on the final play of the game. Having to run one more play after the Tigers turned the ball over on downs with nine seconds left following a Deshaun Watson kneel down, Urban Meyer, Ed Warinner and Tim Beck dialed up a handoff up the middle. Weber grabbed 7 yards. He finished with 24 for the game.
“I was more of a, when coach called my number, just try and make a play. I want to be a guy that’s getting 25, 30 carries a game, putting the team on his back. I’m going to work real hard to get there.”– Mike Weber
The redshirt freshman broke the 1,000-yard barrier at Michigan State on Nov. 19, Ohio State's 11th game of the season. You probably know he is just the third Buckeye freshman running back to ever do that. He only ran it 14 times that day but finished with 111 yards and a touchdown. Against Michigan, Weber got 11 carries. Facing the Big Ten's top-ranked rushing defense, he tallied only 26 yards.
If you're keeping track at home, that is 16 carries for 50 yards in Ohio State's final two games for Weber. He is not Ezekiel Elliott—the man who ripped the College Football Playoff to shreds two years ago and topped 1,800 rushing yards in 2015—but as Weber's role diminished, many wondered why.
Including the running back.
“I’m still trying to figure it out myself,” Weber said with a shrug. “I don’t know what’s causing it. I actually thought I was doing pretty good throughout the season getting yards but I’m not the coach here. It’s not up to me.
“I was coming in, expecting the ball a lot, controlling the offense, running the ball well. Just didn’t have it today.”
Urban Meyer wanted to run a ball control offense against the Tigers too. And yet, Ohio State called only eight running plays in the first half. They garnered eight yards.
“Our game was to be balanced and certainly not, whatever the stat you just said, that wasn't our game plan,” Meyer said. “We just didn't execute very well on offense.”
On 21 of the first 27 offensive plays, the Buckeyes directed J.T. Barrett to drop back to pass.
“That was not the game plan. I think we kind of got taken out of the game plan a little bit,” Meyer said. “But no, that was our plan, to be balanced. We didn't follow the plan.”
When they did run the ball, it was Curtis Samuel on the edge looking to stretch the field, typically behind Weber, a lead blocker. Weber understands that is part of the job description in being the lead running back within Ohio State's offense. But he thought that it also came with more than five carries in the biggest game of the season.
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“Only thing I can control is doing what I do when my number is called. It didn’t get called too much today and I made a few mistakes that I shouldn’t have made that I normally don’t make,” Weber said. “Going to go from here get this feeling out of us and hopefully get back here next year.”
That is the expectation at Ohio State, to reach the top-4 every year and then win national titles. With all the talent on offense available that the staff recruited to Columbus, Weber is a small piece of the pie. But as we saw the last time the Buckeyes won it all, they first ran rampant behind Elliott and a stout offensive line.
Weber wants nothing more than for that to be him. Ohio State's offensive line with have some new faces on it in 2017 and staff changes could be coming. Everyone must play better. But Weber is anxious to get back at it, yearning for more of a load.
That way, he has a chance to be answering questions with a smile on his face instead of a subconscious grab of his T-shirt.
“I feel like I need to prepare myself and hopefully take over the load next year. Hope to put the team on my back because I wasn’t that this year,” Weber said. “I was more of a, when coach called my number, just try and make a play. I want to be a guy that’s getting 25, 30 carries a game, putting the team on his back. I’m going to work real hard to get there.”