Backfield Breakdown: How the Carries Could Be Distributed Between Ohio State's Stable of Running Backs

By Andrew Ellis on July 29, 2017 at 8:10 am
JK Dobbins could see significant playing time backing up Mike Weber in 2017.

An uptempo offense should mean more opportunities for a talented backfield.

The college football season is just about a month away, and the Buckeyes have already completed two fall practices as Urban Meyer prepares for the Aug. 31 opener at Indiana. 

This is always an exciting time of year, and this go-around features some added intrigue as Ohio State fans are anxiously awaiting the new Kevin Wilson-led offense. While we know that Wilson and Meyer operate under a similar philosophy, the expected added wrinkles will be a welcome addition. 

Mike Weber will be the bell cow and is expected to be one of the Big Ten's top backs, but there are some question marks about how things will shake out behind the redshirt sophomore. If history is any indicator, it's reasonable to expect J.K. Dobbins, Demario McCall, and Antonio Williams to be heavily involved as well. 

2016 Breakdown
J.T. BARRETT 205 845 4.1 38 percent
MIKE WEBER 182 1096 6.0 34 percent
CURTIS SAMUEL 97 771 7.9 18 percent
DEMARIO MCCALL 49 270 5.5 10 percent

It's difficult to imagine a repeat of last season where J.T. Barrett carried the football 205 times. That's over 30 more carries than he had during his breakout season in 2014 (171). 

Curtis Samuel obviously was the do-it-all guy on offense last year, and it remains to be seen who will be in that role in 2017. Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Eric Glover-Williams, and Demario McCall all have the potential to play more of the H-back role, but McCall would be the one who is most likely to take some of the carries away from Barrett, Weber, Dobbins, and Williams.

McCall is going to be the X-factor in this whole thing. He saw mop-up duty in 2016 and quickly captured the hearts of pretty much every Buckeye fan out there. The question still remains as to how exactly he will be utilized with Wilson at the helm. A year ago, Samuel was the clear-cut guy at H-back. Now, with a plethora of options at the position, our best bet is that McCall serves more of a utility role as Wilson and Meyer look to make the most of his skill set in both the running and passing games.

2015 Breakdown
EZEKIEL ELLIOTT 289 1821 6.3 57 percent
J.T. BARRETT 115 682 5.9 23 percent
CARDALE JONES 64 193 3.0 12 percent
BRAXTON MILLER 43 261 6.1 8 percent

Another thing I don't expect to see this coming season is anywhere close to the volume that the lead guy saw in 2015. Obviously Ezekiel Elliott was a very special player and is already one of the best in the National Football League, but approaching 300 carries is asking a heck of a lot from a running back.

Above are the top four rushers for the previous two seasons. In 2015, backup tailbacks Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball combined for just 24 carries while Curtis Samuel chipped in with 17. Besides the Zeke Elliott show, Ohio State clearly featured a QB and H-heavy running game. 

So what should the expectation be for the upcoming season? It's really tough to gauge because of a number of factors; namely the abundance of talent at H-back, McCall's utilization, and just the general direction and play-calling under Wilson. 

We don't anticipate an entirely new look on offense, but one of the biggest things to look for will be a much faster pace. The Buckeyes don't exactly play slow, but things did seem to have been toned down a bit over the last few seasons. Wilson's speedy approach should mean more plays which of course means more opportunities for the backfield and offense as a whole.

The 2016 Hoosiers' running game relied heavily on tailback Devine Redding. During his senior season, Redding carried the ball 253 times for 1,122 yards and seven scores. Using the same procedure as above – carries between the team's top four rushers – shows that Redding made up about 63 percent of the Indiana attack.

It's certainly worth pointing out that the Hoosiers didn't exactly have a J.T. Barrett caliber running threat at quarterback and overall lacked talent in the backfield. Still, it gives a bit of a glimpse into the strategy Wilson employed a season ago.

For the Buckeyes, it looks like Antonio Williams may have a bit of a tough time taking carries away from Weber and Barrett. In the early portion of the spring, it was announced that true freshman J.K. Dobbins had already moved ahead of the sophomore. Since then, all reports on the talented newcomer have been extremely positive. He was spotted with the first-team offense on Thursday as Weber worked with trainers on the sideline.

It's clear that the staff is expecting big things from the Texan and his early arrival in January has likely gone a long way in readying him for the fall. As for Williams, he probably has some work to do this summer. 

Look for a heavy dose of Weber and Barrett with Dobbins seeing significant playing time as well. The staff will find a way to get Demario McCall involved in some capacity and Williams will be fighting for carries as well. 

A potential breakdown? How about 40 percent Weber, 30 percent Barrett, 15 percent Dobbins, 10 percent McCall, and 5 percent Williams.

Combine that with an improved passing game and it should be a recipe for success.

View 66 Comments