IOWA CITY - If you look back at Ohio State's last three losses, you will notice a common theme: The running backs disappear.
It's a week late to make the corny comparison for it being a Halloween disappearing act, but it's nonetheless a magic trick of sorts by the Ohio State offense. However, it doesn't end with applause, at least for those who support the Scarlet and Gray.
In four of Ohio State's last five losses (Michigan State in 2015, Clemson in 2016, Oklahoma and Iowa in 2017), quarterback J.T. Barrett has collected more carries than Ohio State's running backs combined (not including the Buckeyes' final drive on Saturday). In games where Buckeye running backs have more carries than Barrett dating back to the Clemson loss? Ohio State is undefeated.
On Ohio State's third offensive possession, Buckeye freshman running back J.K. Dobbins carried the ball four times for 47 yards, setting up a 29-yard passing score from Barrett to Terry McLaurin. Dobbins earned just two more carries the rest of the game.
Center Billy Price was the only offensive player made available to speak following Ohio State's 55-24 loss to Iowa on Saturday, and when asked if he wished the Buckeyes ran more of their power run game, he paused before saying he has faith in his coaches.
"I trust the coaches," Price said. "I trust in everything that they are doing. They saw some things and were trying to get some things working to attack their secondary and attack their second level. My personal opinion really doesn't matter."
Combined, Dobbins and Mike Weber totaled 11 carries for 78 yards on the ground. Barrett was called on 14 times and tallied 63 yards on the ground.
Following Ohio State's 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semi-final, Meyer said that the Scarlet and Gray would not get used to losses of such a magnitude.
"Ohio State is not used to this. I'm not used to this, and we will not get used to this," he said on New Year's Eve, 2016. "That's not going to happen again. So we'll get things worked out."
Following a 39-38 win against Penn State, it appeared Ohio State had indeed worked things out. As soon as things begin to go south, however, the Buckeyes revert to running Barrett into the ground.
It happened again. It hasn't gotten worked out.
Ohio State abandoned its power run game – at least with its running backs – for the entire second half, trailing by just 14 points. Not including four carries from Antonio Williams on the final drive of the game, Buckeye running backs combined for one carry the entire second half.
Down just 31-17, Ohio State had two possessions to try and cut into the Iowa lead with plenty of time left on the third quarter clock. On those two drives, Barrett carried five times and attempted two passes, totaling five yards through the air. Dobbins and Weber did not earn a touch.
It took an Ezekiel Elliott meltdown for Ohio State to save what was left of its 2015 season and run the football. With the 2017 playoff surely out of reach, the Buckeyes still have a chance to salvage a Big Ten championship. However, Ohio State welcomes Michigan State to Columbus in a week, a team that has stifled Urban Meyer offenses since 2012, with the 2014 meeting being the lone exception.
If the Buckeyes once again fail to utilize their running backs, the stats say Ohio State could be held without a trip to Indianapolis for a third straight season.