A quarterback's ability to run the ball isn't just important in terms of the amount of rushing yards he has in the box score.
It also creates plenty of different opportunities for the offense. Conversely, a quarterback who is unable (or at least presents no threat) to do so makes things much tougher for an offense.
Ohio State found that out the hard way in 2023. While Kyle McCord showed glimpses of being able to lead a stout offense with his arm, he was never much of a running threat, which cost him and the Buckeyes eventually. It didn’t help that he battled ankle injuries and Ohio State’s offensive line struggled, but McCord totaled just 32 carries for -65 yards during the 2023 season.
That became even more noticeable against Michigan, and Ohio State’s loss combined with his lack of running continued a common trend in The Game. Since Urban Meyer took over and brought the spread offense to Columbus in 2012, Ohio State is 8-0 against Michigan when its quarterback has positive rushing yards and 0-3 when its quarterback has negative rushing yards.
More specifically, the last Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan with negative rushing yards was Terrelle Pryor (-7) in 2008. The last to lose to Michigan with positive rushing yards was Braxton Miller (100) in 2011.
|1 carry, -3 yards
|2 carries, -3 yards
|6 carries, -30 yards
|6 carries, 25 yards
|7 carries, 34 yards
|15 carries, 67 yards, 1 TD
|3 carries, 24 yards
|30 carries, 125 yards, 1 TD
|19 carries, 139 yards, 3 TDs
|15 carries, 89 yards, 2 TDs
|16 carries, 153 yards, 3 TDs
|20 carries, 57 yards
Ryan Day hasn’t always wanted his quarterbacks to run the ball due to the risk of injury, but his third straight loss to Michigan made him realize that the quarterback needs to be a running threat. Not only to beat Michigan for the first time since 2019 but for Ohio State's offense to reach its full potential.
While OSU will have a play-caller not named Day on offense for the first time since 2017, Ohio State still needs to have a quarterback who can make plays with his legs when called upon.
"One of the things we got to do to win the last game of the year is run the football," Day said on Wednesday. "And in order to do that, you want to have somebody who at least needs to be accounted for in the run game. If the other defense says ‘Well, he's not a threat at all to run,’ that certainly changes the angles, the numbers, the leverage, all the above."
That's what made Will Howard such an appealing quarterback for Ohio State in the transfer portal. He's not only a fifth-year senior, but the 6-foot-5, 242-pounder ran for 921 yards and 19 touchdowns during his four years at Kansas State, including 81 carries for 351 yards and nine touchdowns in 2023.
"He has the ability to throw the football. When he needs to run, he can run," Day said. "But he's big. You see the size of him when he gets up on you. He's a big guy. So there's a few things there that we can really grab onto."
Howard isn’t the only quarterback on Ohio State’s roster who can run the ball, though. Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz, Air Noland and Julian Sayin share that ability as well. Howard and Brown have shown it already at the collegiate level; the latter three proved it during their high school careers.
"That was one I wanted to make sure we had. When you look at the guys we have on our roster right now, they all have the ability to do that," Day said. "Started with that. Then, from there, how do they throw the football? What's their size? What's their intelligence? All those things. We wanted to make sure there was enough of it. Doesn't need to be running around doing all kinds of running with the ball but needs to at least be accounted for by the defense."
Ohio State already has one of the best skill position groups in the country. Just imagine if running backs such as TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins can find more holes in the front seven and receivers such as Emeka Egbuka, Carnell Tate, Brandon Inniss and Jeremiah Smith can find more space given that opposing defensive backs will now have to account for a quarterback running threat out of OSU's backfield.
“One of the things we got to do to win the last game of the year is run the football.”– Ryan Day on Ohio State's quest to beat Michigan
In less than seven months, Ohio State will no longer have to imagine that. But until then, Day and company will focus on how the Buckeyes’ offense can reach its full potential in 2024. Having a quarterback that can run the ball is a good start to that plan.