Spring Game Demonstrates Plan for Ohio State to Involve Quarterbacks In Running Game

By Andy Anders on April 15, 2024 at 10:10 am
Devin Brown

Removing sacks, Ohio State quarterbacks averaged 2.8 rushing attempts per game in 2023. The Buckeyes more than quadrupled that number in the 2024 spring game.

Dropping six sacks from the equation, Buckeye QBs rushed 12 times for 90 yards against their white jersey-clad, gray-named defense on Saturday, be they scrambles or keepers on running plays.

“It’s another weapon,” offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said. “It helps keep defenses honest. If your defensive end is going to continue to bend (inside), your quarterback pulls it and he’s on the edge and he’s gaining first downs, then the defensive end has to stay outside and defend the quarterback. Then we can run the ball up and hand the ball off.”

As the Buckeyes enter summer workouts and the build to fall camp, they laid the groundwork this spring for an offense that figures to use the legs of its quarterbacks as a changeup to keep defenses off the fastball combo of TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins in the running game.

“When you have a quarterback who can run, it does change the numbers, as we all know,” Ryan Day said. “You guys have seen that over the years and it’s going to be a weapon for us this year because all of our quarterbacks are athletic enough to do that.”

Postgame, Kelly pointed to the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory in February as a prime example of what a quarterback with rushing capabilities can do. The Chiefs’ game-winning overtime drive, specifically.

Facing a 4th-and-1 trailing 22-19 in the extra period, Kansas City dialed up a play action with star tight end Travis Kelce coming across the formation. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked Kelce’s way quickly, saw he was covered, then immediately darted upfield for a 7-yard pickup that moved the chains.

Later, on 3rd-and-1 from San Francisco’s 32-yard line, Mahomes saw the seas part before him on a dropback, knifed through the line and then split two defenders for a 19-yard gain to put his squad on victory’s doorstep. A 3-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman three plays later brought a Lombardi Trophy back to Kansas City.

“Patrick Mahomes is not a runner,” Kelly said. “Andy (Reid) is not calling designed quarterback runs for Pat. But when the defense matches up and plays (cover) two man and turns their back to the quarterback, maybe the best decision is to take off.”

Devin Brown and Air Noland both picked up first downs on sizable runs Saturday while Lincoln Kienholz added a couple of nice chunk gains with his feet, getting 16 yards on his two non-sack carries.

Noland led the way with 42 rushing yards on five attempts, and Kelly said his option-play keepers were a great example of how the threat of a mobile quarterback can make a defensive front “wider” to then run downhill.

“You’re not going to see us, 20 times a game, we’re running the quarterback,” Kelly said. “There are people that run offensive styles (like that) and are really successful with it, but with this group we have right now, that’s not (our goal). Now they (all the quarterbacks) can hurt you with the feet. Will (Howard) did it when he was at Kansas State. Devin took off a couple times today, Air took off a couple times today. Lincoln’s a really, really good athlete. Julian (Sayin) can run, but we’re not calling designed quarterback runs here.”

While Brown picked up 23 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries (including sacks) – often as a red zone package quarterback – in 2023, Howard easily has the most experience making plays with his legs of Ohio State’s five scholarship gunslingers. He holds 921 rushing yards in his career, adding 19 touchdowns. He ran for 351 yards and nine scores in 2023.

Ohio State’s quarterback competition is still ongoing, with Howard and Brown the main combatants as the freshman Sayin and redshirt freshman Kienholz also try to get in the mix.

“I think we’ve got a lot of guys there,” Kelly said. “That part’s tough, I think, because there’s guys that deserve reps and they’re all competing for it. Sometimes you like to be – you had a guy who was an initial starter, he’s gonna get a bulk of the reps to get him better, but they capitalized on it. We really rolled them.”

The Buckeyes plan to involve the man under center in the running game regardless of who it is, but it’s all in moderation. With a 16- or 17-game title run on the table, Day, Kelly and company want their signal-caller healthy.

“There’s times where you have to understand, if you do have a running quarterback, the best ability is availability,” Kelly said. “You’re not lowering your shoulder, taking people on. But we are always looking for quarterbacks that have the ability to run. We’re not looking for running backs that can throw.”

Kelly has a reputation for involving his quarterbacks on the ground in some form or fashion, even if it’s just enabling them to pull the ball on a run play or scramble on a passing one. And if the spring game is any indication, that won’t change in 2024.

“I think a running quarterback causes problems for a defense,” Kelly said. “When plays break down, (it’s) the unscheduled plays.”

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