For most of the last three decades in this series with Ohio State, you knew you had to stop the run, or you’d be run over. In the last six seasons, Urban Meyer’s taken that premise, underlined it, increased font size, made it bold, and embossed it in flashing neon. Stop the run, or die a painful and humiliating death, usually on national television in prime time. During that span, the Buckeyes have rushed 290 times for 1,545 yards on Dear Old State - a tidy 5.3 yards per rush, and an average of 257 per game.
Don’t drop your head about surrendering 250 yards rushing to Urban Meyer, friends. All of the brightest defensive minds have done it. Nick Saban and his harem of 5-star semi-professionals gave up 281 yards in the 2014 playoffs. Big Game Bob Stoops, a media certified defensive genius, yielded 291 yards. And booger-eating, khaki-wearing, man-balling Jim Harbaugh has choked up 369 yards. Meyer runs the ball on everyone, historically speaking.
Of course, given the current state of Penn State’s feeble rush defense, few reasonable fans would blame you if you inquired about vacancy at the nearest underground storm shelter for Saturday night. Reserving a corner seat might ultimately prove prescient. But before you head underground, Film Room wants to run an insanely idiotic notion past you, in hopes you’ll stick around.
Kill The Lights
Let’s profile what Film Room likes to call “Woobie”. For military veterans, this is actually not the “liner, wet weather, poncho” that we all know and love. Rather, it’s Urban Meyer’s football version of said poncho liner. In a tight game, on 3rd down and Must-Convert, whenever he absolutely, positively had to have it, Urban Meyer emptied the backfield, spread the field, and ran the QB. Tim Tebow, Braxton Miller, JT Barrett - heck, even Cardale Jones ran this play.
Here it is, from 2014, in overtime, facing 3rd and 2, with freshman JT Barrett, at Beaver Stadium. I know it’s coming. You know it’s coming. The whole world knows it’s coming. Try stopping it.
Between 2013, when Meyer got his Columbus Death Star fully weaponized, through the 2016 season - a four year stretch - the Buckeyes ran for fewer than 175 total yards just 5 times (in 55 games). And most of those five came with gigantic asterisks.
Think back to three seasons ago, in 2015, from whence two of those five failures came. The Buckeyes had just won a national title behind Zeke Elliott the year prior. Offensive wizard Tom Herman departed for the head spot at Houston, replaced by idiot Tim Beck, and Urban Meyer ultimately chose to roll with Cardale Jones at quarterback to start the season. Through six weeks, the Buckeyes sat undefeated, but clearly looked “off”. They survived Northern Illinois 20-13, at Indiana 34-27, and failed to completely humiliate a terrible Maryland squad, 49-28.
In week 7, a depleted Penn State team, further handicapped by OC John Donovan, visited the Horseshoe. Incredibly, PSU took an early 3-0 lead while the Cardale-led offense - despite the presence of Zeke and a host of other future NFLers - sputtered. The Buckeyes managed just one first down, zero points, and three punts in the first quarter of action.
The game puttered along like an old man in cold weather until late in the 3rd quarter, when with the game (technically) still in doubt at 21-10, and following yet another Cardale-led 3-and-out, Urban finally pulled the plug. Out came Jones, in went JT Barrett - and there went any chance PSU had at pulling a massive upset. OSU ran the ball 19 times for 150 yards in the final 18 minutes of game play, including 7 for 51 by Barrett, and won going away, 38-10.
Just one season later, without Cardale but still oddly infatuated with the pass, Urban Meyer tried to keep JT Barrett in bubble wrap, eschewing the QB run for much of the evening. Ohio State led for the first 56 minutes of the game, and Barrett attempted a paltry 4 designed rushes. The Buckeyes managed just 168 total rushing yards - 74 of which came on one Curtis Samuel jet sweep. PSU won, 24-21.
Last year at the Shoe, despite all of the credit heaped upon Barrett’s 4th quarter passing - which was miraculous, to be sure - and despite trailing from kickoff thru 58 minutes, the Buckeyes kept their run-pass balance. 39 rushes, 39 passes. Barrett ran 17 times for 95 yards. Much unpleasantness. Stinging. Let’s move along.
All of which is an obscenely long setup to this potentially idiotic point: Urban Meyer is something less than Urban Meyer whenever Urban Meyer doesn’t run the dang ball. It’s his raison d’être. Yet for whatever reasons - play Cardale, protect JT, Tim Beck hates rain, etc. - Urban Meyer’s voluntarily chosen not to run the dang ball at times. It’s bizarre.
Granted, Urban Meyer wasn’t on the sideline for the Buckeye’s game against TCU a few weeks ago. And that may have had something to do with the disappearance of “Woobie” to this point in 2018. But here were two absolutely, positively, got-to-have-it 3rd down attempts in the 3rd quarter of that game, while trailing the Horned Frogs.
The first is an admittedly beautiful throw, off a double clutch no less - but ultimately falls incomplete.
And here’s the second - a quick snap, with 6-man protection, and nowhere to throw the ball. Scramble for 1 yard and punt.
Hit The Lights
As every PSU fan who watched the 2014 - 2015 seasons knows all too well, an option-based rushing attack is far less effective if the QB isn’t a serious threat to run. And thru 4 games of 2018, new QB Dwayne Haskins stands credited with just 10 rushing attempts for 28 yards. Certainly, JK Dobbins and Mike Weber - both averaging 5.7 ypc to this point - present serious challenges for any rush defense, particularly PSU’s given its subpar performance. But the kick in the pants is this: you have to go all the way back to 2012, Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus, before the rushing Death Star was fully weaponized, to find a regular tailback who averaged fewer than 6 yards per carry for an entire season - Carlos Hyde averaged 5.24 that year (and 7.31 the following season).
As mentioned, there’s a very real chance that this entire notion is completely moronic. Furthermore, Haskins’ accuracy is spectacular, and left alone in the secure pocket, he’ll carve up a ton ‘o foes. But until proven otherwise, wouldn’t you much rather face Slingin’ Urban Meyer without his Woobie, than Runnin’ Urban Meyer in Death Star mode, with his Woobie by his side, should he ever absolutely need it? Give me the quick slant. Here’s hoping there are precious few QB runs this Saturday, to test the efficacy of this hypothesis.