COLUMBUS — After Ohio State ran the football 62 percent of the time and gained 56 percent of its yardage on the ground last season, Urban Meyer said developing a more balanced offense would be a priority this year.
That plan might have been created at least in part out of necessity.
With Ezekiel Elliott running for 1,821 yards last season and 1,878 yards in the national championship season in 2014, it was easy to let the offense tilt heavily toward the running game.
But Elliott is in the NFL now, and though OSU has people it thinks can move the ball on the ground, probably none of them will step in and immediately provide what Elliott did.
“That was a little bit of a crutch last year. You had the best tailback in the country and when in doubt, hand it to Zeke,” Meyer said earlier this summer.
“We want to be much more balanced. I want to say in 2014 we were much more balanced between the quarterback throw, quarterback run, and obviously receivers making plays. We have to be much more efficient than last year,” he said.
Earlier this week Meyer said he was looking for a 50-50 split between running the ball and passing.
In 2014, with more play makers at receiver, OSU gained 52 percent of its yardage in the running game and 48 percent in the passing game. And it averaged 77 yards a game more than in 2015.
“I want to say in 2014 we were much more balanced between the quarterback throw, quarterback run, and obviously receivers making plays. We have to be much more efficient than last year. That’s what we have to be,” Meyer said.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett is the one proven returning play maker on Ohio State’s offense, so the temptation to make him this year’s version of Elliott would seem to be strong.
But Ohio State’s success also depends on keeping Barrett healthy, so the idea heading into Saturday’s season opener against Bowling Green is to reduce his carries from last year when he was in double figures in rushing attempts in his last seven games, including 15 against Michigan State, 19 against Michigan and 23 against Notre Dame in the final three games of the season.
“We want to be real smart and judicious with J.T. and use him wisely,” OSU offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said earlier this week. “We would rather have other play makers in the offense carry the burden of running the football but he will do it at times when we need him to.
“The quarterback is kind of the wild card in the offense. If you’re overplaying the tailback and the run game then obviously people are neglecting him and there’s yardage to be had there,” he said.
Meyer said he hopes to limit Barrett to 10 to 12 carries a game, with half or a few more of those coming on called quarterback runs.
“He’s a natural scrambler. When things break down, I think that’s one of his strengths,” Meyer said.
“He’s one of those quarterbacks that’s very rarely takes a sack. He’s always getting that plus yardage. If it’s not there he puts his foot in the ground gets plus yardage. He’s more aggressive than most quarterbacks. But when you start hitting 20 to 25 carries, that’s too many.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.