COLUMBUS — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has learned to accept the aggravation and quickly counter it.
He encounters the question, he says, as much as 200 times a year from recruits, fans and reporters: Why haven’t you ever had a running back rush for 1,000 yards?
“I’m tired of hearing that, man,” he said earlier this week when asked about it.
It’s a sore spot for the 12th-year head coach, yet is undeniable. Meyer had quarterback Braxton Miller go for 1,271 yards rushing a year ago, but no running back has ever turned the trick — not at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida or Ohio State.
No matter where he goes, someone brings it up — particularly other schools who tell blue-chip offensive players that they will never flourish in Meyer’s version of the spread offense.
“Oh, all the time. It’s gone everywhere from offensive linemen don’t get developed and then we have all these first-round draft picks. I remember at one point they were saying that our offense doesn’t develop receivers and then the last seven receivers we coached aren’t only playing but they’re starting in the National Football League,” he said. “You hear it, but you just have to be armed and ready to go. Then (players) see the yards per carry, they see the opportunities you get. It really helps.”
Meyer presents a variety of reasons why he’s never had a running back top that nice, round figure that is the goal of all rushers.
He points out that Jeff Demps, a sprinter/back who played at Florida from 2008-11, was situated to break that mold until he was injured.
“He gets hurt and it’s nuts,” Meyer said, disgusted.
Just a year ago, his first Ohio State team was 10th in the nation in rushing and tailback Carlos Hyde racked up 970 yards in addition to Miller’s big year.
That’s right, just 30 yards away from ending the drought.
This season the Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) are 11th in the nation in rushing at 281 yards a game. Hyde has 294 yards in just three games — he was suspended for the first three for a legal problem — while fellow tailback Jordan Hall, nursing an injured knee that caused him to set out the last game, has 427 yards rushing with six regular-season games remaining.
In other words, either needs a big finish to do it. Hyde is aware he needs to average around 90 yards while Ohio State plays in both the Big Ten title game and a bowl.
“It’s a big goal,” he said. “But I try not to think about it. I just try to do whatever my team needs me to do to get a win. That’s all that matters with me.”
Meyer doesn’t feel the need to defend what his offense does.
“If someone wants to question whether we run the ball effectively, I think we over the last 12 years have run the ball really well,” he said. “Just in recruiting and all that other nonsense, we can’t anticipate guys missing games for whatever reason.”
Heading into the fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ game Saturday against Iowa (4-2, 1-1), whomever wins the ground game will likely win the game. The Hawkeyes also like to run, but even more than that they are stout against the run.
“We are a team that likes to run the football. We like to think that we have an offensive line that presents that to us,” said Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Stan Drayton. “So to sit there and say that we are going to go into this football game and not run the ball because Iowa is pretty good at it is not real. We are going to run the football and we are going to trust our offensive line to get engaged. We are going to trust our running backs to play through contact.”
Iowa is eighth in the country in rushing defense, allowing just 89 yards a game. The Hawkeyes have yet to give up a rushing touchdown.
“They haven’t even been in their goal-line defense,” Meyer said, shaking his head. “Think about that.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has looked at the film and has come away impressed with what he’s seen of Ohio State, as well.
“They’ve got a very effective offensive system,” he said. “Their quarterbacks have both been extremely dangerous and productive. Their running backs are outstanding. There’s really nothing you can load up on because their receivers are really good. It’s a tough preparation.”