To run or not to run is not a question for Ohio State football QBs

The Ohio State football team has stopped running its quarterbacks as often as they used to. That might change this year.

Former Ohio State Quarterback Justin Fields
Former Ohio State Quarterback Justin Fields / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Ohio State football team's offense has been the lack of, or complete refusal, of the Ohio State quarterbacks in the running game. Ever since Justin Fields finished up his Ohio State career after the 2020 season, Ohio State quarterbacks have not threatened opposing defenses with their legs.

Perhaps you might be thinking, "Minnich, what is your problem? Do you want the quarterbacks to get hurt?". The answer is absolutely no, I do not want the Ohio State quarterbacks to get hurt. I will merely point out that the threat of the quarterback running the ball is another aspect that an opposing defense would need to prepare for, and that could only make Ohio State's offense that much more difficult to defend.

For example, the aforementioned Justin Fields carried the ball 137 times for 484 yards and had 10 rushing touchdowns in 2019, then carried the ball 81 times for 383 yards and 5 touchdowns in the abbreviated season of 2020. Fields was able to average better than 4 yards a carry over those two seasons, keeping drives alive as he was able to pick up crucial first downs, and was a threat to score at a moment's notice, as he demonstrated in his first game versus Florida Atlantic in 2019.

Even in 2020, when Ohio State head coach Ryan Day knew that Justin Fields would be declaring early for the 2021 NFL Draft, Day was not reluctant to let the backup quarterbacks run the ball. Below is C.J. Stroud scoring on a long touchdown run at Michigan State, as a true freshman.

Now, let us go forward to the 2021 season. C.J. Stroud has emerged as the starting quarterback and has led Ohio State to an impressive 11-2 record as a redshirt freshman. Stroud was already starting to demonstrate the passing skills that would gain him countless admirers, but here are Stroud's rushing totals that season ~ 32 carries for -20 yards, and 0 touchdowns.

In 2022, Stroud again had an impressive passing campaign, but here are his rushing totals for that season - 47 carries for 108 yards, and 0 touchdowns. Ohio State fans will recall how Stroud actually carried the ball 12 times for 34 yards versus Georgia in the 2022 Sugar Bowl, demonstrating his very capable abilities to run the ball, leading to ample frustration by Ohio State fans, wondering why they had not seen this part of Ohio State's offense before.

Here is where it leads me to my theory - yes, Ryan Day was afraid of getting C.J. Stroud hurt, but also because he knew that the backup quarterbacks (Kyle McCord, Devin Brown) in 2022 were not capable of running the full offense, including running the ball. It was because of that apprehension of Stroud potentially being injured that Ryan Day essentially limited the Ohio State offense from reaching its full potential in 2022.

I realize that it may sound foolish, but think about how the Ohio State football team's offense was often limited in 2023, with Kyle McCord at the helm. McCord would attempt to scramble on passing downs if the pocket collapsed, but the Ohio State offense never truly had the threat of the quarterback run in its arsenal. Even Devin Brown was brought in on the goal line, to create an atmosphere of a running threat, and that had to be scrapped after Brown sustained an injury versus Purdue on October 14th.

Fortunately for Ohio State fans in 2024, Ryan Day seems to have reached the conclusion that the threat of the quarterback run is a necessity for the Ohio State offense, as he stated when meeting with the media on February 7th to discuss the many changes experienced by the Ohio State football program this offseason.

Better late than never, as the expression goes. Do I expect Will Howard, Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz, Prentiss "Air" Noland, and Julian Sayin are going to be carrying the ball in a manner that would rival some of Tom Osborne's Nebraska teams that featured Tommie Frazier?

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Of course not. What I will expect is more designed quarterback runs, with perhaps the quarterback carrying the ball about ten times a game. It worked before with Justin Fields in 2019 and 2020, so why wouldn't it work with any of those quarterbacks in 2024? To paraphrase William Shakespeare, to run or not run is no longer the question for the Ohio State offense.