The top tailbacks at Michigan State, Minnesota and Indiana each average more than 100 yards rushing per game. They also happen to be the tailbacks the Buckeyes will have faced in a three-week span when Ohio State takes on Coleman and the Hoosiers this weekend.
Coleman ranks second in the Big Ten – and nationally – with 167.8 yards on the ground per contest. His 1,678 rushing yards this season trail only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who had 1,909 on the year and might challenge the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game in December. Coleman’s rushing total represents 40.9 percent of Indiana’s offensive output.
It is unsurprising, then, to learn that stopping the run has been a focal point for the Ohio State defense in recent weeks.
Ohio State earned a pair of road wins at MSU and Minnesota, but the Buckeyes did not fare all that well against the run. Langford rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns for the Spartans, while Cobb scored all three of Minnesota’s TDs and finished with 145 yards.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer, however, was not discouraged after the Buckeyes dispatched the Golden Gophers.
“You know, we played much better than I anticipated watching the film,” he said during his Monday press conference. “We had some missed tackles, the safety position missed a few tackles – bad ones – and we have to won on that. … We just got to make sure we’re gap sound, be very smart and we’re facing one of the best rush teams certainly in the Big Ten, and we’re just I think comfortable with the style of defense we’re planning to go play Indiana and stop that run offense.”
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson echoed Meyer’s statements about the run defense against Minnesota, giving ample credit to Cobb.
“You have to say gap-sound,” Johnson said. “(Cobb’s) a really good running back. You watch the video tape and he went through holes that I don’t know anybody could have gotten through, but he saw it. We had to stay at the gaps, hold the gaps, just wait for the ball to declare itself. That was the biggest thing, just being disciplined in our gaps.”
Tackling has not been as large of an issue for the defense this season, but OSU redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee said it needs to at its best against top tailbacks. He said stopping a rusher like Coleman comes down to the Buckeyes individually knowing what they have to do on the field.
“We have to do our job or this guy is going to run all over us. It comes down to assignment football, really, when it comes to stopping the run,” Lee said. “He’s good. They’re a good running team. They average about 270 yards per game rushing (264.3 to be precise), which is really good. So we’re going to get in there for practice and watch film and get our assignments down and just work on execute our assignments so we’ll stop the run.”
The Big Ten boasts four of the top nine rushers in the nation. Behind Gordon and Coleman, Cobb (135.0 yards per game) ranks seventh and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (131.9) is ninth. With a win Saturday against Indiana, Ohio State will clinch the East division crown and a berth in the conference title game.
Who will possibly be waiting for the Buckeyes there in Indianapolis? Gordon, who set a Football Bowl Subdivision record with 408 yards against Nebraska last weekend.
The tailback challenges might continue for Ohio State.
“There a lot of great rushers out here in the Big Ten, and that’s a credit to all of those guys,” Lee said. “They’re great ball players, and we have to do our job in order to stop them or it’s going to be a long night for us.”