Part wide receiver, part running back and all athlete, the H-back is a key to Urban Meyer’s offense.
Since Meyer arrived in Columbus as Ohio State’s head coach, he’s been searching for the perfect player to fill that role. Philly Brown was good, but he was more receiver than running back. Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller both did their part, but neither was the pure H-back that Meyer craves. Earlier in his career Dontre Wilson played the role to some extent, but he was rarely an inside threat as a runner due to his small stature.
In 2016, Meyer has finally found his perfect player to fill that void in the form of Curtis Samuel.
“I think that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for really since we got here,” Meyer said after Samuel helped the Buckeyes dispatch Tulsa, 48-3.
The junior Samuel (5-11, 197) arrived at Ohio State in 2014 as a running back, and he even started one game at that position as a freshman. He moved to wide receiver last season but filled in as an H-back at times, carrying the ball 17 times for 132 yards and catching 22 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native showed flashes of his potential, but he hadn’t proved to be the perfect H-back just yet.
Going into the 2016 season, Meyer wasn’t shy about addressing how important Samuel would be, even calling him the team’s No. 1 playmaker ahead of the opener.
Samuel didn’t waste any time proving Meyer right as he accounted for 261 total yards – including 177 receiving – and three touchdowns against Bowling Green on Sept. 3. He followed that performance with eight carries for 78 yards and five receptions for 62 yards against Tulsa on his way to being named Ohio State’s offensive player of the game two weeks in a row.
“I feel like both a running back and receiver because I can motion from running back out to receiver and be one-on-one vs. a linebacker, which is a mismatch,” Samuel said when asked about his role in the offense. “Or I could go out to receiver and play against a safety or corner or linebacker, which I feel like is still a mismatch. But I feel like I am comfortable at both positions.”
That comfort level at both spots, coupled with the frame to run the ball inside, is what makes a true H-back in Meyer’s offense. Samuel has certainly emerged as the main threat from that spot, but he’s not alone as a hybrid playmaker for the Buckeyes this season.
After spending three years either underutilized because if his size or on the sidelines due to injury, Wilson has found himself more involved than ever this season. Wilson said Sept. 14 that he weighs 198 pounds – up 30-31 pounds from his playing weight in high school. That added weight has helped Wilson fill more of a role in the offense, and Meyer even acknowledged that Wilson can be an inside run threat, just like Samuel.
“I feel way more involved and I feel like my role every week is huge,” Wilson said. “I prepare different, I practice different, I do everything different than I have in the past because I play a lot more plays, I’ve got a lot more things to do on the field. So I feel like it is very, very different.”
Wilson’s weight gain and preparation has paid off this season as, like Samuel, he was more involved as a playmaker off the bat. Against Bowling Green, Wilson carried the ball five times for 36 yards and added two touchdown catches in the blowout win. Against Tulsa, Wilson was effective again, gaining 68 total yards on just six touches.
After Samuel and Wilson filled their roles perfectly through two weeks of play, Meyer stressed how important it is to the offense to have multitalented playmakers on the field.
“Those two are playing at a high, high level,” Meyer said. “Whenever you have the ability to run inside with guys like that, on the perimeter and catch the ball – we’re going to try to recruit as many of those as we can.”
Since both Samuel and Wilson act as receivers and as running backs, the Buckeyes aren’t limited to just one of them being on the field at the same time. Against Bowling Green, Ohio State even employed both Samuel and Wilson in the backfield together in direct-snap situations.
The duo was involved again against Oklahoma as Samuel led the way with 11 carries for 98 yards, including the first touchdown of the game, and two catches for 20 yards. Wilson chipped in with two receptions for 19 yards and a 20-yard kick return.
With Meyer’s ideal H-backs firing on all cylinders, Wilson said he expects defenses to continue to struggle dealing with the Buckeyes’ all-around attack.
“When me and Curtis are on the field I feel like it’s really crazy for the defense to look at,” Wilson said. “They say, ‘Oh we got him right here, we got him right here too so what’re we going to do?’ So I’m looking forward to that.”null