In running the football, looks and reputations can cause a rush to judgment. Take the case of Wisconsin vs. Ohio State.
They go into a Big Ten game on Saturday at Ohio Stadium standing third and sixth, respectively, in rushing offense among Football Bowl Subdivision schools, with Wisconsin averaging 349.8 yards and Ohio State 311.0.
Although Wisconsin’s running game is seen as an homage to the days of power football, even under first-year coach Gary Andersen, Ohio State fights the perception it is more of a finesse team under second-year coach Urban Meyer, the Johnny Appleseed of the spread offense.
The Buckeyes’ spread is predicated on a power running game, but it’s Wisconsin that has that reputation.
“I’m sure that (offensive line coach) Ed Warinner would say that there’s a little bit of pride on the line, especially because of stigmas that are associated with the spread offense and kind of untrue things that are said about the spread offense, as if they are all the same,” receivers coach Zach Smith said.
“Everyone knows Wisconsin’s run attack, and how it’s a power run game, and how that’s kind of what they do. … (But) we are a power run football team. It may be out of different sets; it may not be with a bunch of tight ends and fullbacks and everyone on the field. But we are still going to run right at you and hit you in the mouth.”
It was power football, with running back Carlos Hyde bearing the load and the line clearing the way, that the Buckeyes leaned on during a 12-0 run last season. That line returned four starters, and Hyde made his debut last week after serving a three-game suspension to start the season.
Just that thought made Smith remember a 15-yard Hyde touchdown run against Wisconsin in 2012, a game Ohio State won 21-14 in overtime.
“It’s the play that sticks out the most in the whole season,” Smith said. “It was a phenomenal job by the offensive line. I mean, really, anyone in this room (of reporters) could have run it in. He was untouched … just like he was supposed to.”
Last season, Ohio State finished 10th in the nation in rushing (242.3 yards per game), three spots ahead of Wisconsin (236.4). OSU’s line and Hyde hoped to pick up this season where they left off last year, left tackle Jack Mewhort said. That was delayed.
Now comes the game against the Badgers, and the inevitable comparisons between Wisconsin’s traditionally big and effective offensive line and its stable of backs led by Melvin Gordon and James White, and the line of the Buckeyes and their deep running-back rotation headed by Hyde, Jordan Hall and Rod Smith.
“Just from inside the offensive line room, we’ve had lofty goals set for ourselves since the season ended last year,” Mewhort said. “As far as comparing ourselves to other Big Ten teams, of course we want to be the best at what we do, but we have our goals set.”
So does Meyer. He wouldn’t mind setting the record straight on what’s at the core of his spread offense, but he said pride has little to do with it.
“I want to win the game, and all focus is on winning the game,” Meyer said. “If you have to evaluate what we are offensively, power football is a big part of that, especially with (Hyde) back. So there will be power, but it’s not trying to show something. It’s trying to find a way to stay in that left hand of the (won-loss) column.”