Buckeyes determined to run. A lot.


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Urban Meyer stepped up to the podium on Monday wearing a cream pullover while his shades nestled on the crown of his head. He looked refreshed and up-to-date on sleep. He was in a good mood, noticeable by the way he joked with the media.

The first question asked during his weekly press conference with the Ohio State media wasn’t really a question at all. Meyer was told — reminded, really —that he’s never coached a running back who has reached 1,000 yards rushing in a season. “I’m tired of hearing that, man,” he said with a smile.

Talk of Buckeye running game continued, followed by someone noting that Iowa (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) is the only team in the country that hasn’t allowed a rushing score this season.

“We’ve been in here for two weeks trying to figure out how to run the ball against this defense,” Meyer said. “[Iowa is] the same as it has always been on defense: real stout, real firm against the run.”

That has troubled Meyer but hasn’t surprised him. Recall that he coached against Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes in the 2006 Outback Bowl, when he was the head man at Florida. Meyer’s Gators topped Iowa that day, 31-24, and did it largely by scoring aerially.

But Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) is a different team from the Chris Leak-led Gators. The fourth-ranked Buckeye team is by-and-large a run-first squad, and it will enter Saturday’s game against the Hawkeyes boasting the nation’s 11th-best rushing offense.

Leading the charge are seniors Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde. Hall is the 5-9, 191-pound speedy back while Hyde is a 6-foot, 235-pound bruiser — a duo similar to Iowa’s quick Damon Bullock and rugged Mark Weisman. The two Buckeyes have combined for 721 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“They’ve got two outstanding running backs in the backfield [at all times] if you count the quarterback and whoever they play at running back,” Ferentz said, referring to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who doubles as the team’s third-best rusher. Miller has accounted for 233 yards on the ground but has yet to find the end zone this season.

Miller, a junior, has technically been Meyer’s only 1,000-yard rusher, tallying 1,271 yards by foot last season. These three rushers have been challenged by their coaches to do what no other player has done so far this season: score a rushing touchdown against the Hawkeyes.

“To sit there and say we are going to go into this football game and not run the ball because Iowa is pretty good at it is not real,” Ohio State running-back coach Stan Drayton said on Oct. 14. “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, and, you know, we’ll win some and we’ll lose some.”

The task won’t be easy, as all three rushers need to muscle through Iowa’s trio of senior linebackers: Anthony Hitchens, James Morris, and Christian Kirksey. The three have combined for 144 tackles — including 9.5 for a loss of 24 yards.

Moreover, the starting front seven Hawkeyes have combined for 19.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage this season, subtracting 49 yards from their opponents’ totals. The unit as a whole allows just 88.5 yards a game on the ground.

Though Iowa hasn’t faced an offense as potent as Ohio State’s — “We haven’t played a quarterback like [Miller], I don’t think, since I’ve been here,” Hitchens said — the defense felt confident that an extra week of film work should help with preparation.

Hitchens compared Miller’s playing style with that of Northern Illinois’s Jordan Lynch, another dual-threat quarterback. Hitchens says this purely from watching film of Ohio State. He’s seen Lynch in actual game play, of course. He helped contain him.

Come Saturday, Hitchens and company will attempt to do that again.

“They’re definitely tough up front with their running game,” Hitchens said. “But it starts up front with us, too. We have to be ready with our front four and match their intensity.”

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