COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Drop the Ohio State offense on the scales, and it looks comically imbalanced.
The plan was to find an even mix, blending in the pass as often as the rush after favoring the latter so heavily last year. On top of that, the Buckeyes would take as many deep shots as short throws, with perimeter rushes complementing attempts between the tackles.
But sometimes goals have to be scrapped. And when Tom Herman looks down at the field and sees the No. 2 Buckeyes battering away on the ground against a helpless defense, the offensive coordinator has no problem seeking a different kind of 50-50 proposition in balancing the load between his two most dangerous weapons.
“When you see the productivity of the run game and where that’s taking you, then you continue to call it more until something tells you not to,” Herman said. “Throughout the [Michigan] game, nothing was telling us not to.
“Have you seen [Nos.] 34 and 5 run it?”
That combination of RB Carlos Hyde and QB Braxton Miller, respectively, has been hard to miss during another perfect regular season for the Buckeyes, and the way they’ve been carving up teams on the ground only makes it harder for Herman to dial up a pass play or two.
Miller has looked vastly improved with his arm during his third year as a starting quarterback, but his acceleration and body control as a rusher remain his most dangerous weapon. And with Hyde playing at easily the highest level of his career at tailback, the combination has served at times to make a passing game almost completely unnecessary.
The Buckeyes completed just six passes in the win over Michigan last week, but the backfield tandem rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State had just 11 completions in a previous win over Indiana and 13 before that against Illinois, but Miller and Hyde combined for 691 rushing yards and nine touchdowns over that two-game span.
But while the passing game appears to be trending down with the potent rushing attack on the rise, that perceived imbalance doesn’t exactly mean Ohio State hasn’t accomplished what it set out to do offensively before the season.
“Balance is not having the same amount of rushing yards or the same amount of passing yards, or the same amount of rushing plays versus the same amount of passing plays,” Herman said. “Balance is being able to win the game either way dependent on how the defense [plays], what the defense is trying to take away. I think we are a balanced offense right now.
“I think [the disparity] is a product of how well we’re rushing. It’s not a concern.”
The Michigan State Spartans, who boast the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense, could turn it into a problem if Ohio State's passing attack isn’t able to carry its weight Saturday with the Big Ten title on the line. During coach Urban Meyer's (and Herman’s) two years with the Buckeyes, the aggressive, hard-hitting Michigan State unit has arguably had more success against the Buckeyes than any other defense, holding them to just 17 points last year.
The Spartans will no doubt be looking to force Miller to put the ball in the air more often, bringing extra help near the line of scrimmage to limit his options as a rusher and to try to slow down Hyde. But Michigan State won’t be the first team to take that approach, and Ohio State will almost certainly wait to see if the Spartans' D can make OSU do something different on offense before doing so on its own.
“It’s a little bit of a concern, especially when you see who's coming,” Meyer said. “We have a lot of respect for our rival's [Michigan State] run defense; if there was some vulnerability shown on defense, it was actually on pass defense.
“But we felt like we're getting some big yards per crack, and both Carlos and Braxton run the ball at a very high level.”
So the Buckeyes just kept doing it against the Wolverines. And by the time they were done, the season total was even more heavily weighed down with rushing attempts, which now has a 63-37 edge in percentage of plays this season.
That approach has obviously worked just fine, and Meyer made it clear that the goal Saturday won’t be to balance the numbers.
“[Herman] and myself got into a little bit of a rhythm as far as some formations and some ways we were running the ball out,” Meyer said. “I just want a W.”
If that means a whole lot of Nos. 34 and 5, so be it.