The Ohio State Buckeyes opened up their 2016 season with an explosion of offense, routing the visiting Bowling Green Falcons 77-10. Junior H-back and running back Curtis Samuel did more than his part.
Dubbed the team’s No. 1 playmaker by Meyer in August, Samuel touched the ball 22 times on 13 carries and nine catches. Either out of the slot, out wide or next to redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett in the backfield, Samuel was undoubtedly the go-to player for coach Urban Meyer’s offense.
Samuel’s first score came at the end of the first quarter when he caught a pass over the middle from Barrett, then dashed another 60-some yards to the end zone, putting OSU ahead 21-7.
Samuel said he saw a one-on-one opportunity with the safety and knew that he can win that battle.
“You see that matchup, the way we train in this program, we feel like we can win that matchup 100 percent of the time,” he said.
OSU opened the second half with the ball featuring a strong dose of the Brooklyn, New York, native. Samuel caught a 37-yard pass from Barrett, then two plays later Barrett found Samuel for a 21-yard score, and the rout was on.
Samuel carried the ball three times on the next drive for OSU, ending in a 12-yard scamper off of redshirt freshman right tackle Isaiah Prince to pad the score to 49-10. Samuel had seven touches for 100 yards in the third quarter, five touches for 106 yards in the first quarter and 10 touches for 56 yards in the second quarter.
Meyer said he didn’t envision 22 touches for Samuel before the game, but was more than pleased with the workload he handled.
“I had 15 (touches) in mind,” Meyer said. “He’s a tremendous talent and it was great to see him have success. He’s the first true hybrid I’ve had in awhile.”
Samuel carried the ball 13 times for 84 yards and a score, while he caught nine passes for 177 yards and two scores.
Last season, it was no secret OSU would rely on Ezekiel Elliott to take up a considerable amount — if not all — of the workload. Samuel was Elliott’s backup, but even he hardly touched the ball. Defenses could gameplan against OSU’s run game, but this season, opposing defenses have to account for more than one, or two, or three guys to get the ball out of the backfield.
Redshirt freshman Mike Weber held his own rushing for 136 yards on 19 carries, but simply having Samuel — or even senior H-back Dontre Wilson — in the backfield taking snaps next to Barrett or straight from the center provides new challenges for defenses that Meyer and Co. didn’t present last year.
Weber even made the comparison of him and Samuel together in the backfield to a fairly successful duo from USC.
“Lendale White and Reggie Bush,” Weber said. “If we can get there, I think we could even be better. We could be a really good one-two punch.”
While the confidence is sky high, the likelihood of Samuel and Weber reaching that level is unlikely. But the speed and athleticism might be comparable, especially with Wilson taking reps with Barrett in the backfield and in the wildcat formation.
For now, Samuel is content with his performance but quickly pointed out he should have hit a few holes better than he did today. But to the naked eye, Samuel was the most dominant performer on an offense which fed off of his explosiveness.
“The great thing about Curtis (Samuel) and Dontre (Wilson) is that they’re able to do so much. They’re able to find mismatches on the opponent’s defense and try to exploit those things,” Barrett said. “We always try to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands.”
After Samuel’s performance on Saturday, it appears he will have a massive role at nearly every skill position on offense. Samuel believes he has had that capability since his arrival in Columbus in 2014.
“I feel like I always had the skill set and mentality to go out there and be a great player,” Samuel said. “It was just up to my coaches to feel whenever I was ready. This year they give me the ball a little more and I’m excited about it.”