For the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes to win on the road at 14th-ranked Oklahoma, coach Urban Meyer’s more experienced players might have to lead the young Buckeyes in a hostile environment in Norman, Oklahoma, on Saturday night.
The upperclassmen were asked to be leaders at the beginning of the season, before facing Oklahoma. Senior H-back Dontre Wilson isn’t one of the team’s seven captains. Nonetheless, he has a vital role on the OSU offense.
Wilson has seen significant playing time since his freshman season in 2013. After breaking his foot against Michigan State in 2014 and experiencing lingering injuries last season that negatively affected his playing time, Wilson is beginning to hit his stride and displays the potential with which he entered Columbus.
Wilson altered his work ethic in the offseason because he knew that his senior year was the final chance to make a lasting legacy.
“I feel like I’m finally contributing in the way I should be,” Wilson said. “Special teams, I still feel like I need to pick it up a little bit. I feel like I need to bust one of those punt returns and kickoff returns, but it’s finally coming along the way I want it to be.”
Wilson has been one of the most consistent players on the Buckeye offense thus far. He had eight touches against Bowling Green for a total of 73 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 2 versus Tulsa, Wilson tallied six touches for 68 yards and also had a 27-yard punt return to the Tulsa 28-yard line, setting up a touchdown run from redshirt junior quarterback J.T Barrett.
Wilson has taken more of a role in the backfield in 2016, taking handoffs from Barrett. Even on some offensive sets, Wilson shifts over to the quarterback position with Barrett, either out at wide receiver or on the side of Wilson in the backfield. OSU had this dynamic last season with former H-back Braxton Miller, but having two players at the position for Meyer is a new challenge for the tenured coach.
“You have two really dynamic guys in (junior H-Back) Curtis (Samuel) and Dontre,” Meyer said. “Those are those checker pieces you enjoy moving around. But we will continue to do it.”
In its first two games, OSU has had success running the football. OSU is averaging 313.5 yards on the ground per game, but the backfield will see a sturdy test in the Oklahoma defensive line.
The Sooners have allowed 83.5 yards rushing on defense through two games, without surrendering a rushing touchdown. Defensive ends Charles Walker and Matt Dimon combined for 17 tackles for loss last season and 8.5 sacks. Meyer said the first thing he notices is their size.
“You have to be really on your target to run the football on them. They’re big, gigantic guys inside,” Meyer said. “Very similar to Alabama’s defensive line.”
As daunting a task as facing Oklahoma’s defensive line and linebackers might be, OSU presents a look that few programs in the NCAA possess. Redshirt freshman Mike Weber, Samuel and Wilson rotate frequently at running back, alternating looks for the opposing defense.
Samuel and Weber split carries, with Weber being the featured back, but Wilson will occasionally slide over and give a breather to Samuel and Weber. Wilson lines up on nearly every play at the H-back position that Samuel is at running back, and the same for Samuel when Wilson is next to Barrett. The quarterback said that the trio has significant playmaking ability for the offense.
“I told you a couple times when you asked who’s going to be the guy to be the spark in the offense, and those three guys really do it for us,” Barrett said after the Bowling Green game.
Wilson and Samuel have combined for 542 yards this season, but Wilson said the best has yet to come for him and Samuel.
“Trust me. This Oklahoma game is going to be crazy,” Wilson said. “I think we’re going to play a huge part in it. I think we got a lot more in the bag.”