Sebastian Smith (6) runs with the ball against Buffalo in Peden Stadium Thursday night.
Ohio had to use safety Bo Hardy as a running back during the middle of the season because of multiple running back injuries.
Now, however, Ohio has more depth at the position, and the Bobcats know they can rely on Dorian Brown or Maleek Irons.
Irons was the featured back Thursday night, picking up 64 rushing yards to help Ohio (7-3, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) defeat Buffalo (2-7, 1-4 MAC), 34-10 at Peden Stadium.
“Our linemen, they’re really stepping up this season,” Irons said about the offensive line. “We got a bunch of dogs up front. They work with whatever they’re dealt.”
And the offensive line has had to work with a lot. From A.J. Ouellette suffering a season-ending injury against Texas State, to Brown and Irons struggling with injuries, too, Ohio’s running back depth has been shaky.
“It’s whoever is ready to go, goes,” Irons said half-jokingly about the team’s running back situation.
Brown, who had limited reps against Buffalo because of an injury, was the star at Toledo, totaling a career-high 212 rushing yards. Brown went down in the fourth quarter with an injury.
Coach Frank Solich said Monday he prefers to use a featured back system as opposed to a run-by-committee system, which involves using multiple running backs. The thought behind using a run-by-committee system is that multiple backs can showcase their talents.
But a featured back system allows a running back to truly shine, as getting more carries creates rhythm for a running back.
Including the game against the Bulls, the Bobcats have averaged 184 rushing yards the past three games, and the rushing attack has simply been the foundation for the offense.
With the backs hitting holes and running into open field for solid gains, quarterback Quinton Maxwell could spread the ball around more. Maxwell went 13-for-23, and he threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Now, the offense isn’t as predictable as it once was. Throughout the season, the Bobcats would run the ball until teams eventually stopped them – after a certain amount of carries, Ohio simply couldn’t move the ball through the air.
Whether it was Maxwell throwing a 73-yard touchdown pass to Papi White on the first play of the game, or a 36-yard jump-ball touchdown to Elijah Ball, Ohio’s offense showed a redeeming quality that it didn’t have before: aggression.
“Coach Solich in the off-season he wanted us to find ways to take more shots down the field,” Maxwell said. “Coach Albin (Tim Albin) and Coach Izzy (Scott Isphording) up in the booth they’ve done a great job of putting us in the position, giving us the opportunities to make plays down the field.”
As Ohio continues to improve on offense, a win against Central Michigan (5-4, 2-3 MAC) on Nov. 15 would clinch the MAC East Division.
Solich mentioned on Monday that Ohio is not a team that dwells on wins or losses. Ohio has a bye week next week, and its game against Central Michigan on Nov. 15 will be another test.
If Ohio beats Central Michigan, the No. 4 team in the MAC West, it will win the MAC East, something it hasn’t done since 2011.
“We keep the pressure on,” defensive lineman Tarell Basham said. “We’re not thinking about winning one game to make it.”