The Big Ten appears to be returning to its running roots.
A year after posting its lowest rushing average in six seasons, the Big Ten is nearing the halfway point of the season as the No. 3 running conference in the Bowl Subdivision.
Mike Weber of Ohio State and Justin Jackson of Northwestern are the only Big Ten rushers among the top 25 nationally, yet five teams are running for more than 200 yards a game.
The Big Ten average is 192 yards. Last year, the Big Ten was eighth out of 10 FBS conferences at 170 a game, the lowest mark since it averaged 152 in 2009.
Leading the way is Ohio State, which is third nationally at 324 yards a game. Other than last week’s win over Indiana , when J.T. Barrett struggled with his passing, the Buckeyes have held big leads in the second halves of games and haven’t been forced to throw. They’ve run on 65 percent of their plays and have had no fewer than 48 rushing attempts in a game.
The multi-faceted attack of Weber, Barrett and H-back Curtis Samuel has combined for a 6.5-yard per-carry average, and they’ve done it behind an offensive line that has three new starters. Samuel also is the team’s leading receiver.
”Curtis Samuel, I don’t want to say he’s a surprise, but he’s assumed a critical role in this offense,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. ”I’m pleased with where we’re at. I’m not surprised because I think we have very good players who believe in what we’re doing.”
Maryland is running for 274 yards a game to rank ninth, with Lorenzo Harrison III and Ty Johnson combining for 142 yards a game and quarterback Perry Hills picking up 8.8 yards a carry.
Michigan has one of the most improved ground games, averaging 255 yards to rank 14th in the nation. Last year the Wolverines were 83rd, at 158 a game.
The Wolverines are doing it with a running back committee , with De’Veon Smith the starter and Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans also getting significant carries.
Coach Jim Harbaugh gave much of the credit to Tim Drevno, who doubles as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
”The adjustments are made, the scheme is good, the players have been coached,” Harbaugh said. ”It’s multiple (defensive) fronts, and multiple adjustments could be made, and our backs make the adjustments. Our wide receivers make the adjustments and get on the people they’re supposed to block. It’s really hard to do, and coach Drevno has done a tremendous job.”
Nebraska is running for 234 yards a game and Minnesota for 203. Golden Gopher sophomores Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks have combined to average nearly 169 yards per game on the ground. The Cornhuskers’ Terrell Newby is having his best season as a senior, and quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has become more of a factor in coach Mike Riley’s second season. Newby, averaging 65 yards a game, has been splitting time with Devine Ozigbo. But with Ozigbo slowed by an ankle injury, Newby’s workload has increased. Armstrong is up to 12 carries a game and is averaging 59 yards.
”We felt like if we were going to be a factor in the league and be relevant that we had to run the ball more consistently and better,” Riley said. ”It was a big emphasis for us. We want to continue that trend. We’re just about halfway through the season, and that part of it has improved and we have to keep that as part of who we are.”
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