Via Last Word on College Football, by Rob Gritzer
Before the season started, junior Curtis Samuel had never touched the ball more than 70 times or more than 425 yards. In 2016, Samuel currently has 1,526 yards on 156 touches with 15 touchdowns. Despite the offense not looking like a top five offense for parts of 2016, Ohio State is currently sitting at No. 3 in the College Football Playoffs. The Buckeyes will face Clemson for a chance at the National Championship. Samuel will surely play a key role in the outcome of the game for Ohio State. Head Coach Urban Meyer has stated all year that Samuel is one of the top play-makers for the Buckeyes. From being a scat-back, to being the biggest play-maker on one of the country’s best teams, here is how Curtis Samuel earned a key role in Ohio State’s offense.
How Curtis Samuel Earned a Key Role in Ohio State’s Offense
Poor Effort from Wide Receivers
The Buckeyes lost 16 total starters in 2015, and 12 were drafted in the NFL Draft. This class is the 25th time in NFL history that 12 or more players were picked from the same team. However, the quality of the picks stands out the most. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Ohio State’s 2015 Draft Class is the 2nd best of all-time, only behind the 1946 Notre Dame class in terms of draft value. Of these 16 players lost, four were very important to the passing game. Wide receivers Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall, tight end Nick Vannett, and quarterback turned wide receiver Braxton Miller all left to go to the NFL. This meant that Ohio State’s receiving core would be questionable in 2016.
A big question mark is the exact impression Ohio State fans still have about this receiving core. The new receiving core for the Buckeyes consists of Noah Brown, K.J. Hill, and Terry McLaurin. Coming into the season, the only one with a college reception before the season was Noah Brown. He finished with 30 receptions for 385 yards and seven touchdowns. This looks more impressive than it really is, as five receptions for 72 yards and four touchdowns came in one game. Hill has 17 receptions for 254 yards and one touchdown, but missed three weeks due to injury. McLaurin performed the worst of the three with 10 receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Because of this poor performance by the wide receivers, players like Samuel, Dontre Wilson, and Marcus Baugh became the key factors in the Ohio State passing game.
Inexperience at Running Back
Another major loss for Ohio State last season was the loss of Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott ran for over 1,800 and 23 touchdowns in 2015. The Buckeyes were expecting Bri’Onte Dunn to take over the role as the starting running back, but after allegations of assault, he was released from the team. This allowed the true freshman Mike Weber to take control as Ohio State’s starting running back. Overall, Weber had a solid year, rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring nine times. Most of these scores were from inside the five-yard line and Weber will likely continue to be a great power back for the Buckeyes.
However, Weber also showed signs of his inexperience. In three games this season, Weber failed to break a longest rush of over 11 yards. In five games, he failed to even rush for over 75 yards. As the season went on, it was clear that Weber was slightly falling off which meant that J.T. Barrett was forced to pick up the slack. Because Barrett could not rush the ball every play, Samuel was used as well and ended the season on a six game streak of scoring, including two multiple touchdown games. Samuel will look to continue this streak against Clemson.
Samuel was known for his speed coming into the season, but nobody knew just how fast he really could be. On multiple occasions this season, Samuel broke loose on huge plays, including three 70+ yard touchdowns. He ran a 4.36 40-yard dash coming into college and is likely closer to the sub-4.30 range after three seasons of collegiate training.
Now that Samuel is draft eligible, it will be interesting to see if the junior decides to go to the NFL Draft. It would be a huge blow to the Ohio State offense if he decides to declare, but fans will have to wait and see. In an interview with Land of 10, Samuel stated, “I’m not really worried about that right now. I’m just worried about this game coming up. At the end of the season, I’ll worry about that later on. But that’s not really my main focus right now.” If Samuel decides to come back, he will likely be used in the same way as he was this season, but because the receiving core has already proven that they are not experienced yet, he may have an even bigger role in 2017.