Ohio State mailbag: What’s up with Demario McCall’s playing time?

Have Ohio State football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every  Wednesday  for the  Land of 10 Ohio State mailbag to talk all things Buckeyes. This week, we’ll discuss breakout players, the Ohio State offense and the extent to which some young players will contribute. 

Let’s get started!

Roughly half the questions I received were some form of this, so it only feels fair to lead off with this one. And the answer is … kind of. Maybe. He’s not  hurt hurt, because he did play on special teams against Indiana. But here’s what coach Urban Meyer said about him during the pre-Indiana call-in show.

“We’re bouncing him back between [running back] and that hybrid. He’s just gotta get stronger, faster and stay healthy,” he said. “He’s still very much in the plans in the return game. I think he’s a backup with K.J. Hill [at punt return], but he’s back there with him. I think we’ll start both of those guys.

“We still have a strong evaluation [on McCall]. He’s just gotta stay healthy and become a dynamic player. He’s shown signs of it. He just needs to be more consistent. We all love him. He’s a great kid. You better be lightning fast or you better be strong, and that’s what he’s working at.”

I think his absence was also partly a function of Meyer’s tendency to shy away from less-experienced players in big games. Being an opener on the road where Ohio State trailed at halftime was a recipe for Parris Campbell staying on the field for the majority of H-back snaps, with Hill being the next choice there. The guys in front of him are part of the reason I’ve cautioned previously — including in a previous mailbag — that the hype train might not reach full speed until next year.

A really good question here from Clay, especially since we could get a window into the answer as early as next week. If Ohio State beats Oklahoma, both the Tide and the Buckeyes will have a top-5 win just two weeks into the season. Will beating the Sooners be enough for the Buckeyes to pass Alabama? I think it will get them closer and steal away some first-place votes, but I doubt it gets them in the No. 1 perch.

Assuming Alabama keeps winning, too, it could be tough for Ohio State to ever move up to No. 1. The Buckeyes’ best chance probably would come after the Oct. 28 game against Penn State. If Penn State keeps winning, that obviously would be a high-profile matchup. Nobody Alabama plays from now until then will have that kind of quality, so Ohio state probably would have the better resume at that point. Then again, if the Tide are blowing out teams, some voters might keep them at the top, no matter what.

As far as K.J. Hill goes, I think he’s deserving of more targets but it’s so hard to predict what will happen in the wide receiver room on any given week. I think he’ll have more than 2 catches against Oklahoma, though. He’s someone they should really be looking to for big plays.

The College GameDay question is an interesting one. I think Nebraska is a giant fraud so I’m ruling out that one, which means the next legitimate opportunity is Penn State. There are no other obviously compelling games that week, so that’s a really strong candidate as long as both teams don’t have more than one loss. The Michigan game also could be attractive for ESPN if the Wolverines defy their youth and keep winning, but there are too many other potential good games (Alabama-Auburn, Washington-Washington State, Stanford-Notre Dame) for that one to be a sure thing.

Sometimes that just happens at the start of the season. Let’s revisit some other Ohio State openers.

  • In 2012, Ohio State trailed Miami (Ohio) by a 3-0 margin after one quarter.
  • In 2013, Buffalo cut the score to 23-13 midway through the second quarter.
  • In 2014, Navy took a 7-6 lead into halftime.
  • In 2015, Virginia Tech led 17-14 at halftime.
  • In 2016, Ohio State dominated Bowling Green and led 35-10 at half.

So in all but one year, there’s been at least  some early struggle. And, though it’s laughable to point out in a 77-10 game, technically Bowling Green did score first.

But to give a 2017-specific example, I think there were a couple of factors. First, I think coordinator Kevin Wilson and the offense were feeling each other out a bit. You can’t simulate the feel of the rhythm of calling plays in an actual game, so that took a bit of time. Also, Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow was playing out of his mind. Sometimes that happens. And lastly, I think it’s just a matter of playing for the first time in nine months and doing so on the road against a conference opponent. The second half was more representative of what this team can do, and I’d expect that going forward.

I do think he will have more carries than Dobbins on Saturday. People seem to forget — or never noticed to begin with — how good Weber was last year because he had to follow Ezekiel Elliott. Dobbins’ 6.2 yards per carry against Indiana was something Weber matched or exceeded in more than half his games last year. He nearly averaged that total over the entire season. But he never got 29 carries in a game, or anywhere close to that, so his total yardage was never as impressive.

My gut says Weber, though 29 carries is a somewhat big gap to make up. I’ll stick with that, though. Having two quality running backs will keep Barrett from leading the team in carries as he did in 2016, and I’ll stick with my instinct and say Weber performs well enough to chip away at that deficit.

Have a question about Ohio State football? Tweet us @Landof10OSU and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Ohio State football mailbags   here.

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