Will Howard

With November In Mind, Threat Of QB Run Coming Back To Ohio State

There is such a stark contrast in the Ohio State running game over the years when they have had a quarterback who provided a threat to run compared to the years when they didn’t.

In head coach Ryan Day’s seven years at Ohio State — including two as an offensive coordinator — the numbers are too blatant to be coincidental.

The Buckeyes have had running threats at quarterback in 2017 with JT Barrett and 2019 and 2020 with Justin Fields. In 2018 with Dwayne Haskins, 2021 and 2022 with CJ Stroud, and last year with Kyle McCord, the quarterback run was almost non-existent.

In the three years with QBs who would run the ball, the Buckeyes led the Big Ten in rushing by wide margins. In the years without that running threat, they did not. Those three years of 2017, 2019, and 2020 are the only years under Day’s guidance that the Buckeyes have rushed for an average of 200 yards per game.

The QB run isn’t the end all, of course, because even under CJ Stroud, the Buckeyes still finished first (2021) and second (2022) in the Big Ten in yards per carry. Last year, however, was the worst season on the ground for the Buckeyes (138.9 ypg) in 20 years.

But it’s not really the season averages that Ryan Day is concerned about when talking about the running game. That’s not why he and his coaching staff wanted to make a correction. The reasoning centers on one particular game in November.

“One of the things we’ve got to do to win the last game of the year is run the football,” Day said recently. “And in order to do that, you want to have somebody that at least needs to be accounted for in the run game. If the defense says, ‘Well, he’s not a threat at all to run,’ that certainly changes the angles, changes the numbers, the leverage, all of the above. And so that was one thing that I wanted to make sure we had.”

With last year’s starting quarterback Kyle McCord — and his -65 yards rushing — off to Syracuse, the Buckeyes went into the portal and landed Kansas State quarterback Will Howard, who started 27 games for the Wildcats and produced nearly 6,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in his career.

But Howard isn’t the only quarterback on the OSU roster who can run. Last year’s designated runner Devin Brown is back, as is redshirt freshman Lincoln Kienholz, who rushed for over 3,000 yards in high school. The Buckeyes also have a pair of true freshmen in Julian Sayin and Air Noland who can both keep a play alive.

None of this was a coincidence when putting the plan together for the 2024 season. And it certainly wasn’t a coincidence when they went looking in the transfer portal and came away with Will Howard.

“I think when you look at the guys we have on our roster right now, they all have the ability to do that,” Day said. “It started with that. Then from there, ‘Okay, how do they throw the football? What’s their size? What’s their intelligence?’ All those things. But we wanted to make sure there was enough of it. He doesn’t need to be run around doing all kinds of running with the ball, but he needs to be able to at least be accounted for by the defense.”

As for Howard, it’s not like he was a only a runner at Kansas State. He did have two career 100-yard rushing games, but after a freshman season where he carried the ball 8-9 times per game, the rest of his career he’s hovered around 5-6 carries per game.

Sometimes, however, the team would need a few more carries, which he was happy to do.

“Even though it’s not necessarily my forte, people saw me, believe it or not, as a running quarterback my first two years at K State,” Howard explained. “Like, I had a section on the game card called ‘Will Howard plays’ and it was like ‘quarterback power,’ ‘quarterback etc.’ That was my thing. But now, I feel like, that’s not me. I’m happy to run the ball.”

Will Howard is no different than any other quarterback who has come to Ohio State to play for Ryan Day. He wants to throw the ball. If he wins the starting job this fall, he will definitely get that opportunity.

But late in the season, yards will be tougher to come by. A quarterback will need to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

And that’s exactly what Howard has signed up for.

“We’ve talked about it and I know that when we need to run the quarterback, I’m gonna run the ball,” Howard said. “And I mean, if we need to run the quarterback 16 times a game, I’ll do it. I’m one of those people that I don’t care. I just want to freaking go win. At the end of the day, I don’t care.”

[Will Howard header photo courtesy of the Kansas State dept of athletics]

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