Bo Hardy started the game as a safety. He ended the game as the Ohio leading rusher and likely the running back the team will utilize moving forward.
The move to offense wasn’t by choice. While Ohio comfortably cruised past Gardner-Webb 37-21 on Saturday afternoon at Peden Stadium, running back woes only grew and left Frank Solich bleakly staring ahead in the press conference.
“Probably not,” he said about a having a position so depleted so quickly in his coaching career. “Probably not after four games. It’s just an oddity.”
It’s an oddity that needs a solution.
Entering the season with the strongest group of running backs in the Mid-American Conference, the Bobcats will enter conference play next Saturday down to their sixth back — Hardy — who was moved from defense only by desperation.
After playing running back last year, too much depth at the position coupled with a lack of secondary experience put Hardy on the other side of the ball. Within the first month of the season, that decision looks reversed.
“I prepared hard in the off-season for games like these,” he said. “I’m not super happy or super sad, I’m just ready to go.”
So why is he Ohio’s go-to back?
A.J. Ouellette was on the sideline Saturday, but his role involved rolling around on a scooter and offering support to his teammates. Ouellette had season-ending surgery last Saturday.
Dorian Brown hurt his hamstring last week at No. 15 Tennessee and Solich considered his return might not happen, at least soon.
Maleek Irons warmed up before Gardner-Webb, but Solich said Irons was never going to be used in a game scenario. Friday afternoon the running back returned to sprints, but he was still hampered and couldn’t be used.
That left Papi White as the only candidate from the preseason list of backs.
White started and played well, slithering through defenders and bursting to the outside edges. His highlight was a 14-yard run in the second quarter to give Ohio a 14-7 lead.
Yet by halftime, White walked back to the locker room before his teammates with trainers in tow.
Vinny Emanuele was supposed to be Ohio’s next option. After a sluggish start, Emanuele, a walk-on freshman, began to produce yards before he was hit in the head at the goal line. He was taken out for concussion protocol.
By then, Hardy was in and finished with 10 carries for 65 yards and a one-yard touchdown, which was Ohio’s only score in the second half.
“When my number is called, I’m ready to respond,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”
For now, it will likely be called a lot. The Bobcats are generally a run-heavy team, but the running back situation has forced added emphasis on the passing game. That wasn’t a problem Saturday, but it could be a long-term concern.
Greg Windham looked solid and backup Quinton Maxwell was even more impressive, going 11-of-14 for 167 yards and two passing touchdowns.
As for the running game, Solich said he expects to have two or three backs healthy for next Saturday at Miami. Leaving Peden, Hardy and Irons seem to be the predictable duo.
But Solich also said if the running back position grew bleaker, the team might have to line up in formations without running backs. The offense installed formations with three running backs on the field at the same time at the beginning of the season.
Solich was making somewhat of a joke, although the growing concerns are serious.
It’s an oddity that will need to be solved soon.