Smith Rewarded for Staying at Ohio State

By Kyle Rowland on September 25, 2012 at 10:00a

In December, as Ohio State loaded the team plane to head south to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Gator Bowl, all but one player was accounted for: Rod Smith.

The wheels went up without the then-freshman running back, and he never arrived to the Sunshine State. It wasn’t the desired end to an already forgettable season for Smith, especially with a new coaching staff taking over. 

Rock bottom for Rod Smith.

The 2011 offseason was filled with turmoil never seen before at Ohio State. Through it all, Smith grinded out a role in the offense. On the eve of the season opener versus Akron, starting tailback Jordan Hall was suspended, elevating Smith’s role even more.

He didn’t start that day, but he was the second-string running back. In the first game of Smith’s career, he rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Before he even played in a game, fans were fawning over the bruising Smith. After seeing him produce, the hype machine grew and comparisons to Eddie George were in full bloom.

At 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native had the size, physique and running style of the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner and four-time Pro Bowler. Soon, there would be on-field comparisons between the two. But it didn’t have to do with 300-yard rushing games or splitting the Notre Dame defense.

Not even close.

As Smith was closing in on the end zone against Akron, the ball came loose from his grasp and the Zips recovered it. No big deal, people thought. The Buckeyes won, 42-0, and Smith had otherwise been impressive.

The following week Ohio State was leading Toledo, 27-22, late in the fourth quarter when Smith fumbled again. It gave the Rockets one final chance for victory, an opportunity they nearly cashed in on.

Smith got four carries the rest of the season, and none in the final nine games and was briefly moved to linebacker.

It was eerily similar to the beginning of George’s career. In 1992, “End Zone Eddie” scored three touchdowns in his third career game. But disaster struck soon thereafter when George fumbled twice inside the five-yard line against Illinois. One resulted in a 96-yard return for a touchdown, while the Illini manufactured a 99-yard game-winning drive with the other in an 18-16 win. Like Smith, George was virtually shutdown the rest of the season, carrying the ball 12 times in the final seven games.

UAB represented a second breakout performance for Smith.

In the pantheon of all-time college football greats, Archie Griffin ranks near the top. He, too, began his career with a fumble.

Shortly after Urban Meyer held his first team meeting as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Smith and his father sat down in Meyer’s spacious office in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. But the tone was far different than most family visits to the coach’s office. It didn’t have the happiness of a recruiting trip.

“The conversation in January is, 'You’re probably not going to make it. It's probably best you move on and play somewhere where you can play, because it's obvious you're not good enough to be here,'” Meyer said on Monday.

The “real honest conversation,” as Meyer called it, even included transfer papers. Smith had unfinished business in Columbus, though, and decided to stay.

“He didn't do great as the spring went on,” Meyer said. “He did not have a great summer. Then something clicked these last few weeks. I mean, he's on a mission right now. He's a good guy. I love Rod Smith. I love guys that turn it around. Now that's one game.”

The one-game performance he’s referring to came on Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham when Smith averaged four yards on six carries. He also scored a touchdown. It was an unexpected turn of events after Smith didn’t even play the previous week and was third-string as recently as three weeks ago. Entering the UAB game, Smith had 26 yards rushing on the season and was part of a poor quarterback-running back exchange that led to a fumble against Central Florida.

When the Buckeyes trailed 9-0 to UAB, it was Smith they turned to, handing off to him on the final three plays of a 10-play drive that cut the deficit to two points. It was only the second touchdown of Smith’s career, the first coming in that 2011 opener versus Akron.

“He's earned it,” Meyer said. “That was not a hit-or-miss deal, where, boy, I hope this works out.  He's done it in practice, and he's earned that right. So there's no reluctance at all to put him there.”

The climb up the depth chart for Smith actually started at another position. On a Meyer-coached team you don’t just jump into the deep end, you first tread water. Special teams, specifically the punt-block team, is where he molds his talent before unleashing them on offense or defense.

Two weeks ago Smith battled true freshman Bri’onte Dunn for the starting spot at running back after Carlos Hyde suffered a sprained MCL. Jordan Hall ended up getting the call when he was cleared to play by doctors after sitting out since July because of a foot injury.

Carlos Hyde's return should strengthen the OSU backfield.

Not only did Smith not start, he didn’t even play. But Meyer raved about the sophomore’s emergence as a special teamer.

“Rod’s doing a good job,” he said two weeks ago. “Rod is going to start on punt-block. You don’t just all of a sudden say, ‘Go play tailback.’ That doesn’t happen. You can be on punt-block and then we can have a chat about running the football.

“When you start on special teams, the next thing is you'll start playing.”

Ohio State’s No. 1 punt-block unit – “The Freak Show – features the team’s best athletes. Meyer doesn’t just trot anyone out there, and he stayed true to his word.

“I had to show them I could do it in practice,” Smith said. “My number was called today and they gave me an opportunity.”

All of a sudden, a week after many people were pressing the panic button on the backfield, it could be a strength and change the entire complexion of the Ohio State offense. Hyde is expected to play this weekend at Michigan State, which will mark the first time he and Hall have played together. Their presence on the field will give the offense an added dimension and force opposing defenses to game plan for it. Adding an effective Smith into the mix is another boost. It should also free up quarterback Braxton Miller to be more effective passing the football and allow him to run less.

“If he continues as is, he's in the plans for several more years,” Meyer said of Smith. “He's a talented guy.”

Meyer called Smith’s father a “great guy” and credited Smith’s family as being a helpful source during his darkest days. Now, nearly nine months after being told there was no future for him at Ohio State, Smith has an opportunity to become firmly entrenched into the tailback rotation.

“What a great message for our entire team,” Meyer said. “He was lower than most guys on this team. To see him rebound, his grades are doing well, he's got a good look about him.

“It's called maturity, and it's happening.”



hodge's picture

Ah, I can see it now:  like the mythical phoenix, Rod rises from the ashes to ascend to an integral part of the tailback rotation.  Finally, after his efforts culminate in the Michigan game, where he scores on touchdown runs of 25 and 42 yards (one being a perfectly timed option pitch from Miller), along with amassing 100 total yards.  
In the ensuing aftermath, Jaylon Smith suddenly de-commits from Notre Dame and becomes a Buckeye--much to the chagrin of anyone not backing Ohio State--whilst Urban makes out with all the hot coeds that have rushed the field while simultaneously busting out a face-melting guitar solo over the dead body of E. Gordon Gee--who suffered a heart attack at the end of the game.  Luckily, Tim Tebow hears Urban's double-necked siren wail, and flies into the stadium.  John Simon notices this, and knows what needs to be done:  he bro-hugs Tebow, and the resultant energy released by this unprecidented moment in bro-history is enough to not just bring Dr. Gee back from the dead, but also enough to reverse the affects of Global Climate Change and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for the entire human race.
...And now I've exhausted my kool-aid supply for the entire season.

JasonR's picture

I hereby nominate Hodge for comment of the year.

Denny's picture

I'm excited for this.


Grayskullsession's picture

Must be some grain alcohol in that kool-aid!
In all seriousness I hope this kid gets more opportunities because we can all see the talent is there.

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

Estrada's picture

I hope Urbz has enough time to take requests, I'd really love to hear him throw down some Freebird.

William's picture

There is only one guitar solo, and that is Stairway to Heaven.

439LawDog's picture

Glad to see that Rod turned this around and did not quit. Thats the kind of guy I want to cheer for on Saturdays in the Shoe. 

OldColumbusTown's picture

No one else "looks" the part better than Rod Smith.  He's taken the first step to now acting on it.  Potential can be a four-lettered word until it is realized, but it normally takes baby steps to reach that point.
More options and more weapons on this offense can do nothing but help, especially when they are young with the ability to be molded into something special.  Hopefully Rod continues his growth and realizes whatever dreams and aspirations he has for his time at Ohio State.

lippertini's picture

Nice article, Kyle, great to see Rod fulfilling some of his promise. 

740 BUCKEYE's picture

Maybe some day we could see a situation where Rod can truck over Jaylon for going with the

Colin's picture

I still don't know how I feel about Smith...I was commenting at the game after he scored that I still don't know how fast he is because you don't see him take it outside (except on his one run but even then you couldn't tell). I can't wait to see him in something other than the power run.

NC_Buckeye's picture

You know what... if he became a monster in the yards after contact category, I wouldn't even care about how fast he is.
Be like Beanie, Rod. Be like Beanie.

Colin's picture

I kind of generalized by just saying speed, there's a lot unknown about him and we can't really conclude much from the game.

buckshot's picture

The most interesting part is that he tried to backdoor Rod in January and that is around the same time that his brother started mentioning Notre Dame. Have to wonder if that coversation doesn't happen if we have two Jalin's in this class, one of which could solve our LB dropping back into pass coverage problem. 

pukindawg's picture

Maybe with the way Rod has bought in and turned it around we could hopefully see his brother reconsider.

snoodogg22's picture

Let's do this Rod! We have too much talent in the backfield for these guys not to put up big numbers!

Tough times never last, tough people do

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Come on Rod!!! The Buckeye Nation is rabidly waiting for you to have the game you are capable of! I can think of no better game than the one this Saturday.

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

chitown buckeye's picture

I took notice of his run on saturday that set us up on the 1 yd line. If you re-watch that play he was running to the pylon but instead of reaching out or trying to extend the ball (with 2 defenders hitting him)he simply kept it tucked tight to his body. I remember thinking at the time wow he has improved and very aware of the situation. I liked seeing that from him and I think he can definately help the team. Hopefully this past week has given him confidence that will propell him through the rest of the season and future.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

A little confidence and reward for hard work can go a long for some people.  I hope this is one of those cases.  I have always been a fan of Rod and wanted him to succeed.  I hope that now he understands what he has to do to become great.  From there, the sky is the limit for him.

Read my entire screen name....

johnny11's picture

I'm surprised jason isn't on hear rod bashing lol.

Buckeyejason's picture

I don't bash I give my opinion and speak the truth. I want to see him a have a chance to show what he's got. I still don't see him ever being the #1 back here though.


GABuckeye's picture

No one doubts his talent - just hold on to the ball!!!!

whobdis's picture

It will be interesting to see where he goes from here. He kind of reminds me of Jonathan Wells. Wells really wasn't much of a runner when he first played. Just a big guy..and he really didn't even use his size well. He had kind of that straight up running style Smith has. But he learned to be patient when he had to be and lean when he needed to. With the backs coming in I'm not sure he'll ever be a starter..if he works on his hands and blocking maybe he can take Boren's spot next year. He's kinda tall for a back and may have leverage issues as far as blocking. This is why I love college football though..see how kids develop.

pjtobin's picture

I like the kid. He is a stud. Even if he is only a part of the freak show. That's better than losing him. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Squirrel Master's picture

I haven't bashed Rod but I have been a strong advocate for him transferring. I believed it would have been better for him to do it. I didn't know that the conversation actually happened and he almost did.
I have always rooted for the kid and believe he can be an elite talent. I just wasn't sure with what we were seeing in Hyde and knowing Hall is back and Dunn pushing for time, would have been a good situation for Rod. This team does need him though. Hall and Hyde will be gone after this year and Dunn will be the only other one with experience. Rod could very well be the guy who needs to start next year. In a possible NC year, a 5* RB that figures it out would make for a great championship story!
I'm glad he stuck it out, I just hope it pays off for him. Because that would mean it will pay off for the buckeyes!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

whobdis's picture

Hyde is just a junior

Squirrel Master's picture

Did I say Hyde was a senior?

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Buckeyejason's picture

No you said he'll be gone though. What makes you think that? Leaving after this season would be about as bad as Donald Washington leaving early. He hasn't shown enough to be considered a top 10 college back. Let alone a mid round draft pick.


buckeyestu's picture

good for rod, glad to see he is improving. the running backs need to start getting up to speed, take some pressure off brax. and then maybe this offense will get more consistent. maybe his brother will come play for the good guys.

WC Buckeye's picture

I remember how good it felt to watch Eddie when he turned it around; watching maturation happen - when so many choose to complain about "the system" and transfer or give up - is beautiful, and I think we going to see something tremendous happen with Rod Smith.
Go Bucks.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Evansvillebuckeye's picture

It's always easy to root for players who want to be a Buckeye!  Here's hoping that Rod keeps up the extra effort and is rewarded for the same.  What effect this has on his brother shouldn't be of any consequence, since Rod is a Buckeye and his brother is not.  His brother is quite an athlete, but since his team is usually playing inferior opponents, it's difficult to say how good he is.  Go Rod, and go Bucks!!

timdogdad's picture

rod is sort of a different version of pryor.  little shorter but almost as big.   and same number. and pretty close to talent level.   i hope we can have the 4 back attack.  hall slipping through holes. hyde powering his way through plus some speed.  rod smith as a combo of that. and braxton the ringer batting cleanup making the superstar runs. 

AJBor41's picture

That's a pretty hefty stretch to make there about Pryor and Rod Smith.  However, I do agree that Rod is a tremendous talent, just like Hyde and Dunn, so it will be interesting to see how we can use them the most effectively.

Alhan's picture

I just hope the fumble-itis has been cured.  So far so good!

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

Scott K's picture

That #2 jersey I picked up off the clearance rack for $8 in February is looking better every day...

"There's a fine line between stupid, and....clever.  David St. Hubbins/Nigel Tufnel

Scott K's picture

That #2 jersey I picked up off the clearance rack for $8 in February is looking better every day...

"There's a fine line between stupid, and....clever.  David St. Hubbins/Nigel Tufnel

YtownBuck13's picture

Great to see a kid have the perseverance to actually work hard and stick things out and be rewarded for it instead of taking the easy way out and transferring to another school. I'm rooting for Rod 100%

MAVBuck's picture

It's as if you've put me in a time machine. I find me self optimistic again about the offense just like I was a mere month ago.
Lets hope for his sake and OSU's that he really has reached another level and is on his way to becoming the back he was recruited to be!

otrain2416's picture

Great article I'm wondering if him considering transferring in January had anything to do with his little brothers decision

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

ODEEZ330's picture

go rod!!!! i think he is a beast when he has his head on straight

stark county football

Buckeyejason's picture

Rod's the RB version of Etienne Sabino. Every fan is hoping and praying that he lives up to his potential but each year that passes by it looks worse and worse for him. He looked pretty good on a few runs against UAB, but then was UAB.


BeijingBucks's picture

So wait... What happened to Rod Jonez? Or was that the fumble one?



None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton