Ohio State 2012 Review: Running Backs

By Ross Fulton on January 17, 2013 at 2:00p

In an offense predicated upon tight zone and gap run plays, Ohio State's undefeated season would not have been without Carlos Hyde's emergence in the Buckeye backfield.

Hyde allowed OSU to establish its base inside run plays, which in turn set up Braxton Miller for explosive plays outside the tackle box.

In addition, when the Buckeyes needed tough yards or the more explosive aspects of its offense were not working, they could always turn to Hyde and the offensive line.

What is more, OSU likely has a greater depth of talent at tailback than any other position. With Hyde's return, the next step is for the staff to identify a second running back that can be a reliable outside threat for misdirection plays off its base read and QB lead run game. 

Hyde's Emergence

Heading into the 2012 season, Hyde and Jordan Hall were expected to share backfield duties. But with Hall's unfortunate foot and knee injuries, Hyde was thrust into the full-time role. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Hyde delivered, becoming the only Big Ten player good enought for 10 points an afternoon.

At its base, Urban Meyer's Buckeye offense is predicated on inside zone and power run plays. Reading a defender and/or running lead QB plays re-equates numbers, but the offense still needs the ability to run the football to the frontside or the offense will sputter.

While Miller was the Buckeyes' go-to guy and home run threat, Hyde on inside zone was the Buckeyes' jab punch.

Hyde's emergence was keyed by a patience and vision that he had not heretofore shown. He excelled on these quick-hitting plays by making one cut and getting north and south. Then once Hyde got to the second level he was difficult to bring down.

Hyde has good straight line speed, but he does not have a lot of 'wiggle' and thus is less likely to break off run longs. But he runs violently and delivers punishment to would-be tacklers, generally falling forward for additional yardage.

This consistent, north-south chain-moving ability is a much needed component of an Urban Meyer offense. Less noticed, Hyde was also a very effective lead blocker on OSU's QB counter trey and other lead runs for Miller, making him an all-around asset. 

What Could Have Been?

Hall's season, by contrast, never got off the ground. Given Meyer's preseason praise, this was unfortunate. It is unknown exactly what Hall's role may have been.

Despite his relatively diminutive stature, Hall is well suited for Meyer's inside zone play, given that his strength is his quickness in making one cut. However, there is perhaps an area where Hall is more needed, even with Hyde's emergence.

Meyer likes running misdirection jet sweeps and option off inside run plays to slow down overflowing linebackers. But OSU largely lacked the back to do so. OSU began running these plays late in the season simply to slow teams keying Miller (for example this Bash play away from the tight zone action), but Hyde is not ideally suited for running east-west.

Enter Hall. Look for Hall to be used as a hybrid in a number of capacities, not only in the backfield, but also in the slot, where he come into the backfield on motion to more effectively add these accouterments to the Buckeye offense.  

A Crowded Place

With Hall out, Rod Smith gradually emerged as Hyde's backup. Smith demonstrated glimpses of his large potential. While Smith is a big and powerful runner, he likely has more shiftiness than Hyde and thus the ability to break off 'explosive' runs.  

Smith also demonstrated a pass-catching ability out of the backfield. The problem for Smith was simply a limited number of touches after Miller and Hyde. Also, though not fully his fault, Smith developed a reputation for fumbling, making him less reliable than Hyde.

And there is simply not enough differentiation in styles between Hyde and Smith that they could often be utilized in different situations. 

Behind Smith, freshman Bri'onte Dunn also demonstrated natural running ability, highlighted by his output against Illinois. Of OSU's running backs, he may have the highest upside as an all around ball carrier.

But Dunn was passed by Smith largely because he suffered from typical freshman issues — fully learning the playbook and picking up the nuances of the position such as pass blocking. Dunn's natural ability means that he should not be counted out for an increased role moving forward.

Wither the Footballs?

This backfield, of course, only gets more crowded in 2013, with not only Hall's return but also Warren Ball coming off an injury-induced redshirt and Ezekiel Elliott's enrollment. With Hyde and Miller's return it will be difficult for running backs to find carries.

For Ohio State, this is obviously a good problem to have. Hyde and Miller need touches, given Hyde's productivity and the fact that Miller is the Buckeyes' number one threat and one of the most explosive runners in all of college football. OSU may ideally want to limit Miller's runs on a game to game basis, but it is undeniable that he needs the football. 

As noted with Hall, then, the key for those behind Hyde who want touches is to to bring a different dimension.

Whether that is offering an outside threat so that Miller's load can be slightly reduced, a pass-catching tailback, or the versatility of someone that can move between the slot and the backfield, providing the Buckeye offense a different threat than they had in 2012 will be the key to playing time in 2013.


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buckeyebart's picture

Attrition forthoming. We can't keep all these guys happy. They like to touch the ball and have always contributed to their teams success. In addition we are going to continue to recruit new RB's what are the chances of landing a 5 star RB with that much competition? Slim to none. Sorry Mr Ball, Mr Smith, Mr Dunn it's too crowded. Unless D-fense and or special teams is your desire

osu07asu10's picture

So we try and push 2 former 5 star recruits and a 4 star recruit out of the program bc they don't crack the two deep so we look attractive to future recruits?
All of the guys on the team have known they were entering a crowded stable. The only one I see transferring would be Dunn, if Eze comes in and gets immediate PT and at that point it becomes obvious he's fallen behind Smith and Elliot, he may want to go somewhere hell tote the rock 30 times a game

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buck-I.8's picture

Wouldn't Ball transfer before Dunn? At least Dunn got touches last year

BKshepherd's picture

Man, we haven't even seen what Ball can do...no mention of a transfer yet.  He might be the next Great One from The OSU for all we know.  He looks like a beast physically, I'd like to see what he can do.

buck-I.8's picture

I'd like to see that too, but the above poster was saying that Dunn would be most likely to transfer when he was higher on the depth chart.

Goose's picture

We are definitely not gonna have enough PT for all of these athletes.  I really see a couple of RBs sliding more into slot duty.
Between Hyde, Smith, Ball and Dunn returning, Hall getting a redshirt along with Marshall and Elliott coming in, the carries/catches are gonna be tough to come by.
On the downside, it will be tough to keep all of these guys happy, on the other, hopefully we can lessen some of Braxton's load.
I could see a situation where the guys who are impacted the most may be the WRs, especially Smith if he can't become more consistent.

3technique's picture

I see it more as a win win.. Look at the 96 Kentucky basketball team( don't worry, I hate kentucky hoops). You keep everybody healthy and sell it as less abuse before you punch your ticket to the NFL.. Rod Smith will not be denied this year.. I see EZE getting some of the plays that went to Philly Brown.. The quick slants, reverses, and the like..

yankeescum's picture

I agree totally, that less wear on the body thing didn't hurt larry johnson.  he started for exactly one year for the happy valley's finest, and it sure as hell didn't hurt his draft stock.  if i were a gm, i would much rather take a kid with only one year of college abuse who has the skills than a kid who has an equal skill set, but ate it for three or four years.

sir rickithda3rd's picture

yea i hope jordan the best in life but i was hoping he was going to move on... i think our other backs are better than him

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Ross Fulton's picture

If someone is better then they'll play. But fans always think that a true frosh is going to come in and be better/set the world on fire and it rarely happens. Dunn was a 5 star and a pretty good example of that.

cinserious's picture

Not everybody can come in and be a Clarett or Beanie. Dunn could have if the upperclassmen were'nt getting the job done.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

Crimson's picture

Dunn sat on the bench for a while because he didn't know his position, where to line up, which gap to run to/block.  He has talent, but you have to know the playbook too if you want playing time.


I like the depth because you just know there's going to be an injury at some point. Hall was out for most the season and Hyde missed 3 weeks. Someone gets hurt and Smith doesn't cure his fumblitis the backfield goes from loaded to problem area real quick. In a perfect world, yeah, there arent enough carries because nobody is getting hurt. That would be an awesome problem to have. But we all know life isnt perfect. I seem to think having this depth will end up being critical in 2013 if or when we suffer a bad injury in the backfield and ESPECIALLY (KNOCK ON WOOD) if Braxton gets hurt.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Tengauge's picture

I like the thought of having multiple backs like Alabama does. They got the run game going and it opened  up the passing game especially play action. A good rotation of the backs in long offensive drives keeps fresh legs in the game especially late in the game.  It does also provides contingency plans for injuries. Maybe a lot more two back formations in the future?  I am glad of one thing and that is I don't have to make the decisions on this issue. Whew! Got enough stress this year just being a fan with the OT games.

Doc's picture

Ross, thanks for the break down.  I found it funny you used mostly AACC clips to show how things were working, but my biggest lulz came when you said:
"Meyer likes running misdirection jet sweeps and option off inside run plays to slow down overflowing linebackers. But OSU largely lacked the back to do so. OSU began running these plays late in the season simply to slow teams keying Miller (for example this Bash play away from the tight zone action), but Hyde is not ideally suited for running east-west."
Then you showed El Guapo picking up 15.  Intended or not that was funny right there.

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johnny11's picture

Same sentiment as every one else here. The carries outside of Brax and Hyde are going to be minimal. I think the key will be using two back sets whether it requires motioning some one in or starting out in the formation to begin with. I think Smith can be used as an hback some also because he has good hands and can be a good lead blocker in certain situations. Kind of like how Boren was used initially. Smith is also my favorite back, but even I know as far as significant touches he will have to wait til 14 probably. Zeke, Marshall, and hall are all going to utility type guys to me so they will get their fair amount of touches if they can prove themselves in that role. Dunn will see limited carries and Ball will probably be the odd guy out probably only playing special teams.

rdubs's picture

Before Hall went down again, there were plans for formations with both Hall and Hyde in them.  I could easily see that happening again.  Heck I'd love to see the Loaded Pistol with Hall, Hyde, and Smith.  

CptBuckeye24's picture

Just for the sake of a Loaded Pistol, let's put Elliot in there as a 4th guy.  Hell even throw Jalin Marshall as the WR.  Hyde and Smith as lead blockers in this formation, now I really like that. 

yrro's picture

If this offense starts clicking as well as I think it's going to, there should be plenty of carries to go around. I wouldn't be surprised if once the game is in hand, against weaker opponents, or just because he does a better job reading the defensive end, for Miller's carries to be reduced from this year.
Moreover, at least against the current offense, teams have shown a blueprint for stopping us. Sell out entirely to stop Miller. With another year to practice his offense I can't *wait* to see the counter we have set up for that.


That will all hinge on Miller's improved passing ability. He ups his completion percentage defenses can't bring up that extra safety into the box. They do he burns them for it.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

tampa buckeye's picture

Special teams will be beast. Smith played some the freshman that doesn't red shirt will too.

TexasBuck11's picture

I love the depth. Competition breeds greatness. Much rather have this problem than the rb problem that Iowa has had the last 6 or so years...

CptBuckeye24's picture

If Hyde stayed healthy and didn't miss any time and OSU played in the post-season, Hyde would have been considered one of the best backs in college football.  He didn't get that much love from the media for his performance this season.  Watch the Nebraska tape and you'll see some special plays from him. 
If he played in his two or three games he missed and the 2 post-season games, he would have had maybe, 500 more yards, 4-8 more touchdowns?
So his final numbers would have been close to 1,600 yards and 20+ touchdowns.  Not to mention there was Braxton in the same backfield with 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns.  

cinserious's picture

I'd like to see a 'diamond' formation with essentially four threats coming out of the backfield. Miller, Hyde, Smith, and Hall in the slot.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.