It's Bull Season Again in the Rod Smith Market

By Kyle Rowland on May 20, 2013 at 9:30a
Smith will get more chances in 2013. He hopes to make the most of them.

Rod Smith is not Ohio State’s starting running back entering his junior year. His career trajectory hasn’t been in lockstep with the mental map drawn up his senior year of high school, but don’t let his place on the depth chart fool you. Smith factors in nicely for what head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman hope to accomplish on offense.

There was no competition for the starting running back spot in the spring. Carlos Hyde’s nearly 1,000-yard season and subsequent return for his final season as a Buckeye put an end to any musical chairs. But the second-string competition also was nonexistent, and that’s because of the flare Smith displayed in Ohio State's 12-0 year.

When it comes to making the most of opportunities, Smith took the ball and ran – literally. He only received 32 carries in nine games, but his total rushing yards added up to 215, an average of 6.7 yards per carry. Two plays stick out from the others: a 33-yard touchdown run against Nebraska that included five broken tackles and a 51-yard touchdown reception versus Illinois.

There was more of that during spring practice, where Smith could be seen making would-be tacklers miss. It was a month-long personal highlight reel for one of the nation’s best backups. The coaches think so much of Smith that they’ve incorporated him into the diamond formation, alongside Braxton Miller and Hyde. Smith suffered a concussion during the final week of drills, but it didn’t deter his season outlook.

“He was a physical presence out there,” said running backs coach Stan Drayton. “I'm really excited where Rod Smith is right now. He's a young man that's had to overcome some things to get to the point where he is right now. It makes it even that much more rewarding for him and myself.”

Seventeen months ago, Smith’s future with the Buckeyes was uncertain. He missed the team flight to the Gator Bowl and never showed up in Jacksonville. It was the end of a tumultuous year for Smith, who started out at running back before moving to linebacker after what appeared to be an incurable case of fumble-itis. 

There were comparisons to Eddie George before Smith even suited up in scarlet and gray. A 74-yard performance with a touchdown in Smith’s first career game only made the drumbeat louder. He’s a 6-foot-3, 228-pound machine that runs over, through and around defenders, similar to the physical style of the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner.

Soon, the two would have more in common, but this time it was of the infamous variety. Smith, like George, would go through a dreaded period of fumbling, The most troubling aspect was doing so late in games. For many, it was a return to 1992, when a young Eddie George had two critical fumbles in a loss to Illinois.

Needless to say, on and off the field, Smith did not leave Meyer with a favorable first impression. It couldn’t have been much worse for a perfectionist head coach. It was so poor that Meyer sat down with Smith and his father and urged the running back to transfer.

“He's a good guy. I love Rod Smith. I love guys that turn it around.”

“The conversation in January (of 2012) 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.

The negativity continued last spring and summer. Smith performed in a forgettable manor with no reason for coaches to grab onto hope. But he persevered and bought into the staff’s message.

The first glimmer was the touchdown and four-yard average Smith had against UAB. But it wasn’t just offense where Smith attracted attention. The coaches were pleased with his unselfish play on special teams, where Smith was a member the “Freak Show” punt-block team. Meyer has long lauded players that take command by first performing on special teams. It’s the quickest way to earn playing time on offense or defense.

Now Smith is one of the hardest workers on the team and routinely spotted putting in long hours at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. It’s part of the reason why he separated himself from fellow running backs Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball.

“He's a totally different guy right now,” Drayton said of Smith. “He's locked in. He's focused. He understands too that his timeline is coming.

Said Meyer: “He's a good guy. I love Rod Smith. I love guys that turn it around.”

Starter or not, it’s all irrelevant to Smith and the Buckeyes. He’s going to play and the team is better for it. The offense responded with gusto when Smith was inserted into the lineup during the spring.

“He has improved his awareness,” Drayton said. “He's year-two in this system now, so he's playing faster because of the knowledge of the system.”

Developing a playbook in his mind should prove vital when the freshmen playmakers enroll, among them Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott. Only one – Elliott – is a true running back. But gaudy high school stats don’t guarantee success – at least not immediately. Smith is the best reference point for that argument. He gained more than 6,600 yards in high school and scored nearly 70 touchdowns.

Then he entered the real world, or some form of it. College football is a cruel universe. But for the ballyhooed back who defied his coaches transfer advice, it’s not far from a utopia.

“What a great message for our entire team,” Meyer said. “He was lower than most guys on this team. To see him rebound…it's called maturity, and it's happening.”


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FitzBuck's picture

This put a big smile on my face.  Nothing better then seeing people turn things around and live up to their potential.  

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

gravey's picture

Glad he didn't transfer.  We've had a ton of mega-superstar HS backs come to OSU to flame out in a couple of years and leave.  Nobody ever hears anything good from them.  Those that do stick around frequently turn it around and find some success by the time their senior year arrives.
JaJa Riley and Sammy Maldanado spring to mind quickly, but there have been string of them.

SilverBulletNYC's picture

Holy moly. We have a Sammy Maldonado reference. Nicely done.

The South will NOT rise again!

lippertini's picture

True: Nick Goings, Derek Combs... At least Beanie lived up to his hype; he was Rivals's #3 overall HS player in 2006. 

buckeyedude's picture

I can't think of a more gifted player than M.C. Had he had his head screwed on right, I truly believe he could've won three Heismans.
I've been in El Guapo's corner since before he had his struggles. But it's good to see Rod Smith turn things around.
El Guapo.
Roderick Smith.
I cannot imagine a more talented backfield than that, anywhere in college football. I challenge anyone to find one.



SPreston2001's picture

Tebow, Percy, & Rainey.... I love our guys but that Florida squad did some amazing things....

RunEddieRun1983's picture

Big time players make big time plays in big time situations.  That's the moniker for in game...  I also say Big time players make big time decisions, that have big time positive impact on their lives and their outlook.  Way to go Rod!

I don't always downvote, but I do always downvote a Michigan fan trolling the Buckeye boards.

O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

Hope he has no lingering troubles from the concussion. So pumped to watch him put on the full display of shake, rattle and bull. 

SilverBulletNYC's picture

That's my concern as well. So stoked about Rod Smith this year.

The South will NOT rise again!

Citrus's picture

The speed and strength of Smith are unmatched in our backfield. He is our best back if he cuts out the fumbles. Can't wait to see the diamond.

omahabeef1337's picture

With Hyde being gone after the 2013 season, is Rod lined up to be the starter in 2014? If so, that will have been quite a turn around, and a reward for patience.

Bucksfan's picture

Dude, "Rod Smith" is not the preferred nomenclature.  "Rod Jones," please.

GruberNubbins's picture

Hah...Nice, Beth Mowins...
I sincerely hope we don't have to listen to her as much this year.  I figured it was just part of our sanctions last year to go along with our bowl ban.  I don't know which one was more cruel.

BuckeyeSki's picture

Beth Mowins calling any game:

Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

Bucksfan's picture

Honestly, she is not nearly as bad as Andre Ware, Brock Huard, Matt Millen or the half-dozen or so ex-jocks that have no business describing anything using the English language.  In fact, I don't dislike her commentary in general.  I'm fine with a good broadcast voice.

Bugsyk's picture

Glad he didn't go.  Every time Smith touches the ball I wait for him to Buck n run Bo Jackson style.  He's the sort you want to see succeed.  Someone who has turned it around, works hard, and has completely bought into being a Buckeye.

OSUs12-OH's picture

Hyde, Miller and Smith in the backfield at the same time= :-)
Then add Hall, Marshall, Wilson and you have some serious weapons at the RB/Slot position. I can't wait for August;-)
Dunn and Ball's turn will be next year.  I can see them in some mop up time this year unless there are some injuries (which we all could do without).

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

luckynutz's picture

I remember being beyond stoked when rod smith chose the buckeyes. And saddened to hear thetransfer talk last spring. I'm now stoked again to hear he's come full circle and is ready to take on a more prominent role in this offense. Perfect combo of size, speed and power. With him, hyde and braxton in the same backfield? Opposing DCs are in for some long, sleepless nights!

chinooker97's picture

Rod Smith really pulled a 180 last year.  I used to get so nervous when he would get chances thinking he would cough up the ball, now it's great to see him come in with a fresh set of legs and gash up the middle for 6-7 yards or catch one out of the backfield.  We are stacked at the RB with some nice talent coming in, should be exciting to watch this year.

"Because we couldn't go for three."

airborne082385's picture

There is not a player on the Buckeyes I will be pulling for this year more than Curtis Grant Rod is a close second.  That being said Rod I feel has the most potential to be an NFL star.  I really feel and have seen the flashes of brilliance and he is a solid blocker and judging from last year can catch the ball out of the backfield.  If he can hold onto the ball this year which I believe he will watch out.  Tremendous upside at the next level.    

Hovenaut's picture

Rod is going to brutalize defenses this year. I liken El Guapo throwing body shots, Brax the head and RS delivering knockout runs when he gets touches.

Love the Eddie comparisons, eager to see what the next two years hold for Mr. Smith.

bukyze's picture

What a hell of a diversified and embarrassment of riches we have in the backfield.  I still love to watch smashmouth power running football.  El Guapo at the end of the scUM game is a perfect example of why it's so important to have a reliable bruiser.  I hope we continue to recruit those kind of guys in addition to the EzE/Hall type guys.  Nothing makes me happier than the other team knowing we are going to be running it down their throat, and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

osubuck57's picture

Think Rod and El Guapo are just gonna hand out all kinds of bumps and bruises this year,almost unfair!!Glad Rod was able to turn it around!! We have such a sick depth chart in the backfield!!Can't wait to see some of our young pups get some mop up duty to show what they can do as well.


IBleedSandG's picture

El Guapo + Rod Smith = Best 1,2 RB punch in the B1G.


rjsmitty's picture

Imagine being a 6'3" 220lb., 19 year old phenom out of high school...your sitting in front of one of the best college football coaches in the country at one of the most storied universities and he says to you, in front of your father, "You should look to transfer somewhere where you will play because your OBVIOUSLY not good enough to play here." Talk about a reality check.
Congrats Rod Smith for not tucking your tail and running away but making that a defining moment in your life, for being a man and doing everything you can do to prove one of the best in the business wrong. Hope Rod flat out kills it this year!

"I don't wanna coach average! To hell with that!"  -UFM

Squirrel Master's picture

I have always felt that Urban really didn't want Rod to go, but that he had to give him that speech. If Rod left, then he really didn't have the heart. but since he made that choice, I think Urban had to put him in that position to get him going. Again, Urban pushes these players not by threats, not by discouragement, but by making them look deep within themselves to see if they have what it takes. Rod needed that push and he made the best choice. Kid is going to be amazing with Hyde and Braxton. I just wonder who is going to be that third back in the Diamond? Will it be Hall? or perhaps one of the freshmen? or how about Heuerman or Vannett in the half back role? That extra blocker could be special.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

BrewstersMillions's picture

Oh my...Car Braxrod needs to be a thing.
Well done sir.

RBuck's picture

I actually thought Smith would be dismissed after not showing up at the Gator Bowl. Kudos to both Rod and Urban for sticking it out.

Long live the southend.

BuckeyeSki's picture

He fumbled his plane tickets in the concourse....

Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

Earle's picture


Snarkies gonna snark. 

tussey's picture

I'm so excited for Rod.  I played against him in high school, my senior year he was a soph.  Him being a buckeye, makes it really easy root for that home town connection. 

buckeyedude's picture

So did you get a chance to try and tackle him?



CowCat's picture

“The conversation in January (of 2012) 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.

LOL.  Come on Coach Meyer, don't beat around the bush.  Tell them what you think.  :)
That sort of honesty is rare in this world.   Cheers to Rod Smith for reacting in a positive manner.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

buckeyepastor's picture

Great read.   Great transformations for both Hyde and Smith as players and as young men.   I remember everyone figuring Hyde's days were numbered when he responded poorly to seeing his carries reduced after Hall's return to the lineup in 2011, but he worked through that.   And Smith has really grown up, too.   Again, comparisons can be drawn to George.   One of the things that I appreciated most about Eddie was seeing his maturation as a player over his four years at OSU.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Matta World Peace's picture

This article is great medicine for a day like today...