A Pair and a Spare

By Chris Lauderback on May 28, 2013 at 2:00p

Though I've heard many coaches use it, I'll always associate the expression "a pair and a spare" to Jim Tressel. The Vest, a rabid fan of coach-speak, uttered the phrase often when discussing what it took to make him comfortable about the tailback position. 

This year, Urban Meyer's backfield talent would make Tressel glow with envy. 

Incumbent starter Carlos Hyde returns for his senior season, fresh off a a campaign that saw him seize the starting tailback job at Ohio State, falling just short of 1,000 yards on the season. Finishing with 970 yards, Hyde found the end zone 16 times. Averaging 97 yards per game, Hyde went for over a 100 yards rushing in four games and scored mulitple touchdowns in six. 

Projected to serve as Hyde's chief backup is 6'3", 230 lb. Rod Smith though 6'0", 220 lb. sophomore Bri'onte Dunn shouldn't be far behind. 

Local product Warren Ball is finally healthy, looking strong and adding to the depth and the stable only gets deeper as the Buckeyes welcome 6'0", 198 lb. incoming freshmen Ezekiel Elliott to the mix later this summer. 

Though they are likely to be used more in the hybrid role, other potential ball carriers from the tailback slot include vet Jordan Hall and another slew of incoming freshman in Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and Darron Lee. Frankly, it's borderline ridiculous how much skill, or at least highly touted skill, will be making a bid for touches. 

With Braxton and his fellow returnees on offense expected to be that much more comfortable in the Meyer/Herman offense, the skill players that rise the top will all have an abundance of chances to make plays. 

I don't need a backup. I need 1,000 yards. Hyde's not trying to come off the field in 2013

Regardless of the amount of firepower and the myriad of plays the brain trust has to get the ball to its playmakers, elite college football teams still need to be able to line up and move the ball consistently between the tackles. 

Such a need could arise when the plan is to unleash last clock-killing drive to clinch victory. Maybe Braxton is having a bad day through the air. Maybe it's a windy and soggy day. Or maybe the Buckeyes are facing a physical front and need to punch it in from in close. 

The point is that while spreading the field and lighting people up is what makes the highlight reel, championship football teams also typically possess the ability to impose their will on opposing defensive lines, breaking the will of their opponents on the way to the end zone. 

Obviously, Hyde will be the feature back and his style favors getting his smash-mouth-on though he also has the ability to make guys miss and can run away from his fair share of tacklers thanks to 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash.

There's no reason to believe Hyde will be off the field for very long unless he gets nicked but there is always a need for a primary backup at tailback.

Last year, Smith had the most chances to emerge as the bona fide backup tailback, seeing action in nine games while Dunn appeared in just three. Their cumulative stats look like this: 

R. SMITH 9 32 215 6.7 2 3 2 55 1
b. dUNN 3 25 133 5.3 2 0 0 0 0

Despite seeing glimpses of their legit talents, neither has much of a sample size to evaluate. 

Though spring drills, it's Rod Smith who Meyer still touts as Hyde's backup and it feels like the majority of the fan base favors him but I think Dunn can make more than a fair case to challenge Smith for a chance to be the guy who primarily spells Hyde this fall.

More than half of Dunn's carries last year came in the blowout win over Illinois. Afforded 13 carries, Dunn responded with 73 yards, good for 5.6 per carry, and he found the end zone on a three-yard run to round out the scoring at 52-22. 

Ohio State has some serious talent at running backDunn and Smith couldl be fighting for carries all year long

In limited action, Dunn showed he can be frightening for second-level defenders thanks to power, quickness and a mindset of punishing anything in his path. That's not to say he's just a bruiser because he does run fairly light on his feet and has a great set of hands. 

This past spring, the coaches worked on incorporating the tailbacks even more into the passing offense and Dunn showed he could be a weapon in that regard.

In the spring game alone, Dunn hauled in five passes for 61 yards, looking powerfully fluid each time. Bottom line, though seemingly underrated, Dunn is every bit as talented at catching the ball as Smith. 

As for Smith's resume, there's little question he's the bigger homerun threat. The Fort Wayne product teased fans averaging 23.3 yards per kickoff return last year and his 51-yard touchdown grab against Illinois has fans salivating at how his versatility could be better leveraged this season. 

Interestingly, Smith caught only one other pass last year, in the same Illini contest, and he has just four career receptions. Of course, his blend of power, athleticism and speed has enamored fans ever since he arrived on campus. Unfortunately, his Achilles heel has been a propensity to put the ball on the ground, something you can't do if you want to be a big time college running back. 

As a freshman, Smith coughed it up twice in only 29 carries and last year, Smith fumbled three times in 32 carries giving him career marks of five fumbles in in 61 carries, or once every 12 rushing attempts. Again, we're talking about a small sample size but the numbers are hard to ignore when turnovers are typically the catalyst of upsets. 

Even with the fumbles, Meyer has been pretty definitive on who Hyde's backup is at this time. It will be intriguing to see how the battle between Smith and Dunn unfolds and whether or not there are long term roster implications should one of the two find themselves firmly on the outside looking in. 


Comments Show All Comments

BTwrestle04's picture

Isn't Carlos a senior?

Chris Lauderback's picture

Yes. Typo. Thanks!

BTwrestle04's picture

You kind of had me excited about the potential of him returning next year. 

Chris Lauderback's picture

Ha! My bad. I have an awful habit of using my printed version of last year's media guide as a quick reference since the 2013 Team Guide is not yet available on OSU's site.

bodast67's picture

Too many great running backs on the same team=Buckeye problems !




     " I hope when I die, I die laughing"...                

thatlillefty's picture

I forgot about Jordan Hall returning at the slot. Hope he's able to come back 100%.

otrain2416's picture

I'm still drooling waiting to see this diamond formation

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

Buckeye06's picture

Has Hall completely moved?  If Smith/Dunn aren't doing the job, is Hall still going to be in the meeting rooms with the RBs once a week or so in case?

otrain2416's picture

I remember hearing he's working with the WRs mainly in that pivot roll. Should expect to see him Fields & Brown get carries out there initially. Possibly see Marshall and Wilson work in there as well during a blowout or as the season progresses.

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

Citrus's picture

I am confident Urbz will get these guys touches. Can't wait for the diamond. Would love to see Braxton have fewer called runs and instead pick up yards on scrambles with an increase in touches for the RBs. Love that there are so many big, bruising, yet fast backs to gobble up yards and eat clock late in games. Can't wait for more of this 

otrain2416's picture

I hope Hyde scores at least 4 rushing TDs this year vs TSUN and the camera keeps showing him doing this mocking Denard

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

brandonbauer87's picture

I hope Smith is past the fumbles. I feel like he could be not only good, but great. I think he is the player I'm most excited to watch this year. 

Hovenaut's picture

Running back.


And thank you for referring the hybrid role as the hybrid role, and not something (someone) else.

rdubs's picture

I feel this way about nearly all of our offensive skill positions.  Everyone is back, but we have a lot of young guns who might be hard to keep off the field.  Dontre, Jalin, James, Corey, EZE.  What a beautiful list.

Dayton Buckeye's picture

Smith is going to have a break out year.  Hyde will still get the majority of touches, but Smith can come in and help wear down a defense. 

2014nationalchamps's picture

best stable of RB's on OSU's roster in a long time.  Very excited for the season to start. 

O-H-I-O  for life

Remington2323's picture

El GUAPO will be 1st team All Big10.

cinserious's picture

El Guapo's thinking All-america!

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

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

I love the talent that exists at running back.  So many good players.  Although with Dunn doing such a great job at catching passes out of the backfield in the spring game it might be worth it to give him a little time at the hybrid role to give Jordan Hall a break. 
I can't wait to see the diamond formation as well.  There is a lot they can do out of this.  It almost makes me think of images of the Four Horsemen from back in the day!
Also love that with these guys taking more of the running burden that should allow Braxton to take less hits and keep him healthier. 
Can't wait to watch these guys play! 
Go Bucks!!

AAStagg's picture

A 'pair and a spare' was Woody Hayes' often-stated comfort level at TB.  It wasn't coined by JT.  Tress would be the first to acknowledge that.

Keep calm.  It's only a game.

RoyMunson's picture

The more I read and think about the talent on offense I start wondering if all Braxton will have to do is be an efficient, systematic quarterback with a few read-option plays to keep the D honest. 

I hope this isn't homer-vision setting in, but I'm starting to think Braxton will be the conduit to the playmaker and not THE playmaker this year.

MN Buckeye's picture

I see Brax as the engineer of all that happens.  I hope he throws 50% of the time (competing 75% of them) while we pound the snot out of opposing helpless defenses with our great stable of running backs.

cinserious's picture

It does make me feel a WHOLE lot better knowing Braxton won't have to run so much. If he stays in the pocket to throw, his feet will scramble to avoid trouble (while keeping his eyes downfield). I say we give Braxton one or two designed runs/game just to break the spirit of the opponent's D.

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

Buckin-J's picture

I am really looking forward to seeing EzE on the field this season.  Hopefully Urbz gets him some touches early in the season before the heart of the B1G schedule.

Go Bucks or go home. 

hetuck's picture

I credit Woody for the original "pair and a spare" usage. He was referring to Archie, Woodrow Roach, and Elmer Lippert.

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

IBleedSandG's picture

I think Warren Ball will see a decent amount of carries as well. It's definitely nice to have such depth at RB.
Rod Smith would probably start at 70% of the other schools in the country. Kid has tons of talent, and it seems like he is starting to finally put it all together.


Syrabuck21's picture

My favorite part of the article(sorry Chris) is the face-plant by the Indiana player in the Carlos Hyde picture.