The Stable: Running Back Now a Strength for Ohio State

By Kyle Rowland on August 14, 2013 at 9:30a
Courtesy of @WarrenB_

The offseason was buzzing along and all was well in Columbus until one mid-July night. Poor judgment was exhibited in Carlos Hyde and, suddenly, Ohio State’s nearly 1,000-yard running back’s season was put on hold. Hyde, a run-out-the-clock and pass protection artist, will miss at least the first three games of the season.

Initial thoughts verged more on panic than optimism. Losing any player for a considerable length of time is frowned up, even more so when it’s an integral piece to a successful offense. A funny thing happens, though, when the heat rises. Competition and adversity creates advancement. They call it competitive excellence at Ohio State.

“It’s a matter of adding depth, quality depth,” said running backs coach Stan Drayton. “It’s something we weren’t able to do last season.”

Now there may not be enough footballs to go around. Jordan Hall, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball, Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott and Hyde have all been mentioned as ball carriers for the coming season.

“I think we’re going to be one the best [position groups] in the country,” said Elliott, who received praise from Urban Meyer Tuesday on ESPN. 

It's Hall, though, who has been the forgotten man. Not anymore, at least not the way Drayton talks. According to him, Hall will be the Week 1 starter.

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for the once-promising recruit. Pegged by Meyer as the team’s biggest playmaker in 2012, things went awry when Hall stepped on a piece of glass during the summer, causing him to miss the season’s first two games.

Once he returned to the field, Hall averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Then he suffered another injury. This time it was a knee, and season ending. Amid all the bad news, however, came a stroke of luck; the NCAA granted Hall another year of eligibility.

The question then became what position would Hall play, because Hyde had solidified himself as the team’s starting running back. When spring practice commenced, Hall began learning the ins and outs of the H-back position. Some four months later, he is once again in the backfield.

“I just want to be on the field and help this team win,” Hall said. “I’m ready for anything anywhere they put me. I’ll never take anything for granted. It was hard watching the team last year. Every time I’m in, it’s 100 percent go.”

The plan all along, according to Drayton, was for Hall to be a rover, moving from H-back to running back. For the third season in a row, though, Ohio State’s plans have needed readjusting. Hall was suspended two seasons ago and injured last year. So far, the audibles have worked out all right for the Buckeyes.

The man backing up Hall has traveled another unpredictable odyssey. From ballyhooed prospect to fan punching bag back to a starring role, one could say Rod Smith has seen it all.

“Who’s going to be the most explosive on a most consistent basis? That’s what it’s coming down to right now, which is a great problem to have.”

In his first career game, Smith was Ohio State’s leading rusher. The following week he nearly became the ultimate goat. It’s been 92 years since the Buckeyes lost to an in-state foe. But that streak nearly ended in 2011 when Smith developed a severe outbreak of fumble-itis against Toledo. He had four carries the rest of the season and was briefly moved to linebacker. But that wasn’t the end of his troubles.

Smith missed the team plane for the Gator Bowl and never showed up in Jacksonville. Meyer encouraged transferring, but Smith dug in and earned playing time in 2012. Now he’s slated to be one of the team’s top ball carriers.

“Nothing has changed for me,” Smith said. “I’m not surprised at all. I knew what I was capable of. Coming in with a group of great backs, you have to be humble. When your time is called, you have to be prepared.

“I’m just trying to go out, work hard, get better at my craft and be a leader for the young guys. It’s a great individual opportunity for me, but the team goal hasn’t changed. We’re competing for something big this year.”

That’s why Smith worked during all hours of the day in the offseason. Among the areas he concentrated on was ball security. Smith says the dubious beginning to his career isn’t in his head despite the summer work. 

“It’s not a thing,” he promised. “I don’t know how to talk about it. It’s never been an issue for me. I feel like the media made it a big deal, but you have to block it out and work on your game. You can’t worry about what other people think.”

The top priority, though, was learning Ohio State’s complex playbook to perfection. He said he accomplished it – “I know it like the back of my hand” – which bodes well for playing time. Smith also improved his pass protection, one of the most underrated aspects of being a running back.

Elliott, who’s also in the process of deciphering the Rorschach test that is the Ohio State playbook, agreed with Smith’s assessment of picking up defenders that reach the backfield. There aren’t many Adolphus Washingtons and Ryan Shaziers in Missouri.

“You have a lot of faster and bigger guys,” Elliott said. “You aren’t used to holes opening and closing that fast. The biggest adjustment is pass protection. That’s a pain, having to make those reads and block guys like Adolphus and Ryan Shazier. That’s my biggest adjustment to college football.”

The infusion of youth on the Buckeyes is apparent at nearly every position, but especially running back with Elliott and Wilson. It remains to be seen how often Wilson is lined up as a tailback. At media day, Wilson revealed that Meyer recruited him to fill the hybrid role A.K.A. be the next Percy Harvin.

“I see myself when the offense needs a spark or big play, I can come in and change the game,” Wilson said. “I think I can come out on the field and do great things.”

The season is still more than two weeks away, yet it’s already evident the freshmen have made an impact on the 2013 Buckeyes.

“They are a bunch of young guys who are not afraid,” Drayton said. They’re hungry and competing with the older guys. They’re pushing this team to new heights. Any time you can have a freshmen class come in and pick up on what we’re asking them to do and have a competitive edge, then you stand a chance at those guys getting on the field early.”

Even as the low man on the totem pole, Hyde remains the ringleader of the group.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Drayton said. “He’s coaching those young guys. Carlos is very smart. He understands the game. His vision is impeccable. He can talk to those kids and give true advice on knowledge and experience. That part of it alone has been priceless.

“He’s handling the adversity well. It’s going to hit any individual hard when you take away something they love. But I’ve been pleased with the way he’s responded.”

The same can be said for the entire cluster of running backs.

“You know they’re going to bring a work ethic and bring a purpose. Now it’s a matter of the dynamics,” Drayton said. “Who’s going to be the most explosive on a most consistent basis? That’s what it’s coming down to right now, which is a great problem to have.”


Comments Show All Comments

cajunbuckeye's picture

I'm a Buckeye and I'm still intimidated by that picture. That is one scary photo, if your a B1G defensive player. Nightmares!

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

SOF_Buckeye's picture

Totally agree Cajun. And to think the only players in the picture leaving after this season are Hyde & Hall. With Campbell coming in (and maybe another ??), the stable will only get stronger. A good time to be a BUCKEYE!

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." Woody Hayes

OldColumbusTown's picture

The size of Rod Smith is quite something.  Look at him compared to some other really big dudes (Hyde, Dunn, even Ball).  Being directly beside Jordan Hall certainly helps him look even more ginormous than he already is, but that guy is a MAN physically.

cinserious's picture

As far as physiques go, this videogame-like picture of our running backs shows they are all in great shape. The bigger ones and smaller ones enter the season with great bodies thanks to Marotti and our nutritionist.

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

Buckeye06's picture

Ok there is a forum topic about Smith being suspended?  Can that be confirmed or denied in the comments to this article?
Thanks, and the article is great as always.  Will be interesting to see how many of them have learned blocking assignments etc. for formations and especially the diamond formation we have been hearing about

Stinson's picture

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

Nkohl13's picture

C'mon coach! Catch it with your hands, not against the body!

TennesseeBuckeye's picture

Three things can happen when you throw the ball. Two of them are bad.

I may not be able to outsmart too many people, but I can outwork 'em.
Woody Hayes

ih8rolltyde's picture

That was a catch in traffic as coach was protecting the ball against that dog safety coming over to lay the hit.

****igan smells like old water that hot dogs were boiled in.  FACT

Oldschoolbuck's picture

Man, I wish I had one of those sport coats!

chirobuck's picture

is that a michigan cheerleader trying to cover Woody?


^ best post ever ^

BullCityBuckeye's picture

I don't think I've ever seen a stable of running backs as good as this team has this year.  I would be thrilled to have any one of these seven young men as the starter for my team.  Go Bucks!

chirobuck's picture

has the potential to go down as collectively the greatest group of running backs in OSU history


^ best post ever ^

Jonnferrell's picture

That picture will go down in history as the greatest assembly of OSU running backs in one season.  To have a bunch of powerful, quick backs to choose from and to keep from having one guy beat to death all season will prove to be a huge asset for this team.  

"I miss Brady Hoke."

ScarletGray43157's picture

That is a lot of talent.  If I were coaching, it would be a priority to give them all enough work. These days, if guys are not getting enough playing time, they might look to transfer.  
Big challenge to keep them all occupied productively.  
Good problem to have, though.

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

Buckeye06's picture

That picture is why we dont need any pure RBs in the 2014 class since 5 of them will still be around next year

chirobuck's picture

so is this the final season that we have to refer to the pivot as the "Percy Harvin" postion....if Wilson is as good as advertised, and I'm sure he is, can it officially be the Wilson spot....or something like that?


^ best post ever ^

hit_the_couch's picture

Just give the position a football name, it's all it needs.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

Squirrel Master's picture

I have said it before and will continue to say it, the position is called H back or slot back. There is a slot receiver and a slot back.
but I wouldn't mind the position just being "WILSOOOOOOONNNNNNNN!!"

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Danify's picture

Scariest thing for the BIG is each one of these RBs would be a starter on his own team. That's how crazy that group is.

CC's picture

Ranked by who I would like to see with the ball, which shows just how crazy this group is:
Rod Smith

chicagobuckeye's picture

You are forgetting about Hall. If you watched Urban's interview he said that Hall was the only one who was ready last season. Hyde preformed well, so imagine what someone who was ready would do.

RedStorm45's picture

Is EzE #15?  Means he can't be on the field with Devin Smith if that is the case.

luckynutz's picture

Devin smith changed numbers. He is #9 now.

RedStorm45's picture

Thanks!  Can't keep up with all the different numbers.

Jdadams01's picture

Devin Smith changed numbers. Now #9.
Edit: beat me to it.

osubuck57's picture

Yep, #15 is EzE. Love his comment about having to block Shazier and Deisel. Believe me, they both will give other players fits this season, not to mention Spence and our secondary.


OldColumbusTown's picture

I don't think I have ever been as anxious and overall excited to see an Ohio State offense as I am this season.
Going into last season, I think everyone was excited to see the new style of offense, but Urban and Herman had sort of tempered everyone's expectations because of the lack of WR talent, and not having a real proven RB, as well as what we thought were issues with the O-line.
This year is a complete 180 when it comes to expectations for the offense.  The coaches are raving about individual players and position groups as a whole.  The only pessimistic view has been the depth of the O-line, and there aren't any real injury-related issues at the moment.
I. Cannot. Wait.

cinserious's picture

One year monster defense, the next year, monster offense! This alternation of Buckeye strengths has been driving me CRAZY since the early 90's. The 2013 offense is going to kill it this year but in 2014 we have to overhaul almost the whole O-line, however the defense will be unsatoppable.
Give it a couple more years of Urban recruiting the way he is and every season will be full of unstoppable offenses and defenses.

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

Otown Buckeye's picture

They could definitely be Lambda Lambda Lambda

"because we couldn't go for three"

Akeem96's picture

Let's see ... the two previous backs before Smith that I recall dealing with the fumble monkey on their back in their early years ... Eddie George and Beanie Wells?  That seems like good company.

The Butler's picture

Seems as if Smith has somewhat of a 'shooter's mentality' when it comes to carrying the ball. Can't worrying about happened last time, have to focus on now. 

I've trained Canaries in the sport of falconry.


southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Yes, we do have quite the globular cluster of quality running backs.
And that is not a nebulus statement in the least.

I like cookies.

Olemissbuckeye's picture

It's a true murderers row. Too bad that all can't play at once. Just not enough touches.

Young_Turk's picture

I call that picture.....Got Back?


Squirrel Master's picture

What we should all do is print out that picture and years later see how many are quality NFL backs. I would be willing to bet at least 5 of them will make an NFL team. I think at least 4 will get drafted and I think 1 of them could end up a HOF!
would be great if that happens and 15 years later we can see it.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

MassiveAttack's picture

I was really surprised Urban recruited Elliot.  We clearly have a huge selection of players to choose from.  Having said that, I hope we can get touches for all of these guys.

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

ChillitownBuck30's picture

The potential here is unbelievable.  The mixture of speed and power, "chills".  I believe that it is possible we see every one of the backs on the field this year, barring any injuries.  On a personal note, I hope that what Rod Smith said is completely true and honest.  He has sooo much potential.  I have been waiting patiently for him to break through.  I believe that if he does there is no telling how dominate he could be.  To me he could be an Eddie George type back, but with more speed.  The comparisons are there, it's just a matter of him putting it all together on the field.  Uber Excited!!  Go Buckeyes O-H!!

“Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.”

Mirror Lake Jump's picture

That's a good looking unit. Feed them the rock!

MN Buckeye's picture

I wonder if Urban is working on any 4- or 5-running back sets.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great Article Kyle!  Some bad dudes in the backfield.  Defenses need to look out!!
Go Bucks!!

pjtobin's picture

Am I the only one who thought that is 1500lbs  of just leg and thighs? Holy smokes those horses are ready to be let out of the stall. 

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

buckskin's picture

You're probably looking at 5 or 6 starters for most of the other BCS schools.  Rod Smith is one big sumbitch.  I hope he tears it up this year.