Wisconsin Doesn't Have a Trademark on Running Backs

By Kyle Rowland on September 25, 2013 at 9:15a
No running back has more touchdowns than Jordan Hall.

It’s difficult to scoff at the SEC after seven consecutive national championships. Even the Big Ten’s most ardent supporters realize that. But to recognize the country’s foremost supplier of running backs, you must go far north of the Mason-Dixon Line to the Upper Midwest.

For 20 years, from Brent Moss to Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin has set the gold standard for running backs. Going back decades, the Badgers also lay claim to Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Alan Ameche. In 1999, Ron Dayne won the Heisman Trophy and became the NCAA’s all-time rushing leader.

But Ohio State is no stranger to producing top-flight tailbacks. During the same time period of Wisconsin’s recent dominance, Eddie George won the Heisman, while Maurice Clarett and Chris Wells also suited up in scarlet and gray. However, the Buckeyes have never had the level of production or the number of capable backs that they’ve encountered in 2013.

Ohio State has eight players – seven running backs and a quarterback – with at least five carries averaging more than five yards. Jordan Hall has the most rushing touchdowns in the country with eight and ranks 13th nationally with 422 rushing yards. 

“There’s a lot of backs in the backfield,” he said. “That’s what makes us go hard in practice every day.”

It’s gone so well for Hall that he’s utilized referees as an extra blocker, as seen on TV.

“He was in my way, and I was yelling, ‘Move, move,’ so I tried to stiffarm him out of the way,” Hall said, referring to an 18-yard touchdown run against Florida A&M that resulted in a referee being planted on the Ohio Stadium turf.

Depth was never more evident than in the 76-0 dismantling of FAMU. The Buckeyes nearly eclipsed the 400-yard mark before settling for 388 rushing yards. Six backs received carries for an average of more than eight yards per carry.

Perhaps the shining example of just how gifted Ohio State is was Ezekiel Elliott’s performance in the second half – 14 carriers, 162 yards and two touchdowns. It was the Buckeyes flexing their muscle. A year removed from a one-man show with Braxton Miller, the team now has several viable options.

Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith were suspended a combined four games. Still, they’ve rushed for more than 100 yards and seven yards per carry.

“Most teams have more than one running back nowadays,” Hall said of Hyde’s return. “I think that will be good for our offense, especially when Braxton and Kenny and the receivers are playing well, too. We’ve got good things going.”

Hyde is coming off a year that featured 970 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s in the background now, though, due to Hall’s reemergence and his own suspension. Smith has kept his firepower going after making several big plays in Ohio State’s undefeated 2012 season.

The Buckeyes’ “Big 3” is listed on the depth chart together this week for the first team all season – Hall as the starter with Hyde and Smith as co-backups. Philly Brown is slotted at the H position, somewhere Hall could find himself at times. His versatility, along with Hyde and Smith’s running style, allows the coaches to get creative.

“Jordan Hall gives you flexibility,” Meyer said. “I’m evaluating what to do with him, because I know he’s a heck of a tailback as well.”

On Saturday, Meyer said Hall should have received more carries than the four he got. Hall finished with 20 yards and two touchdowns.

“I try to do the best I can, just run the ball every snap and let guys earn an opportunity to get on the field,” Meyer said. “Thing is, if you get depth on your field, you tell Ezekiel Elliott not to run hard, he’ll look at you like, ‘I’m running hard, because I have to get more carries.’”

Said Elliott: “We’ve got a great stable of running backs. Every day we compete. It’s hard to get a spot and hold your spot because the guy in front of you is great and the guy behind you is great.”

Elliott’s career day came as the fourth-stringer. No. 5 – Warren Ball – gained 49 yards on seven carries. Even Devonte Butler, a 5-foot-nothin’, 100 and nothin’ walk-on, tallied a 3.5-yard average on four carries.

“I think Warren Ball ran hard, and I think Ezekiel Elliott’s got an incredible future here,” Meyer said. “I wanted to reward him a little bit.”

Some point to Ohio State’s competition during the first four weeks. The defenses have been sub-par at best. But it’s not as if the Buckeyes take the field with zero effort.

“I’m cool with games like this,” Hall said on Saturday. “It’s a chance to get back to the fundamentals and make sure techniques are right. We need that going into the Big Ten.”

The backfield is full of problems with that conference slate looming. The quarterback position is a quandary, and the running backs aren’t far behind. The difference is too many running backs are welcome. Ohio State has six backs that have a legitimate claim to playing time.

Someone who hasn’t even been mentioned is Dontre Wilson, a freshman playmaker whose speed makes him arguably the biggest threat on offense. Another unmentioned running back is Bri’onte Dunn. He was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the week following a November game against Illinois last year, but Dunn is headed toward a redshirt season in Year 2.

With so many weapons, Meyer has elected not to waste a year of eligibility on a handful of plays. He believes Dunn has a bright future and wants to get space between the running backs.

“It’s tough,” Hall said. “There is only one football. When you come to Ohio State, there’s competition everywhere, so a lot of backs in the backfield, that makes us go hard in practice every day, and I think that’s helped us in a way.”


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BTBuckeye's picture

I've noticed when our backs go down after minimal gains they get angry, clap their hands, pound the football in their hands....all b/c they know they just got a shot and need to make it happen when they get a carry.
The effort level at RB might just be the best on the team right now. Go bucks!

Alpo's picture

I've noticed that too BT, and it's great to see. They know the level of competition and that they have to show their best every chance they get. They seem to be disappointed if they don't take it to the house every carry, or at least get a first down. The other thing I've noticed is the camaraderie between the backs. When one scores, they all are there congratulating him on the sideline and it's seems genuine(on tv at least). I really like what I've seen from the backs, and the future sure looks bright.

nm_buck's picture

Looking forward to Saturday... this game will tell us a lot about this team.  I look for Dontre... the least-mentioned RB in this article... to have a huge game.  Whisky is going to load up on the big uglies and fill the box... they are going to challenge us on the line of scrimmage early and often.  If Braxton can throw the ball, it will loosen up their defense and allow opportunities for the backs later in the game.  The key will be our tight ends.  I Look for Heuermann and Vannett to have a big impact on this game.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

One Bad Buckeye's picture

I realize this is kind of moronic before I say it, but if I had to pick one over the other, I'd take a whole bunch of national titles over bragging rights for number of RB's in the NFL. 

"I'm One Bad Buckeye, and I approve this message."

Buckabroad's picture

I am a long-time hater of Whisky (although much less now that Bertboy fled). Still, I have to give credit where it is due. UW's RBs are good, but their D-Line and LB core also are quite good. How our O-Line handles them will have a lot to do with determining the victor. Also, I keep thinking it is essential that we exploit UW's shaky secondary to mix-up the game plan. If Devin, Dontre and Philly manage some good gains on pass plays, this should force UW to play their LBs a bit more off the line. This should open up some holes for Jordan, El Guapo, Rod and EzE.
Does anyone else think our passing game might actually be key to our success on  offense?

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

ChazBuckeye's picture

I'm SO glad you wrote an article about OSU's RBs.  All I've heard/read about on other sites is how Wiscy's 3 headed monster of RBs is going to be so difficult for OSU to stop.  I'm not sold on Wiscy yet. The ASU game was a perfect example...despite the ref's bad call(s).  

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.

sivaDavis's picture


"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

whobdis's picture

After the play where Hall ran over the ref..I noticed Kenny ran over to see if the ref was ok. It's not a big deal..but I would have liked to see Hall do the same thing

Boxley's picture

Hall did not run over the ref, the FAMU player did. Hall did not even see the ref go down as he was past him by then. KG did see the ref take a hit and came over.
Please don't make this into a "Hall was uncaring incident."

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

ToTheHouse's picture

Do this one thing this Sat. night...watch how often anyone of our offensive linemen after a touchdown when they try to SHARE in that team-moment celebration...get almost & all to often "ignored" completely by the runner, or pass catcher...Why ? Sure game time moments move at super-sonic-speed, sure linemen don't...sure if they chest-bumped it could be severely injure time...sure would be GR8 to see them get MORE than an empty-moment they EARNED as EQUALLY...thx for let'n an old-schooler...vent !

To the NC House...Repeat gonna be Sah-weet!

Larryp713's picture

I have always appreciated those backs/receivers who make sure to celebrate with the linemen. The stories of MVPs buying their entire line Rolex watches shows a lot of gratitude and character.



sivaDavis's picture

Literally never see that... I guess I'll take a look but in numerous interviews our RB's praise the lineman. I can say on the long pass plays or long run plays like over 50+ yards,  lineman go back to their spots on the sideline to get air, water, etc. and the backs walk to them. That's what I always did, the skill players and sometimes the QB meet the TD scorer and us lineman go sit and talk about the series. My QB would come slap my shoulder or the back would give us all dap. Even a head nod was enough, we knew how much they appreciated us, I guarantee you the entire OSU line knows this as well.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes


“I think that will be good for our offense, especially when Braxton and Kenny and the receivers are playing well, too. We’ve got good things going.”

With the talent we have at RB, I think that we could line up our RBs in rotation and pound the snot out of whomever we are playing against in the B1G and make a game of it.

"Woody is a God-fearing man. It's good to know that he's afraid of somebody." --Archie Griffin

Hovenaut's picture

As much as I dislike Bar when he was at the helm (still don't care for him), I respect how he resurrected Wisconsin football and instilled a philosophy that exists to this day.

They've had some very good running backs, and offensive linemen, over the years. Sure looks like they have a decent trio this year.

But Ohio State has a pretty good lineage of running backs too....that go back beyond two decades.

And I like our top three guys, not to mention a couple of the youngsters coming off the bench.

I'm officially old now....having used the word youngster. Sigh.

Anyway, I cannot wait for Saturday night.

Larryp713's picture

The culture of competition at all the skill positions has raised the level of every individual. It is awesome to see how many underachieving players are really starting to reach their potential. The receivers fight for every yard, the backs are looking to break big runs. And Carlos Hyde ran with absolute venom last week. An angry man, I hope he trucks Borland Saturday.



Bam_Childress's picture

El Guapo at LB?

5 ft 9 in - 185 lbs - ALL HEART

Earle's picture

I like Carlos where he is, but wouldn't mind Rod Smith getting a look there if he's not going to see much action on offense.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

NJ_BUCKEYE's picture

I believe they already tried that experiment with Smith at LB in Urban's first spring practice or maybe it was tresses the spring prior to that one, but I am almost positive that this was tried and it was quickly reversed for whatever reason.

45has2's picture

What makes Wiscy running backs so good? The line that is opening up holes for them. Name a running back from Madison that has dominated at the next level. Sconsin has decent O lines that dominate the weak portion of the schedule ( 7-9 games/season ) they play. This allows their RB's to run rampant as the majority of the offense and pad those stats. When Bucky goes up against good teams, the box gets loaded and the Badgers get skinned.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

We need to open up a huge can of whoop ass against the cheeze this weekend!  Everybody is looking for us to struggle now that we're playing a 'real' opponent.  We need to prove that no matter who the opponent is, we will inflict our will upon them until they break and are destroyed!!!

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