2014 Season Preview: Ohio State's Running Backs

By Michael Citro on August 14, 2014 at 2:45p
Eleven Warriors' 2014 Ohio State Football Season Preview

With a few exceptions, Ohio State's backfield has had at least one stud running back roaming the backfield since at least the days of Archie Griffin's freshman season. 

Their names are revered by Buckeye fans far and wide—Eddie George, Raymont Harris, Maurice Clarett, Robert Smith, Chris "Beanie" Wells, Carlos Hyde, and so on. The Buckeyes generally haven't wanted for talented players lining up behind the quarterback.

The 2014 Ohio State football team is no different. 

Urban Meyer and his staff inherited and recruited a number of excessively athletic men who are adept at running over and through defenders while carrying an inflated pigskin. Herein we'll discuss those freakishly gifted young men and how the Ohio State backfield stacks up for the upcoming 2014 season.

The Running Backs in 2013

The Buckeyes lost more than 2,000 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns to graduation in the persons of Hyde and Jordan Hall. El Guapo was a barroom incident away from possibly winning the Heisman Trophy last year, racking up 1,521 yards on 208 attempts (7.3 YPA) and 15 scores. Hall completed his injury-riddled career with 536 yards on 81 carries (6.6 YPA) with eight touchdowns.

As a group, Buckeye running backs (minus Dontre Wilson’s hybrid role) gained 2,526 of Ohio State’s total 4,321 yards and 26 of the 45 rushing touchdowns. If you add Wilson, that total jumps to 2,776 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Of the returning players, Ezekiel Elliott led the way as a freshman, gaining 262 yards on just 30 carries (8.7 YPA) with two touchdowns. However, the bulk of those numbers came against overmatched Florida A&M. Rod Smith rushed for 117 yards on 22 attempts (5.3 YPA) with one score and Warren Ball added 76 yards on 13 rushes (5.8 YPA).

When you add Wilson’s carries from the H position, an occasional carry by Philly Brown, and the insane rushing production of quarterbacks Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton and Cardale Jones, Ohio State’s running game was, quite simply, filthy in 2014.

The StarterS

At this point, it appears the race for the starting tailback spot is between Elliott, who is recovering from wrist surgery to have a pin inserted, and Smith. Meyer recently listed the pecking order as Elliott, Smith, true freshman Curtis Samuel, and redshirt sophomore Bri’onte Dunn. Ball has been battling injuries throughout camp, causing him to lose ground in the race.

Ohio State Running Back Depth
No. Pos Name HT WT YR Hometown
28 RB WARREN BALL 6-1 224 SO Columbus, OH
26 RB DEVONTE BUTLER 5-7 170 SO Columbus, OH
25 RB DUNN, BRI'ONTE 6-0 216 SO Canton, OH
15 RB ELLIOTT, EZEKIEL 6-0 225 SO St. Louis, MO
35 RB JOHNSON, JEFFIE 5-10 197 JR Hilliard, OH
29 RB LAPS, CALEB 6-1 210 SO Canton, OH
17 H-B MARSHALL, JALIN 5-11 205 FR Middletown, OH
4 RB SAMUEL, CURTIS 5-11 190 FR Brooklyn, NY
7 RB SMITH, ROD 6-3 231 SR Fort Wayne, IN
2 H-B WILSON, DONTRE 5-10 185 SO DeSoto, TX

Smith was almost a forgotten man during spring ball, when he worked on academics while his teammates practiced. But it’s not surprising to see the senior in the mix. In addition to having outstanding size (6-3, 230) and being the most experienced back in the OSU huddle, Smith has tremendous upside. He ran for a Summitt Athletic Conference career record of 6,625 yards with 66 touchdowns in high school. If Elliott’s wrist holds him back, Smith looks like your opening day starter against Navy.

However, Elliott says he’ll be ready to go for Navy, although he’ll have to carry the ball in his right hand until the cast comes off. I have reservations about ball security if Elliott plays with a wounded wing, but if Meyer feels he’s not a liability, Elliott is your likely starter to open the season. If not, Smith can stake his claim for the position while Elliott recuperates.

Wilson has the starting H spot locked down and redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall is chasing.

The Backups

Smith is your likely number two guy if Elliott is good to go. After that, things get interesting. Exciting newcomer Curtis Samuel has been turning heads since spring with his speed and athleticism. Samuel will be an X-factor for the offense because it’s probable that he’ll see the field not only as a backup tailback, but also in the hybrid role.

Dunn should return from his redshirt year a much hungrier player. He ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2012, showing flashes of becoming a dependable Buckeye runner. Ball will want to increase his carries from a year ago to continue his upward trajectory as well. Both may see the ball more than they have in the past, especially if Tom Herman uses the committee approach.

All of Ohio State’s top five running backs are capable of lighting it up. Once again, it’s an embarrassingly deep position.

Rounding out the depth chart is Devonte Butler, who gained 14 yards on four attempts last season, along with fellow walk-ons Jeffie Johnson and Caleb Laps.


Despite losing Hyde and Hall, Ohio State should not suffer much of a setback in the running backs room. Smith is a senior and Ball and Dunn have been with the program for three seasons, so experience isn’t an issue. Elliott was too talented to keep off the field as a freshman and he’s only gotten bigger and better since joining the program. Wilson will see a variety of different plays than last year when he was mostly a decoy used to keep defenses honest.

2013 Rushing Statistics
ELLIOTT, EZEKIEL 30 262 8.7 57 2
WILSON, DONTRE 31 250 8.1 26 1
SMITH, ROD 22 117 5.3 27 1
BALL, WARREN 13 76 5.8 12 0
BUTLER, DEVONTE 4 14 3.5 10 0

That said, it doesn’t mean the running game will pick up where it left off, either. The offensive line graduated four seniors and will need to find time to develop chemistry in order for the Buckeyes to run anywhere near as efficiently as they did in 2013. Braxton Miller has expressed a desire to run less and from what we’ve heard out of Tom Herman, that’s the overall plan. That would affect the running game.

Also, Hyde was a very special back. Ohio State may not have a single running back on the team as talented as El Guapo, but they make up for it by having much less drop-off between the starter and the fifth guy in the rotation than last year.

If Ed Warinner works his magic with the offensive line and the Buckeye backs stay healthy, we may get to see another outstanding year from the position that Archie Griffin made synonymous with Ohio State.


  • Elliott’s coach at John Burroughs High School in St. Louis was former NFL quarterback Gus Frerotte, and he was named St. Louis Post-Dispatch offensive player of the year as a senior in 2012.
  • Ball was the second commitment to the 2012 class.
  • Smith’s younger brother Jaylon is a sophomore linebacker for Notre Dame.
  • Samuel was the state runner-up in the 55-meter dash in the spring of 2013.

Comments Show All Comments

BassDropper's picture

Devonte Butler for Heisman


+13 HS
DC-town's picture

Embarassment of riches...now raise your hand if you can pass block like el guapo, not so fast-  

'Piss excellence' -RB

+3 HS
Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Smith’s younger brother Jaylon is a sophomore linebacker for Notre Dame.

Another reason to hate ND. :/

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

All of Ohio State’s top five running backs are capable of lighting it up. Once again, it’s an embarrassingly deep position.

How demoralizing it must be for our opponents to see comments like this one^^^...especially the athlete deprived outfit up north.

And I would rather have Smith with two good mitts handling the rock in the first game, versus a dinged up EZ.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+8 HS
Hovenaut's picture

"And I would rather have Smith with two good mitts handling the rock in the first game, versus a dinged up EZ."

Right on - actually hoping Braxton and crew air it out against Navy early and often, then Rod (and backups) put the Mids to sleep.

I don't think there's a need to risk EzE if he isn't 100%.

+11 HS
Barnsey69's picture

Right on Hov, exactly what I am hoping for regardless of who starts at RB. We should stretch the field early, because I am fairly confident Navy does not the possess the team speed on defense to stop our offense.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+3 HS
ScarletGray43157's picture

Which is another reason that ball security is important.  OSU needs time of possession in this game. 

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

D-Day0043's picture

Agree. Let EZE heal up and get back to 100%. There is no reason to jeopardize his season. There are plenty of guys that can step in and carry the load.

Losing El Guapo hurts, but it may not turn out to be a bad thing if it forces them to spread the ball around. That would be my only complaint about Herman's play calling last year. But if you have a stud like Hyde I can see why Herman called games the way he did.

Also I am curious to know how the 5* Dunn is reacting to being passed up by the younger 4* EZE.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

Ahh Saturday's picture

Their names are revered by Buckeye fans far and wide—Eddie George, Raymont Harris, Maurice Clarett, Robert Smith, Carlos Hyde, and so on

You misspelled Beanie Wells!

+6 HS
Michael Citro's picture

You're right. I couldn't list all of them, but omitting Wells was a travesty. Corrected, kind sir.

AlwayzABuckeye614's picture

Wasn't Jeffrie Johnson a pretty good running back at HIlliard?

+1 HS
gumtape's picture

Rod Smith, this is his year, I just know it. C'mon man.

High and tight boo boo

+3 HS
chirobuck's picture

well there is no reason our RBs won't be fresh in he 4th quarters of games


^ best post ever ^

ChimdiCheckyaselfbeforeyawreckyaself's picture

Can't wait to see who will step up - very comforting knowing we have a plethora of speed and just brute strength back there!

A little is better than nada, sometimes you want the whole enchilada

+2 HS
buckeyedude's picture

+1 for use of the word "plethora". Damn I miss El Guapo. Sad face. :(



+3 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

We have a veritable CORNUCOPIA of talent in the backfield!

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

+1 HS
BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

More Praise For Samuel
We asked Herman about true freshman running back Curtis Samuel and the coach’s eyes lit up.
“Well, the first thing is he’s a great kid,” Herman said. “He’d run through that brick wall right now as a coach if you told him to. He’s got no issues off the field. He’s respectful and he’s a great worker.
“And he has a really rare combination of explosiveness, quickness, true long-range speed and toughness. A lot of people don’t realize that he’s a tough, rugged dude that’s not going to shy away from contact. And he has a decent frame at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds. It’s been fun to watch him, man.”
It’s safe to say that Samuel will not only play this season, but will be on the field quite a bit.


+2 HS
BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

That's a article from 24/7 sports today


buckeyepastor's picture

I get that people are eager to see Samuel back there because of what he has to offer as a runner.   But to be a back takes more than that.  It takes knowing where to be and what to do without the ball in your hands - as a blocker, as a receiver.   Usually takes a while for freshmen to get that part down.   Saw it with Wilson last year.  Great kid, immense talent, top flight athlete.  But without the deeper awareness of his role in the offense, his time on the field was limited.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+2 HS
AlwayzABuckeye614's picture

Agreed, however Wilson's role was limited because of his size. Meyer said he was more used as a decoy because he "didnt know what the hell he was doing". He was a pretty small kid last year so they weren't gonna ask him to do much out of his ability. Samuel is bigger NOW as a freshman than Wilson was. I would not be surprised if Samuel gets on the field MORE than Wilson was last year because he is more 'college ready' than Wilson was. 

BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

He enrolled early so I'm pretty sure he knows his assignments..Dontre didn't arrive on campus until July last year and was 170pounds..Curtis is at 195pounds and enrolled early so that gives him the advantage over dontre as a freshman


+2 HS
MikeTheBuckeye's picture

You know what I noticed while reading this? For all the in-state players we have at RB, none play any major role. Elliot, Smith, Samuel, and Wilson (all at the top of a very deep depth chart) were all out of state prospects. That trend looks to continue with Scott spurning the Buckeyes while Harris appears to be the next Ohio State RB commit. I'm not sure if I view this as a bad thing of a good thing.

MikeTheBuckeye's picture

If you're implying that George Hill will be a major cog in the Ohio State rushing attack, the kid is going to have to wait until 2016 to even get on campus.

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

I'm not implying anything, I was filling the hole in your incomplete data set.

+1 HS
Montana silver bullet's picture

Rod Smith at 6'3" and 230+ and years in the program should be able to protect Braxton better than the others, that could give him another edge in this competition

Montana Silver Bullet

+1 HS
BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

Rod Smith been the same size for plenty years and haven't been the guy so I don't see what's the difference now..I believe he's been recruited past


+1 HS
SPreston2001's picture

I agree. Until Rod Smith proves it on the field he will remain a overrated kid with tons of possible potential...

PortlandBuckeye45's picture

Really tho... Has there ever been a huge concern in replacing RBs at TOSU? Every year we reload, with another star player in the making.

Montana silver bullet's picture

Doubt Rod all you want, some players take time to develop. I definitely understand the hesitation to accept him having a big impact with his past. But put yourself in a seniors shoes with urgency to perform before it's all over. Short yardage and pass pro are the two areas where he will shine if ever-

Montana Silver Bullet

+1 HS
zebiraross's picture

If Rod S was going to have the break out year we've all been expecting for the last 2 years he would have locked up the starting spot by now.


+1 HS
SPreston2001's picture

Yeah the fact that Eze is ahead of him and he's only a sophomore says alot. I dont hate Rod Smith im just tired of all the over glorified hype.

Vinsaniti's picture

El Guapo will be missed but EZE will pick up where he left off!

SPreston2001's picture

Honestly the only person I have faith in on that list is Eze!! From what ive seen over the years, nobody else has proven to be anything special. Rod has the physical tools but he just cant seem to put it all together. Remember we've been spoiled by good RB's so im not easily impressed when it comes to that position lol.

Mean Mr Mustard's picture

It is interesting that Samuels is listed as a RB instead of a hybrid.  He has some good size for a true freshman and Coach Meyer said he was really impressed w/ his skills at RB.  Maybe he will play tailback 90% of the time and then 10% of the time they will split him out and have him play some hybrid to confuse the defense.  There are plays in the playbook w/ two pivots on the field at the same time.

Dmac3212's picture

Dontre and Jalin have that spot on lock. He has a tailback body.......Im hoping he has some reggie bush qualities. 

Dmac3212's picture

Dontre and Jalin have that spot on lock. He has a tailback body.......Im hoping he has some reggie bush qualities. 

BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

I'm guessing the way urban mold his hybrid players is have them learn one position first,Like he did with dontre last year.


brandonbauer87's picture

I just want Rod to get the chance as the featured back. Even if that is only one game. I want to be proven right or wrong. Get him in there with the 1's and see what happens. 

Rob Reese's picture

With Eze, C. Samuel, D. Wilson (even at the HB) and don't rule out Bri'Onte Dunn or Ball, that's going to be a tough nut for Rod Smith to crack, but I'm with you 100% in pulling for him to get a fair shot this year.   I'm just not feeling it.

Alumni lounge attracts pretty people
TURD_BUCKET's picture

One last tip o the hat to Carlos:

  • 1,521 yards single season ranks # 7 all time 
  • 7.31 YPC single season ranks # 1 
  • 3,198 yards career ranks # 6   ( Griffin, George, Spencer, Wells, Byars )
  • 37 rushing TDs career ranks # 4 
  • 6.11 YPC career  ranks # 1

Lots of good quotes, good reads, and debate about the contenders at RB. Count me as one who would like to see Rod Smith have success this season. There may not be very much that separates a starter from a #3 or #4, and it might not be running ability. But make no mistake, the best back will be on the field.

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.” John Wooden