This fall, Rod Smith will be a fifth-year senior running back.
In some respects, Smith seems like the wily veteran who’s been around forever. But he’s also seemingly been the young guy just one step removed from the starting job.
He is just one season away from becoming one of the all-time never-wases in OSU history. And he seemed so full of promise that it’s hard to believe it never happened for him.
Smith is a huge, muscular, athletic power back. At 6-foot-3, 231 pounds, the Fort Wayne, Ind., product seemed like a prototypical Ohio State ball carrier. But it hasn’t worked out for the man who famously once nearly became a full-time linebacker.
The question is, will it ever work out for Smith? Wasn’t he always going to be the next great Buckeye running back?
He’s certainly had one of the more tumultuous careers a backup player has ever had at Ohio State. As a redshirt freshman, he missed the team flight and didn’t show up in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl. Last year, he was suspended for the season opener. And, of course, he recently missed spring ball due to academic issues.
On the field, Smith has shown flashes of becoming as beastly with the football as Carlos Hyde, albeit with far more ball security issues. But he hasn’t been able to garner any sustained playing time, even though coaches have raved at times about his turnaround in maturity since the initial days of Urban Meyer’s tenure. In fact, he was talked about a lot last spring.
Now he’s got only one more year to get it done.
As someone not embedded with the team on a daily basis, I have no idea what’s up with Smith. I mean, you can definitely count me among those who expected him to have gone full beast mode (on a regular basis, that is) by now.
His (redshirt) freshman season wasn’t atypical for someone who might one day become the top running back at Ohio State. He played in 11 games and rushed 29 times for 116 yards (4.0 YPA) and a touchdown. Smith also caught a couple of passes for 15 yards. The world was his oyster.
Smith had fewer Rushing yards and fewer yards per carry than three of the team's quarterbacks in 2013.
But during his sophomore season, Smith didn’t get much more playing time. He carried 32 times for 215 yards (6.7 YPA) with a pair of scores, and tallied two receptions for 55 yards and another touchdown — including a beautiful 51-yard wheel route. (1:40 mark, trust me.)
It seemed like things were on the rise for Smith as he became an upperclassman. But then 2013 came along and an influx of Meyer-recruited young talent started to sap Smith’s touches and playing time.
Just the team’s eighth leading rusher last year, Smith carried 22 times for 117 yards (5.3 YPA) and one touchdown. He had fewer total rushing yards and fewer yards per carry than three of the team’s quarterbacks. In addition, Smith caught only four passes for 16 yards last season, with 12 of those yards coming on one play.
Freshmen Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson both saw the field more and got more touches than Smith. In fact, Elliott became Meyer’s first choice off the bench to spell Hyde by season’s end.
That doesn’t bode well for 2014.
Smith certainly has a lot left to prove. It’s hard to imagine him passing Elliott and other younger Buckeyes like Elliott, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball, but stranger things have happened and fall camp isn’t even here yet.
He’s got one final season to put his best foot forward or become just another footnote.