Running the ball is fun—especially when the other team knows you’re going to do it and still can’t stop it. This has been one of the mainstays of the Ohio State offense under Urban Meyer.
Basically, the Buckeyes could just hand the ball off to Carlos Hyde or have Braxton Miller keep it and it seemed that a minimum of five yards was there every time.
While it would be great to see that continue in 2014, there are a lot of variables in play that could make running the ball this fall a bit more problematic. Four fifths of last year’s offensive line are currently trying to make NFL rosters and Hyde was drafted (way too low) by the San Francisco 49ers.
So if the Buckeyes are going to continue to be able to destroy teams this season, it will be up to a revamped starting line and new faces in the backfield—along with the returning Miller.
Let’s get to the predictions.
5. Curtis Samuel
Samuel appears to be headed for Dontre Wilson’s old role in the offense this fall. He has electric speed and is a great open-field runner, but will need to learn the nuances of running inside in the college game, if his carries in the Spring Game are any indication (and they probably are not).
I like Samuel’s ability, but it’s very difficult for a freshman to make a giant impact in Tom Herman’s offense because there are many responsibilities, including blocking. Wilson made some nice plays last year and I expect Samuel will likely have a similar freshman trajectory.
Prediction: 37 attempts, 239 yards, three touchdowns.
4. Warren Ball
One of the things I found toughest to predict was whether Warren Ball or Bri’onte Dunn will be the primary backup running back this fall. Ball ran for 76 yards on 13 carries (5.8 yards per attempt) in 2013, while Dunn was a surprise redshirt.
I’m not really sure what to read into Urban Meyer saving Dunn for a season except that it will probably motivate Dunn and perhaps it means Meyer would like to keep him around longer. I think Dunn eventually wins the primary backup role over Ball and Rod Smith, but I don’t expect much separation between the two at the end of the day.
Prediction: 78 attempts, 457 yards, five touchdowns.
3. Bri’onte Dunn
As mentioned above, Dunn could very well have been put in mothballs because Meyer loves what he brings to the table and knew he wouldn’t need the redshirt sophomore unless something happened to Hyde and Jordan Hall.
Dunn will be hungry for carries and that should make him a tough man to beat for playing time, but I don’t think he’ s got the big play potential that Ezekiel Elliott has. This means Dunn will be the No. 2 man behind (or next to) Miller in the backfield. I can’t wait to see what he does with the opportunity.
Prediction: 92 attempts, 512 yards, six touchdowns.
2. Braxton Miller
We’d all love to see Miller stand in the pocket and deliver strikes like Troy Smith did his final two seasons in Columbus. Will the offensive line allow that? I’m not sure. Especially in the early games, I expect Miller will have to not only run early in games to keep the defense honest, but he’ll also have to scramble out of trouble more often.
The hope is that Miller’s continued development and maturity will cut down on sack yardage lost. Elliott (and other running backs) will have to show they can fill Hyde’s shoes to keep defenses from keying on Miller’s runs. Ultimately, I think Miller has a similar year running to his 2013 totals.
Prediction: 160 attempts, 1,198 yards, 12 touchdowns.
1. Ezekiel Elliott
Only a sophomore, Elliott has to accept the role of succeeding El Guapo in the Buckeye backfield. He lugged the ball 30 times as a freshman for 262 yards (8.7 YPA) and two touchdowns, but honestly most of his production came against Florida A&M.
Still, the talent is there. Elliott seems the kind of kid who welcomes the challenge of replacing Hyde. He’s big (6-0, 225 pounds) and fast and has more big play potential than El Guapo did. But he’ll have to find the holes that are there and make holes where none exist behind the new offensive line. I expect he’ll do OK.
Prediction: 210 attempts, 1,311 yards, 12 touchdowns.
That’s my five for this fall. Who you got? (And, as always, don’t forget to show your work.)