Uncertainty at Running Back Leads to Some Concern from Urban Meyer

By Kyle Rowland on August 1, 2014 at 1:05p
Ezekiel Elliott has the early lead to replace Carlos Hyde in the Ohio State backfield.

We think of football coaches as simply that – football coaches. But they are human beings, as much as people might think they’re robots programmed to read units and call out plays.

Jim Tressel holds two degrees in education. During his coaching career, it became apparent Tressel thought of himself as a teacher first, not a coach. Attending class, graduating players and other life lessons became equally as important as winning on the field.   

Urban Meyer also has used his degree throughout a success-ridden coaching career. The psychology grad from the University of Cincinnati can motivate players to a level few coaches reach. It’s been most apparent at linebacker, which was outlined in an Eleven Warriors article Friday morning. If Meyer believes on-field performance is lacking, he won’t shy away from letting his players know.

With the sudden emergence of the linebacker corps, attention has shifted to the offensive backfield. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde each spent time as the apple of Meyer’s eye in 2012 and 2013. Both are now gone, though, and while there are several candidates to take over the production, none are proven.

Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball and Curtis Samuel have the appearance of breakout players. But without a full season of collisions, it’s difficult to come to any conclusions. Hyde ran for more than 1,500 yards last year and scored 15 rushing touchdowns. Those are numbers you don’t merely replace with a tailback who’s shown glimpses of being a star.

“I’m a little concerned,” Meyer admitted. “I see several talented players, but for some reason they haven’t played very well. I’m honest. When someone says why isn’t a guy playing, I can give you a lot of reasons, but [number one is] he’s just not good enough to play. It’s not because he’s a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. When you’re not playing, it’s because you’re not good enough to play.”

That means Elliott and Samuel have reason to be confident. Elliott gained 262 yards on 30 carries as a freshman, and Samuel became an instant sensation during the spring. The early enrollee has a burst of speed and durability that wasn’t expected to be showcased so quickly.

On Mike and Mike, Meyer said a starter hasn’t been named, but pointed to Elliott receiving the first opportunity when fall camp begins Aug. 4.

“He’s not the starter," he said. "He hasn’t earned it yet.”

Neither has Samuel, although it’s apparent he’ll play early and often after Meyer said the true freshman stole his heart.

But it will take more than two running backs to keep the offensive production at 2013’s record output. Life in the Big Ten isn’t about cream puffs and cake, no matter what some fan or expert says. The conference is rugged, physical and especially daunting when the calendar flips to November.

“I think we’re going to have to have somewhat of a rotation,” Meyer said. “Carlos was a 25, 30 carries-a-game type guy. We’re going to have to be more balanced. You might see us play two of those guys at the same time.”

Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman prefer a 60-40 run-pass split in play calls. A new offensive line and backfield combined with a veteran quarterback and improved wide receiver corps could give the Buckeyes better opportunities to throw the football.

The Smiths, Dunns and Balls of the world have been at Ohio State for what seems like a decade. Smith is entering his senior season in “now or never” mode. He came to Columbus with praise, collecting comparisons to Eddie George with visions of becoming the Buckeyes’ next great running back.

Instead, missteps – both on and off the field – have cost him dearly. In 33 career games, he has zero starts, but holds a five-yards-per-rush average. Smith’s totals read: 83 carries for 448 yards and four touchdowns.

Dunn is an even more curious case. He burst onto the scene in 2012, and then receded to the sidelines last season with a redshirt year. Ball’s main issue has stemmed from being buried on the depth chart. Ability is not a problem. It's not for any member of the trio.

“We have three guys who have been here a couple years and haven’t played,” Meyer said. “It’s not because of Carlos Hyde. If you’re a great player, we can do something to get you on the field.

“Rod Smith is talented, he just has to put everything together. Then you have Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball. There’s a lot of competition. There’s no hierarchy. I anticipate midway through training camp we’ll go ahead and announce the starter.”

Throughout the month of August, Meyer, playing the role of master motivator, will revert to his UC days and dust off the psychology books, intent on rebuilding a block needed to capture a national championship. 


Comments Show All Comments

BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

I'm confident. In EzE we trust.

+5 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

I'm confident in EzE, too, but I'm also confident that at least one of the three talented power backs - Smith, Dunn, or Ball - will make a "jump" this season. The numbers work in the Buckeyes' favor. Add in the intriguing Samuel and I'm not too worried about this group. 

+5 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I've got that same feeling. My money is on rod smith. I think he's going to be the starter. It's a gut feeling that he's had a realization of where he's at and his hair will be on fire during camp. 

Read my entire screen name....

+1 HS
CC's picture

I almost wish they all pay and by week 2 or 3 a leader emerges.  I have confidence in all of them.

+1 HS
rdubs's picture

I am not even convinced we need a leader.  If we just go with the hot hand that day and rotate people to keep everyone fresh the whole game I'd be perfectly happy.  There aren't many feature backs any more, and there is no reason for us to force it.

gumtape's picture

The running backs success this year will depend on the quality of line play primarily, and also on the ability of Miller the make the right decision on his zone-read plays. The talent and athleticism are not a problem.

High and tight boo boo

+1 HS
BURGEYE's picture

I would upvote if I could.  We all need to temper expectations a little and understand that--at least early on--Hyde isn't walking through the door...because last year's line isn't walking through the door.

I have full confidence that with time this offense will be just as effective as last year.  It won't be because we plug someone in and get El Guapo-type production; it will be because we are more diverse and unpredictable.

+6 HS
Bloombergl's picture

I know I'm in the minority here, but I have huge expectations for Bri'onte Dunn.  A couple years ago, he had the same type of hype and a not so different yards per carry as EzE did last year (over 5 yds per on more carries, if I recall).  It seemed every time he touched the ball, he was electric.  I have to believe his redshirt was part of a plan.  If this were Vegas, he'd be one of the long shot bets.  Whatever Bri'onte's over/under yard total looks like today - I'm taking the over.  Just a hunch....

+7 HS
okiebuck's picture

I wonder; are there any before and after pictures of Curtis Samuel floating around out there??

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

+3 HS
brbrbuckeye's picture

Why not utilize all of our talent and keep fresh legs. That's more important than getting 1000 yard rusher.


+2 HS
ITWASME's picture

What if Samuel took the starting spot? Now that would be something

BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

It would be. But OSU is known for its power backs and Samuel is still too small to be the feature back. I'm still hoping for lots of reps though.

+1 HS
bakerjon's picture

Whoever emerges, their success will depend almost entirely on the chemistry and progression of the OL. Assuming those guys start to mesh around week 2-3 of camp (fingers crossed), we could see the starting running back be fluid until then.

I'm gonna say I'm pulling for Rod Smith. EZE impressed last year and I'm hoping he's the next great RB for tOSU...but here's hoping Rod can pull it together and make a great run this year as well. 

"You do what I cannot do. I do what you cannot do. Together we do great things"

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

I'm gonna say I'm pulling for Rod Smith. but here's hoping Rod can pull it together and make a great run this year as well. 

I agree. I was an El Guapo fan from the get-go, when it was uncool to be a huge fan of him. Now that he's gone, I'd really like to see R. Smith get his day in the sun. EzE has a lot of time, and he may end up being the starter anyway, but I'm just hoping for the storybook finish to R. Smith's career. Queue Elvis' "Now or Never" tune.



+1 HS
FitzBuck's picture

Both of you read my mind.  

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

CGroverL's picture

After having good looks at Rod Smith's speed and the way he can make defenders miss, besides catching 40+ yard fly routes from Miller I think Smith is the best option and physically he is definitely a step ahead of the others. He has been timed in the low 4.3's and can make defenders miss better than the rest of the guys. PLUS...he's a senior and the fumbling problems he had were 3 years ago. I think we should start worrying about that once he puts the ball on the ground again. All around, especially when it comes to speed and quick feet, Carlos Hyde is back...his name has just changed to Rod Smith.

Hyde: 6'0", 240 lbs. ran a 4.23 (unofficial best 40 time) and his best attribute was having quick feet to get through the line while staying fast because of his quick feet...

Smith: 6'3" 238 pounds ( almost exactly like Eddie George only a bit faster) ran his best 40 at 4.23 (unofficially) and his best attribute is having the kind of feet to make defenders miss so he can take it to the house...the kind of feet that El Guapo never had. On top of it all, Smith can stop and go a lot faster than Hyde, too. He's much more dangerous when he gets through the line untouched as he can take it to the house where Hyde couldn't. Smith definitely runs a faster 60 and 100 than Hyde.

Last year, my Heisman pick was Hyde. He would have gotten it if he hadn't missed the first 3 games because of off the field problems. If Smith can get as many carries as Hyde, he'll definitely have the Heisman in 2014, just like Hyde should have had. If Smith gets his carries, the only way he doesn't win the Heisman is if he splits too many carries or Miller takes home the trophy. In this offense you can get 13 carries and not see the field the rest of the day because you are already at 160 yards and there are a few great kids behind you that need work.

The key is the OL, of course. All of what I said means nothing if the OL is not solid.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



+1 HS
grantmeaname's picture

You're definitely a lot more bullish on Smith than the site as a whole. Do you think all the EZE talk by UM is just to motivate him, or do you think he's actually behind now but will somehow pass EZE during fall camp/the season?

HeuermanTheFireman's picture

I'm not even touching this one lol

The person responsible for toes clearly wanted you to stub them.

BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

They have Samuel listed as RB but he will have the same role dontre had last year but he will be more involved..He also will be moved around on offense..I think EZE will be the starter..And as for UM saying two backs will be in at the same time I'm guessing that will be Samuel and EZE


hetuck's picture

Diamond, anyone?

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+1 HS
Dayton Buckeye's picture

I would love for Rod to put it all together this year. He has all the tools. He just needs to get his head on straight. I am not sold on EZE.  Not that I don't think he can be successful, but just have not seen enough of him in real game situations. His numbers last year were impressive, but it was in mop up duty.

+2 HS
BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

No disrespect to Rod Smith he might have the size but he's a senior been there a long time and constantly get jumped on the depth chart


Big Papa's picture

I would really like to see Smith get some serious playing time. He is big, strong and fast. If he holds on to the ball he could be another El Guapo. 

"To be the man you've gotta beat the man and just when you think you have all the answers, I change the question." The Nature Boy, Ric Flair

+1 HS
whiskeyjuice's picture

The coaches see these guys in practice, we don't. You also have to handle the off the field "stuff". And it was mentioned that Smith had some off the field stuff that kept him from playing.

"Championships are not won on Saturdays in November. Championships are won on Tuesdays in August." -- Kerry Combs

brbrbuckeye's picture

Rod Smith runs pretty well, I would like to see him on the rotation definitely.


+3 HS
buckeyestu's picture

Seems to be a lot of depth at running back. My major concern is the defense, they must improve. I would be pleased if the Silver Bullets showed up this year.

+1 HS
OhioBowler's picture

I haven't seen anything all season... But what about Dontre Wilson? Are they only going to use him as the H-back? Or could we see some explosions as a running back? 

brbrbuckeye's picture

Makes sense that you haven't seen anything all season, it hasn't started yet.


BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

He is going to be playing primarily at the slot receiver position but he will still get 2-3 runs to the outside a game I'm sure.

Toilrt Paper's picture

At Ohio State it has always been next man up at the running back position. In the past 30 years Ohio State has had 9 running backs play in the NFL.. 

+2 HS
brbrbuckeye's picture

I think Dontre is technically listed at WR, but he has a special role on the team.


+1 HS
Soulbowler's picture

"Im gonna say I'm pulling for Rod Smith. EZE impressed last year and I'm hoping he's the next great RB for tOSU...but here's hoping Rod can pull it together and make a great run this year as well. "

Why wouldn't u pull for this guy?  He, physically is a faster version on Eddie George!  I've always wanted to see what he could do as a feature back. I envisioned him brutalizing linebackers and running away from db's. But if you can't get straight to get on the field...

The fat man leaves no footprints

+1 HS
Buckloving's picture

I'm hoping he's worried about our sorry defense...........pretty sure our RB's are going to be just fine


-1 HS
CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

I see a lot of platooning at RB this year with Rod Smith as the power back and EZE as the speed back (with great size).  Others will play a lot too.  I don't think we will have a Hyde type of player, but he was just a beast.  Maybe in a year or two.  Still the guys we have are very good.  I look for a great year from the backs overall.

Go Bucks!!

Toilrt Paper's picture

He feels much better about the D now. He got rid of the 2 bad apples.

BeijingBucks's picture

Seems worth remembering even El Guapo didn't put it all together until his senior year when he seemed to reach another level of understanding. His vision, burst and ferocity made him stand out suddenly where just the year before we were all slavering over Hall's Harviness.

he who wants it badly enough will take it. 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
WhySoSerious's picture

Ezekiel will go off this year! 1000 plus yards, long Tds runs etc etc.. I think Rod or Curtis comes in second in yards, with Rod having the most tds. 


Like the ball in the stands, we balls out

MTBuckeye12's picture

EzE looks like Heisman... at least in the picture up top. 

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

PasadenaBuckeye626's picture

We recruit too many talented players to be ineffective running the ball.  I'm not very concerned.  Someone will step up

Go Bucks!

grantmeaname's picture

At RB, I agree. It's the OL that scares me.

PasadenaBuckeye626's picture

I'm with you there

Go Bucks!

Drew2006's picture

I think the starter should be who's HOT now. I like the freshman Curtis Samuel. I'm all about letting Rod get the nod but Curtis seems to be ready now. 

Love thy neighbor as yourself-Jesus