Ohio State knew it would be nearly impossible to replace Carlos Hyde coming into this season, but sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott did his best impression of the second-round NFL draft pick Saturday night against Cincinnati.
In a wild and wacky game that saw the Buckeyes and Bearcats combine for over 1,100 yards of total offense, it was Elliott's steady work on the ground that chewed up clock, kept the chains moving and ultimately helped guide Ohio State to a much-needed 50-28 victory.
He carried the ball 28 times for a career-high 182 yards and a touchdown, while also catching five balls for 51 yards.
“Tonight was a night I really needed. I really needed some momentum," Elliott said. "I think it’s all downhill from here and all the running backs we played, played great. Rod (Smith) was running harder than I’ve ever seen him in my life and when you see your fellow backs out there playing hard and on special teams, it motivates you. You go harder.”
There were times last year when Ohio State, behind Hyde and an offensive line featuring four seniors, would go on drives that would eat up the clock and tire out opposing defenses as the Buckeyes punished them with the ground game.
It was much of the same Saturday night against the Bearcats as Ohio State had a significant advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 41 minutes, 56 seconds while Cincinnati had the ball for just 18 minutes, 4 seconds.
“We knew going into the game they had a pretty good offense, a great passing attack so wearing them down, staying on the field was key," Elliott said. "I think we heard we had like twice the time of possession so keeping the ball out of their offense’s hand was good.”
But Elliott's game against the Bearcats was more than just running between the tackles. He made some key catches in the passing game, as well.
“I like getting in space, being able to make guys miss and catching the ball is a good way to do that," he said. "I think I have pretty good hands, but just whatever’s good for the offense."
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is hopeful Elliott's breakout performance against the Bearcats is just the start of a big season for the sophomore.
"It's not like we haven't tried. Against Virginia Tech, they played some bear against us, and we added some offense for that particular defense," Meyer said. "So we have a lot of confidence in Ezekiel Elliott, and I think he's, before he leaves here, he could be one of the great backs of Ohio State. A long way to go."
Saturday night was certainly a step in the right direction for Elliott and the Ohio State running game, though.
“I think I definitely did take a step tonight, but we have a lot of great backs in our room," Elliott said. "Everyone deserves to touch the ball if you ask me. We all work hard all day, every day so I think everyone deserves something.”