2015 Season Preview: Zeke Leads Stable of Talented Running Backs

By Michael Citro on August 23, 2015 at 11:15 am
Ohio State Football 2015 Season Preview

No running back in the storied history of Ohio State rushers has ever had the run of success that Ezekiel Elliott had at the end of his sophomore year. Elliott had been solid all year long, amassing more than 1,000 yards in the regular season, but he found another gear in the postseason, becoming the first Buckeye to put up three consecutive 200-yard rushing performances, and only the second to reach that mark three times in an entire season, joining Eddie George (1995). If the Heisman Trophy hadn’t already been awarded, Elliott’s final three games of the season might have won it for him.

The St. Louis product ran for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns on 273 rushing attempts, averaging an amazing 6.9 yards per carry. Only George has rushed for more yards in a season for Ohio State, gaining 1,927 yards in 1995—but on 55 more carries than Zeke had last year. If he maintained his average, Zeke would have posted 2,258 yards on the same number of carries as Eddie.

And Elliott was also an effective outlet receiver, too, catching 28 passes for 220 yards. He did all of that with a wrist injury that effectively made him one-handed all season.

Ohio State Running backs
Player No HT WT YR Hometown
WARREN BALL 28 6-1 225 JR Columbus, OH (DeSales)
BRI'ONTE DUNN 25 6-0 215 JR Canton, OH (GlenOak)
EZEKIEL ELLIOTT 15 6-0 225 JR St. Louis, MO (John Burroughs)
JEFFIE JOHNSON 35 5-10 197 SR Hilliard, OH (Hilliard Bradley)
CURTIS SAMUEL 4 5-11 200 SO Brooklyn, NY (Erasmus Hall)
MIKE WEBER 20 5-10 215 FR Detroit, MI (Cass Tech)
PATRICK WISE 26 5-10 205 SO Warren, OH (Warren G. Harding)

But the season’s final push is where the 6-foot, 225-pound Elliott raised his profile, as well as eyebrows all over the country. In the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, “Zeke” set records for most rushing yards, with 220, and longest run, with an 81-yard touchdown. In the Sugar Bowl, Elliott set a Buckeye record with an 85-yard touchdown run against Alabama—the longest play allowed by the Crimson Tide all year. He totaled 230 yards on 20 carries, averaging 11.5 yards and scoring twice. And he topped even that in the College Football Playoff title game with a school postseason record 246 rushing yards against Oregon on 36 carries, averaging 6.8 yards. He scored a Buckeye bowl record four touchdowns against the Ducks, capping three incredible performances.

It’s unlikely that anyone could come close to unseating Elliott as the starter this fall. He’s already a 2015 Heisman Trophy favorite for his performances on the big stage against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon in Ohio State’s championship run. That’s not bad for a kid who had to battle his way past senior Rod Smith and freshman Curtis Samuel for the starting position in preseason camp last year.

There are question marks behind Elliott, although there are a lot of options, as well. Samuel earned his way into the No. 2 spot last season but Meyer has experimented with Samuel—now a true sophomore—as a pass catcher this past spring, and he lined up as a receiver the entire Spring Game.  The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Samuel rushed for 383 yards on just 58 carries for an impressive 6.6 yards-per-carry average as a true freshman, scoring six touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 95 yards and obviously showed enough as a receiver to warrant a long look out there.

A pair of redshirt juniors will be in the mix, in Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball. Neither has developed as quickly as expected, but Dunn’s hard running late in the Big Ten Championship was impressive and he looked good in spring practice. The 6-foot, 215-pound Dunn carried only nine times last season but averaged seven yards per carry for a season total of 63 yards. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ball carried 18 times for 85 yards, for a 4.72 average. Neither scored a touchdown or caught a pass, playing mostly late in blowout victories.

Meyer pointed out yesterday that Dunn was one of the most improved players in camp this week, which could bode well for the Canton GlenOak product.

If neither is the answer, Meyer may turn to younger players like incoming freshman Michael Weber, a celebrated consensus four-star prospect out of Detroit’s Cass Tech. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Weber put together an impressive senior campaign, rushing for 2,268 yards and 29 touchdowns, while averaging 10.13 yards per carry. Scout listed him as the top prospect out of the state of Michigan and three major scouting services listed him as one of the country’s top 10 running back recruits.

Weber made an early impression in camp, losing his freshman black stripe early and was making a case for early playing time when he was sidelined with a meniscus tear.  Meyer said yesterday he'd miss the Virginia Tech game but added that he might not redshirt the rookie. So, despite the injury setback, Weber may yet figure into the backfield plans throughout the season.

"There's a chance we won't redshirt him," Meyer said. "He had a really good camp up to that point."

Senior Jeffie Johnson and sophomore Patrick Wise—both walk-ons—provide depth. 

View 29 Comments