NEW ORLEANS — If having his name misspelled multiple times during Sugar Bowl interviews wasn’t enough to disrespect Ezekiel Elliott, listening to the great Emmitt Smith take an inadvertent shot at him might’ve been the final straw.
“(He) said before the game there were two great running backs that were going to play tonight,” Elliott said.
“And they both were for Bama.”
Before Thursday night, Elliott was an afterthought in the shadows of (ones which probably shouldn’t have even existed in the first place) of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. By the end of a 42-35 win that has the Buckeyes in the national championship, few, if any, will forget his name anytime soon.
“I feel like I may be a little bit underrated,” Elliott said earlier in the week, “but I just attack every game as just a chance to put my name out there, perform on big stages.”
Against Alabama’s vaunted run defense, Elliott ran for 230 yards, two touchdowns on 20 carries. A dramatic 85-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter all but ensured Ohio State a trip to the College Football Playoff final in Dallas and its first-ever bowl win against an SEC opponent.
“Wow,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s probably the most underrated back in the country.”
Perhaps that’s true. But let’s narrow the sample size and talk about how Elliott, Meyer’s second-ever back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season, played second fiddle to Yeldon and Henry, the Crimson Tide’s backup running back.
To be sure, Yeldon and Henry are among the nation’s best. But so is Elliott, who stole the show in emphatic fashion.
“He's obviously a very, very good player, and we didn't do a very good job of executing what we needed to do to be able to control him in the game, and consequently he made lots of good plays,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game.
With 1,632 rushing yards, Elliott is
4th on Ohio State's list behind Eddie George,
Keith Byars and Archie Griffin.
Elliott has rushed for 450 yards in his
last two games – against tremendous
defenses in Wisconsin and Alabama.
Here's a list of running back who have
topped 200 yards against a Nick Saban
Alabama team: Ezekiel Elliott.
- This Vine of Zeke is hilarious.
“It's not really about what you do most of the time, it's really more about how you do it. And they did a better job of executing what they do than what we did.”
Added Elliott: “I knew going through the game that the Alabama defense front was going to be very tough, very big, very physical. It was going to be a little bit hard for our O line to get some movement off the ball.
“But they did a great job. I knew I would have to hit those holes hard and break a couple of arm tackles to break a couple.”
And when Elliott does that, he’s awfully hard to bring down.
“He's a great back. I don't know if he's gotten the recognition because of whatever,” Meyer said, “but he's a 1,500-yard back and he's real valuable. And (offensive coordinator) Tom Herman said it, and it's true: He's the best back I've ever seen without the ball, as far as effort, down the field, making cuts, making blocks, pass protection. Takes great pride in being a great player.”
And great players don’t appreciate when their names are misspelled.