Predicting Ohio State's Top Five Rushers in 2015

By Michael Citro on March 28, 2015 at 9:15 am
Ezekiel Elliott should lead Ohio State in rushing again, if healthy.

Last spring, I took a shot at predicting who the top five rushers would be for the Buckeyes in 2014. It’s time to take a look back and see how close those predictions were and to gaze into the crystal ball once again and see what 2015 holds in store.

If you missed it, here’s what I said for 2014.

Let’s start with Ezekiel Elliott. It wasn’t a stretch to predict he’d be the leading rusher for the Buckeyes. But even though I thought I was giving him a lot of credit as a sophomore, he wildly surpassed everyone’s expectations.

2014 Prediction: 210 attempts, 1,311 yards, 6.24 YPA, 12 touchdowns.
2014 Actual: 273 attempts, 1,858 yards, 6.9 YPA, 18 touchdowns.

Elliott was certainly Ohio State’s top running threat in 2014, and he did top 1,300 yards, but he did even better than I expected. The Slobs came together fairly quickly and Elliott ran downhill, hard, all season. He got more carries than I thought, which basically accounts for the difference between my prediction and the actual number.

But he also posted six more touchdowns than I thought we’d see, putting up .066 touchdowns per carry as compared to my predicted .057 touchdowns per attempt. To put it another way, if he’d carried the 210 times I expected, he’d have finished with two more touchdowns than I predicted.

Elliott’s prediction was sick, particularly in the postseason, when he stepped up his game considerably. Because of the extra carries accounting for much of the additional yardage, I’m going to claim victory on this one.

In the No. 2 spot, I had Braxton Miller also topping 1,000 yards. Welp.

Since Miller got hurt, let’s compare my prediction of his production to his replacement, J.T. Barrett. Since Barrett also got hurt, I’m going to add in Cardale Jones’ rushing statistics from Michigan through Oregon. I will not count garbage time running from Jones from when Barrett was healthy, because in those games, Miller would have been subbed out.

2014 Prediction: 160 attempts, 1,198 yards, 7.49 YPA, 12 touchdowns.
2014 Actual: 219 attempts, 1,046 yards, 4.78 YPA, 12 touchdowns.

I was very close to the actual numbers here, including spot on with the scoring runs. Barrett and Jones got more combined rushes as starters than I expected for Miller, who I thought Urban Meyer and Tom Herman would save a bit more in 2014 as compared to 2013. But I thought he’d have to scramble more with a new offensive line.

The difference in yards per carry, and coming up 152 yards shy despite 59 more carries, owes mainly to Barrett and Jones being solid but not Miller’s caliber as runners. Jones carried 48 times for 108 yards from the fourth quarter of the Michigan game onward. He averaged just 2.25 yards per carry in those games, owing to sack yardage lost. Barrett was actually on pace to crush my prediction, but he and Jones are vastly different quarterbacks.

I’m again claiming victory here because the yards were close and the touchdowns were right on, even though it wasn’t Miller.

No. 3 is where I started to go horribly wrong.

I predicted Bri’onte Dunn would break through and finally get some playing time. He did not see the field that much. Early on, Rod Smith was the backup and I had predicted that Dunn would take that spot. Little did I know that a freshman would come in and supplant both guys, as well as Warren Ball.

2014 Prediction: 92 attempts, 512 yards, 5.57 YPA, six touchdowns.
2014 Actual: 9 attempts, 63 yards, 7.0 YPA, 0 touchdowns.

I was not correct. I was not close to correct. Dunn carried a full 83 fewer times than I expected and didn’t sniff the end zone. He did surpass the yards-per-attempt average I expected by more than a full yard, though.

I had Warren Ball at No. 4. At running back, he was behind Elliott, Curtis Samuel and Rod Smith and perhaps a smidge ahead of Dunn, although it was so close as to make the difference between the two inconsequential.

2014 Prediction: 78 attempts, 457 yards, 5.86 YPA, five touchdowns.
2014 Actual: 10 attempts, 85 yards, 4.7 YPA, 0 touchdowns.

Like Dunn, I gave Ball more credit than was prudent. Meyer and Herman definitely played with their new toys much more often. Elliott and Samuel got way more play than Dunn and Ball, and it certainly shows that I can be terribly, horribly wrong.

Rounding out my top five was Samuel, who I thought we’d see in 2014, but he surpassed my expectations.

2014 Prediction: 37 attempts, 239 yards, 6.46 YPA, three touchdowns.
2014 Actual: 58 attempts, 383 yards, 6.6 YPA, six touchdowns.

Samuel got 21 more carries than I expected for almost 150 more yards and twice the number of touchdowns. He emerged as the solid No. 2 behind Elliott and although I thought we’d see him a lot for a guy down the depth chart, he worked his way onto the field more often, getting about the average I thought we’d see. I expected his explosiveness to pay off with a high average and he did accomplish that. I’m going to call this one a draw overall because I don’t like to admit to being wrong more often than not.

So of the top five rushers I predicted, I did OK with the numbers of three of them, notwithstanding the substitution(s) for Miller at quarterback.

So, what about 2015?

Elliott was a workhorse in 2014, particularly over the last three games. I expect he’ll still get by far the most carries on the team, but I think he’ll get the ball a little less, owing to a strong stable of backs behind him. That will slightly affect his numbers, but I think he’ll still do well enough to put together a potential Heisman season since the Slobs should be much better to start the year.

The second spot is where it gets tough. The last few years it’s been Ohio State’s quarterback finishing behind the leading tailback. This season that might not happen.

Miller may not recover in time to take his spot back. Barrett is returning from a broken ankle. Jones isn’t in the same class as the other two as a runner, despite showing the ability to get tough yards when needed and scramble for important first downs. It might be a combination of guys. I like the numbers to be higher if it’s more Miller or Barrett and less Jones.

I’ll still say the quarterback finishes second but I’m going to be more conservative this season.

Samuel will be the clear cut third leading rusher. He’ll see more carries and get into the end zone more often, breaking more big plays than his freshman season.

After Samuel, I’m totally guessing. H-back Jalin Marshall probably finishes in fourth. Then it’s a crapshoot. I think Dunn might finally mature and run like he did against Wisconsin. Sure, I am probably putting too much faith in a guy that has so far underperformed, but that’s just one of my charming flaws.

2015 Predictions

1. Ezekiel Elliott: 229 attempts, 1,698 yards, 7.41 YPA, 17 touchdowns.

2. “Ohio State Quarterback”: 168 attempts, 895 yards, 5.33 YPA, 11 touchdowns.

3. Curtis Samuel: 109 attempts, 725 yards, 6.65 YPA, nine touchdowns.

4. Jalin Marshall: 61 attempts, 366 yards, 6.0 YPA, four touchdowns.

5. Bri’onte Dunn: 23 attempts, 129 yards, 5.6 YPA, one touchdown.

What do you think?

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