The spring game isn’t always a great showcase for running backs, but it was for two of Ohio State’s running backs on Saturday.
Because Ohio State defenders actually had to tackle players to the ground to make stops for most of Saturday’s spring game, Ohio State’s running backs were actually able to demonstrate their ability to make defenders miss for big plays. And the two running backs who saw most of the work Saturday both demonstrated that.
Saturday was a short day of work for TreVeyon Henderson, who played only on the opening series before watching the rest of the game from the sideline. There was really no reason for Henderson to stay on the field any longer than that – after rushing for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2021, he’s already firmly entrenched as Ohio State’s starting running back, so the only thing Henderson actually needed to accomplish in the spring game was leaving Ohio Stadium healthy.
That opened the door for Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor, Ohio State’s only other two available scholarship running backs, to get most of the touches out of the backfield in Saturday’s spring game. And they took advantage of it.
Williams was Ohio State’s leading rusher in the spring game, gaining 101 yards on 15 carries for the Scarlet side. He had the longest play of the day from scrimmage when he broke through a Mitchell Melton arm tackle at the line of scrimmage and also made freshman cornerback Ryan Turner miss on the way to a 36-yard run in the second quarter.
Considering Williams was already Ohio State’s No. 2 running back last year, his performance Saturday should have only strengthened his standing as Henderson’s top backup. Williams performed well in that role last season, gaining 507 yards on just 71 carries, so there’s no reason he should be in any jeopardy of losing his place in the rotation.
But Pryor made a strong case on Saturday that the Buckeyes are going to want to find a role for him, too.
While Henderson became an instant star as a freshman, Pryor took a redshirt in 2021 after appearing in just four games. Ryan Day has said all spring, however, that he expects Pryor to see more playing time this year.
By running for 62 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries and adding four catches for 44 yards in the spring game, Pryor showed why he’s a potential breakout player to watch for Ohio State’s offense this season, even with two running backs still in front of him on the depth chart.
Pryor’s first big moment of the day came just before Williams’ long run, in the middle of the second quarter, when he took off toward the right side of the field and then made all of Reid Carrico, Ty Hamilton and Teradja Mitchell miss en route to a 22-yard touchdown run.
Although Ohio State wasn’t even in the red zone yet, Pryor had a touchdown on his mind from the moment he received the ball.
“There wasn’t too much going through my head other than just scoring, finding a way to score,” Pryor said Saturday. “That’s what Coach Alford tells me, just find a way. So yeah, it was a good play for me. Just score. That’s all that goes through my head every time I touch the ball.”
Pryor had another highlight late in the third quarter when he beat Chip Trayanum on a wheel route out of the backfield for a downfield catch that went for a 35-yard gain.
The latter play illustrates what might be the biggest reason for Ohio State to get Pryor on the field, as he has more experience – dating back to high school – catching passes out of the backfield than Henderson and Williams do. His ability to be a downfield receiving threat out of the backfield could add another dimension to Ohio State’s already explosive offense.
“A lot of stuff we did with (Jaxon Smith-Njigba) out of the backfield last season, I feel like I can do as well,” Pryor said earlier this spring. “In terms of route running, not having to switch personnel maybe if you want to keep him in the slot, you want to do something out of the backfield with your running back, that's something I bring to the table.”
While he had to wait his turn last season behind Henderson, Williams and Master Teague, he’s made the progress this spring that Ohio State’s coaches wanted to see from him, giving them all the reason – along with Pryor’s natural skill set – to find a role for him in the offense.
“He's had a very good spring,” Ryan Day said after the spring game. “He can change direction in short areas. He's good out of the backfield. He catches the ball. And so he gives us a little wiggle in there, which is nice. It’s a little bit of a change of pace with the offense. If he continues to grow and he can hang onto the ball, then he's going to have an impact on this offense this year.”
How exactly the Buckeyes will do that remains to be determined. Henderson still figures to be in line for the lion’s share of snaps at running back. But with Williams being a bigger back at 225 pounds and Pryor being a smaller but shiftier back, all three running backs figure to complement each other well if Tony Alford and the rest of Ohio State’s coaching staff can figure out how to best utilize each of them to their strengths.
Pryor thinks Saturday showed that.
“I feel like today was a great day for that,” Pryor said. “Because a lot of people see three running backs and they’re like, ‘Is there enough carries for them?’ or ‘Can they all three fit into the system?’ And I feel like we all complement each other well. Throughout the season, you'll be able to see that as well. All three of us are gonna have great seasons.”
Based on their social media reactions after Saturday’s game, Henderson and Williams also seem excited about what they can accomplish collectively as a group.
Im telling ya https://t.co/jauNjwFIEH— Chop (@Miyann28) April 16, 2022
From an overall numbers standpoint, Ohio State’s running back depth might not be exactly where the Buckeyes would ideally want it, as Day indicated this week that Marcus Crowley’s return from his knee injury is not imminent. The top three rows of Ohio State’s running back depth chart appear to be in excellent shape, though, and with Dallan Hayden also set to enroll this summer, Day has reason to feel good about where the Buckeyes stand at the position.
“I think we have three really good running backs,” Day said. “We have a fourth coming in this summer in Dallan Hayden. So it’s good. They’ve had a good spring. I feel solid about that.”