The Buckeyes are champions in part because they were outstanding at running the football. Whether on jet sweeps, from the quarterback position or just good old Dave, Ohio State was a great running team, even when the opposition knew a run was coming (hi, Oregon! [/shows off shiny championship ring]).
The Buckeyes finished ninth nationally in rushing yards per game (264.47), eighth in rushing touchdowns (41), fifth in yards (3,967), and 11th in yards per attempt (5.75). Ezekiel Elliott had the second best rushing year of any Buckeye ever, and ended up 13th in the country with 1,878 yards. He came within 50 yards of breaking Eddie George’s single-season OSU rushing record (yeah, in a few more games), and his 18 rushing scores was good for 12th best in the country.
In the National Championship Game, Elliott’s 246 rushing yards tied Carlos Hyde and Archie Griffin for the third highest single game total in school history. Zeke was the truth, especially after the slobs got it together up front.
Heck, if he hadn’t gotten hurt on the first play of the fourth quarter, J.T. Barrett would have likely reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark during the regular season too.
With production like that, you just know there were some great runs. The 11W team talked it over and selected the best 11 runs of the season, chosen in consideration of timeliness, importance, and 'wow' factor.
11. King Cardale Rallies the Troops
In the final seconds of the second quarter, Ohio State had the ball at Alabama’s 40-yard line. Just a few more yards and the Buckeyes could potentially kick a field goal to make it 21-16 before halftime.
But Cardale Jones had other ideas. Seeing nothing downfield he liked, Jones tucked and scrambled straight ahead for 27 yards. breaking two tackles and punishing two more for a first down at the Bama 13. Two plays later, the Buckeyes pulled within 21-20 and turned momentum around when Evan Spencer found Michael Thomas on a reverse pass.
10. Zeke's Dagger Stuns Michigan
Midway through the fourth quarter, Ohio State clung to a touchdown lead over its rivals with starting quarterback J.T. Barrett watching from the stands with a broken ankle. The Buckeyes faced a fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 44. Urban Meyer rolled the dice and kept his offense on the field.
Good move. Elliott took a handoff from Jones and ripped off a 44-yard touchdown to provide breathing room. On the ensuing drive, Joey Bosa stripped Devin Gardner and Darron Lee took the fumble to the house to seal it.
9. Elliott Puts Sparty to Bed
Michael Geiger’s extra point pulled Michigan State within 42-31 with 9:15 to play in Ohio State’s biggest road game of the year. The Buckeyes needed a long, time-consuming drive to eat up the clock and avenge the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game loss to the Spartans.
They got a long drive, but not a time-consuming one. Barrett’s 55-yard scamper set the Buckeyes up in scoring position and two plays later, Elliott started up the middle, then cut to his left and bounced off a couple of defenders to extend the lead back to 18 points with 7:12 to play. The run showed off all of Zeke's abilities—vision, change of direction, speed and power.
8. Barrett Beats the White-Out on One Leg
The game at Penn State was tied at 24 in the second overtime, with the Buckeyes facing a crucial third-and-2 at the Nittany Lions’ 4-yard line. Barrett, playing with a very painful sprained MCL, took the ball up the middle and was met right at the first down marker by inside linebacker Mike Hull. But Barrett wouldn’t be denied, twisting and driving his way into the end zone for what would prove to be the winning touchdown.
Very few runs of four yards have been so important and, considering the injury, impressive.
7. Jones Keeps Sugar Bowl Scoring Drive Alive
Ohio State fell behind Alabama 7-3 in the first quarter and needed an answer. But the Buckeyes faced a crucial third-and-8 from their own 38 on the ensuing drive. A stop by the Tide would have potentially shifted the momentum of the game for good. Up stepped 12-Gauge.
Under pressure in the pocket, Jones faked out defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and raced 20 yards up field, where he leaped over defensive back Nick Perry, who made the stop. The drive continued and the Buckeyes kicked another field goal to pull back within one, 7-6.
6. Ezekiel Blazes by Badgers
The Buckeyes led Wisconsin 7-0 late in the first quarter of the Big Ten Championship. After forcing the Badgers’ second punt in as many possessions, Ohio State took over at its own 7-yard line. Elliott gave the Buckeyes a little breathing room on the first play, rushing 12 yards to the 19.
Then he went HAM.
Zeke exploded through a hole up the middle and raced 81 yards to put the Buckeyes up 14-0 and Ohio State rode that momentum to a 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin and a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff.
5. Barrett Scrambles Past Michigan
Ohio State trailed Michigan 14-7 late in the second quarter, and just couldn’t seem to get on track offensively. With the clock winding down toward the half, the Buckeyes managed to finally put a drive together, thanks in part to a nice shoestring catch by Corey Smith.
With just 17 seconds to play, Barrett dropped back to pass, but couldn’t find anyone. He scrambled right to avoid pressure, took off downfield, made a move to his left to freeze a defender and then cut right again and outran everyone 25 yards to the house. The tying touchdown came with just seven seconds to play in the half.
The Buckeyes would never again trail in the game again.
4. Elliott Finishes Off the Ducks
The Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot a few times in the National Championship against Oregon, but it all turned out OK in the end. One big reason for that was Zeke Elliott. The Ducks pulled within 21-20 in the third on a short field goal and Ohio State needed an answer. It got one.
The Buckeyes responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive, capped by this nine-yard scoring run from Elliott, who read his blocks well, used his speed to get outside, then dragged one tackler with him and bowled another over to get into the end zone. It gave the Buckeyes breathing room and was the first of three touchdown runs for Zeke in Ohio State’s final four possessions.
3. J.T. Gashes the Gophers
Ohio State and Minnesota were locked in an early scoreless tie on the frozen tundra of Minneapolis. The Buckeyes started their second possession on their own 5-yard line and quickly turned first-and-10 into third-and-1. Then, magic happened.
Barrett took the snap and faked a pitch to Elliott on his right, then ran left, picked up a block and found himself running freely down the left side of the field. As Gophers closed in, he broke right and outran everyone 86 yards for the longest rushing touchdown by a quarterback in Ohio State history. It gave the Buckeyes an early 7-0 lead and they’d go on to win, 31-24.
2. Ezekiel Rolls Tide
All the Buckeyes were trying to do was run a little clock, but adding an insurance score is never a bad thing, and, as it turns out, Elliott provided the final margin of victory with a stunning roundhouse blow of a run late in the fourth quarter of the Sugar Bowl. Sweeping left, Zeke followed a crushing block by Evan Spencer and a solid one by a pulling Billy Price and galloped 85 yards to the end zone.
It was another Zeke dagger and, although Alabama tried to rally, the Buckeyes would not be denied a trip to Dallas.
1. Elusive Elliott Baffles Bama
Ezekiel’s season was full of dazzling runs, but perhaps none of his highlights were as highlight-y as this one. It was second-and-13 at Ohio State’s 41, early in the first quarter. Running wide to the right against the vaunted Alabama defense, Zeke found himself bottled up near the sideline. No problem. He stiff-armed the first defender, Eddie Jackson, hurdled the second, and raced 54 yards to set Ohio State up with a first-and-goal.
Although Nick Perry had the angle and caught him at the 5-yard line (and the Buckeyes would settle for a field goal), Elliott’s 54-yard run stunned the Crimson Tide, which had been allowing only an average 88 rushing yards per game all season.
To be fair, we could have listed a bunch more. The initial list was around 30 plays. The final ones to miss the cut could just as easily have made it. Who can forget Cardale's hurdle run at Maryland, Zeke's 33-yard touchdown for Ohio State's first score in the National Championship Game, J.T.'s 55-yard run in East Lansing that eventually set up Elliott's 17-yard TD, or Jones running over Oregon's nose tackle to pick up a first down on third-and-4?
Feel free to argue with our selections in the comments section below.