The Ohio State football team (4-0) faces a considerable issue at the running back position this season: It has too many of them.
With the return of senior Carlos Hyde from a three-game suspension, OSU now has eight active running backs on its roster. Among those including redshirt-senior H-back Jordan Hall one of seven whom participated in the Buckeyes’ 76-0 win over Florida A&M.
Hyde, Hall, redshirt-junior Rod Smith, redshirt-freshman Warren Ball, freshmen Ezekiel Elliott and Devonte Butler all recorded at least three rushes. Freshman Dontre Wilson also played, but lined up as a receiver, tallying three catches for 12 yards.
The only running back on the team that did not play was sophomore Bri’onte Dunn, who has yet to play this season and is likely to be redshirted.
Elliott was the leading rusher on the day, gaining 162 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. It was the first significant playing time for the freshman, who only had seven total carries in the first three games.
The St. Louis native said his big take away from Saturday was an opportunity to get onto the field during a game.
“I’ve gotten a little bit from earlier this season, but just a little more game experience,” Elliott said. “Just getting out there and running the ball.”
Despite the big performance from Elliott in the second half, coach Urban Meyer said he is not included in the top tier of running backs for the Buckeyes.
“I think you have three that are above the others right now. You have Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and Carlos Hyde (who) are the top three backs,” Meyer said. “I think Warren Ball ran hard and I think Ezekiel Elliott’s got an incredible future here. I wanted to reward him a little bit; he’s involved in special teams now.”
Even though a lot of running backs received playing time against the Rattlers Saturday, Elliott said it is a constant battle to earn carries at OSU.
“It’s hard to get a spot and even hold the spot,” Elliott said. “The guy in front of you is great and the guy behind you is great so every day we out and compete and go hard.”
Hall, the team leader in rushing yards with 422 on the season, saw his workload decreased with the return of Hyde, only carrying the ball four times against Florida A&M.
“It’s tough, (there is) only one football,” Hall said. “When you come to Ohio State… there’s competition everywhere, so a lot of backs in the backfield, that makes us go hard in practice every day and I think that’s helped us in a way.”
Meyer said the return of Hyde changes things in the Buckeye backfield, with both Hyde and Hall offering different skill sets to the team.
“Jordan Hall gives you flexibility, too, I’m evaluating what to do with him, because I know he’s a heck of a tailback as well,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he thought Hall should have seen more of the field with how he has played so far this season, but said that in a blowout it is hard for the starters to play a lot.
“Jordan Hall deserved more carries than he got, but you just can’t do that. I’ve been on the other end of those, so I try to do the best we could, just run the ball every snap and let guys earn an opportunity to get on the field,” Meyer said. “Thing is, if you get depth on your field, you tell Ezekiel Elliott not to run hard, he’ll look at you like, ‘I’m running hard, because I have to get more carries.’”
Hyde marked his return from suspension with a five-carry, 41-yard performance and a one-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Redshirt-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton said Hyde’s return helped boost the team’s energy and motivated them to keep playing hard.
“It was nice,” Guiton said. “The standing ovation they gave him, that made me get some juice in my body and just some tingling went through my body and I told him, ‘Let’s go man, you got to go get this first (down) now.’”
For the younger guys, having Hyde back helped with their nerves as they received more playing time than normal, with Elliott calling him a “great leader.”
One of Hyde’s blockers, junior tight end Jeff Heuerman, said it was nice to have Hyde back because of his leadership and influence on the field.
“Seeing him back out there was good. That’s definitely a player that carries a big load with us, and having him back was good,” Heuerman said.
Hall said he enjoyed having Hyde back because it was a new experience for players who “are like brothers.”
“It was fun because me and Carlos, we came in the same time but we never really got to play with each other at the same time,” Hall said. “So we’re excited about that and we got a lot of good backs, it’s going to be tough.”
The running backs will have their next opportunity to separate themselves from the rest when the Buckeyes host No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1) Saturday at 8:00 p.m.