Just 10 days before the start of the season, Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said redshirt junior running back Demario McCall would be his No. 2 option at the position.
Now three games into the year, that’s all changed.
After setting career highs in back-to-back weeks and notching his first ever 100-yard rushing performance against Indiana, redshirt freshman Master Teague has a vise grip on the backup running back spot.
“We have a thing at Ohio State called competitive excellence,” Teague said. “The next guy up has got to be as good as the first guy. I look up to [junior running back J.K. Dobbins]. He’s a great guy. When I get in there, I just want to do my best for the team.”
Teague appeared as a possible front-runner for a No. 2 spot on the depth chart as early as the 2019 Spring Game, when his 75-yard, two-touchdown performance stood out among the rest of the backs.
Unfortunately for Teague, a nagging injury limited his reps in fall camp and stalled his momentum.
As the season approached, the competition seemed to be rolling on without Teague. Head coach Ryan Day drew attention to the position battle in multiple press conferences, as he challenged one of his running backs to step up and become Dobbins’ official backup.
With Teague hampered and two true freshmen in Steele Chambers and Marcus Crowley not expected to shoulder a heavy load of carries, it seemed logical that McCall, who’s been in the program since 2016, would get the nod.
“I was kinda down a little bit during fall camp when I couldn’t be out there with the team,” Teague said. “But like I said, I kept a good mindset, good, positive thinking.”
It was McCall who got the first running back carry beside Dobbins in the season opener, but by the end of the game, Teague outrushed him by 38 yards on six more carries.
Dobbins didn’t get a carry in the second half of Ohio State’s 42-0 win over Cincinnati, which freed up Teague to run for a career-high 60 yards on 11 carries. McCall had just 11 yards on five rushes.
Teague set his career mark even higher Saturday with 106 yards on just 10 carries, with eight coming in the second half.
The 220-pound running back does not shy away from contact. Teague is a punishing, pads-down rusher whose bruising nature feels right at home in the Big Ten, but against Indiana, he showcased his speed as well.
Teague broke a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter, slicing straight through the Indiana secondary with only one defender able to make contact. The score was Teague’s first since Week 1 of 2018, but if his recent play is any indication, it won’t be his last.
“Two weeks in a row where there’s contact made and he’s falling forward for four yards,” Day said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Ohio State took leads of 28, 28 and 20 into halftime its first three games. This week the Buckeyes play Miami (OH), which was blown out Saturday by a Cincinnati team that Ohio State defeated by 42.
For Teague, this means a likely chance to receive the most carries of his career and a final shot to prove that he can contribute out of the backfield once conference play begins the following week.
“Gaining experience, I think I’ll keep getting better and better,” Teague said.