The answer revealed itself in Saturday night’s 50-28 victory against Cincinnati, and the answer would be the two players that replaced both Miller and Hyde in the starting lineup. With the game still in doubt midway through the third quarter, J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott put the team on their backs to allow Ohio State grind out the win.
The duo isn’t anywhere near the consistency that was the Miller and Hyde show last season, but it was encouraging to see them step up and put the game on ice the way Buckeye fans got used to seeing from Nos. 5 and 34 last season.
After the Bearcats closed the gap to five points with 9:20 left in the third quarter, the Buckeyes began their next offensive series at their own 25. Barrett trotted out and gave the ball to Elliott three straight times for runs 7, 11 and another 11 yards, respectively. After a 16-yard pass from Barrett to tight end Nick Vannett, Ohio State added to its lead with a field goal.
“We have a lot of confidence in Ezekiel Elliott,” Urban Meyer said of his running back after the game. “Before he leaves here he could be one of the great backs of Ohio State. A long way to go.”
The Buckeyes began their next drive with another heavy dose of Elliott as he had two rushes for 10 yards and a catch for 12. Barrett then ran for a tough 7 yards and, three plays later, found a wide-open Dontre Wilson for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 left in the third.
A three-and-out by the Bearcats gave the Buckeyes the ball back at their own 27 and chance to end the game with a touchdown drive. After a 9-yard gain by Dontre Wilson, Elliott picked up the first down on the next play with a short run. He followed by picking up the next first down on a 10-yard rush. After some short runs, the Buckeyes faced a third-and-6 from the UC 46. Barrett took the snap and couldn’t find an open receiver. With the pocket collapsing, he made a gutsy scramble to get just enough yardage for the first and keep the drive alive.
It was reminiscent of how Miller has been keeping drives alive with his legs for the past three seasons. Although he isn’t quite as fast as Miller, Barrett more than makes up for it with his courage and ability to fall forward despite heavy contact. The drive ended with a 10-yard pass to Elliot before Barrett hit Devin Smith in the end zone to end the scoring.
“I though that deep ball at the end of the game to Devin was a hell of a throw,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said of his young quarterback. “That was something that had been missing a little bit, some of his deep ball accuracy. They actually had dropped nine into coverage. They only rushed two guys and he hit a deep ball over their head for a touchdown to kind of seal the game. That was very impressive.”
To sum things up, Elliott finished the second half with 15 carries for 104 yards while also catching three balls for another 30 yards. Barrett had six second-half carries for another 21 yards while making all the right decisions on where to distribute the ball. That’s the perfect remedy for playing a team that is built on throwing the ball like UC.
“I think tonight was a night I really needed,” Elliott said of his performance. “I really needed some momentum and I think it’s all downhill from here.”
The most exciting thing about the two of them is the fact that they are both plenty young, getting their first meaningful collegiate action this year, and each was selected by the coaching staff as the heir apparent at their respected positions. Not including the recruiting class that Urban had to scramble together in 2012, they were the first quarterback and running back brought in by Meyer and his staff.
While Meyer was gifted with Braxton and Carlos, he went out and got Barrett and Elliott, showing how his staff's recruiting has already begun to pay its dues.
“I think we can do this game-by-game,” Barrett said of the offense's performance. “We just need to stick to what we know how to do; run the ball starting off and then attacking with the passing game.”
There are certainly differences between both duos, but that is what makes comparing them so fun. However, it won’t be fun for opponents seeing Barrett and Elliott continue to fill the shoes that have been left for them.