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When Ohio State players addressed the media the week prior to the Big Ten Championship Game, running back Ezekiel Elliott was in high demand. Many of the questions, however, weren’t about the Buckeye sophomore, but rather about his Badger counterpart Melvin Gordon.
At best, Elliott was asked if the title game was an opportunity to prove he belonged on lists with the nation’s leading runner when discussing the conference’s best backs.
Elliott seemed annoyed by the whole thing.
“Melvin Gordon is definitely the best running back in college football, so he’s definitely going to get a lot of talk, but that’s a little bit of motivation to go out there and play well this week,” the sophomore said before the championship game. “It’s another opportunity to go out there and show what I can do.”
What he could do was pile up 220 yards rushing and two scores, dwarfing Gordon’s output of just 76 yards. It was the best day of Elliott’s carrier and the first time he has topped 200 yards at the college level.
“We just wanted to make sure that we got him his touches and the O-line did a heck of a job,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said in the afterglow of the 59-0 win over Wisconsin.
“We knew that if we could bust him through to the second level that there wouldn’t be a third level and he proved us right."
The big day against Wisconsin, which included an 81-yard score, put Elliott at 1,402 rushing yards on the year, the 11th best performance on the ground in Ohio State history. The sophomore is averaging nearly 108 yards a game this season. If he were to hit that average against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, his season would be the seventh-best all time.
“It means a lot,” Elliott said of his place in Ohio State history. “Saying that all of the great running backs that have come through here and the running back pedigree is just ridiculous, it is kind of crazy to think about it, but I owe everything to my O-Line, they have paved the way.”
In addition to his rushing efforts, Elliott is fourth on the team in receptions with 26 and fifth with 208 receiving yards. He has averaged 6.6 yards per touch so far this season.
All season long, the Big Ten has been lauded for the talent at running back. In addition to Gordon and his nation-leading 2,336 yards, the conference boasts Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (second nationally, 2,036 yards), Minnesota’s David Cobb (10th, 1,548) and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (11th, 1,523). Head coach Urban Meyer has been adamant all year that Elliott belongs in the conversation with those elite runners.
After playing a 13th game, Elliott moved into 19th nationally in total rushing yards. He’s gotten better as the season has gone on, averaging 138.6 yards a game in his past five games.
Despite the success of the sophomore, the questions will continue. Though he’s faced four top 20 rushing defenses so far this season, some think Alabama’s second-ranked unit will be Elliott’s toughest test.
“It definitely will be a challenge because they have a lot of big interior defensive (players with) their line and linebackers, they are big guys,” the running back said. “It is going to be our will against their will.”
As was the case before the title game against Wisconsin, Elliott got plenty of questions when previewing the College Football Semifinal Dec. 18. Again, they were more about the Buckeyes opponent than the sophomore’s on-field performance.
Against the Badgers, that worked out just fine.