Coach: Tone Alford (first year)
2014 BSB Final Grade: A-
One of the oddities of the running back play over the first six games of the season was the absence of a run of 40 yards or longer. Sophomore Ezekiel Elliot couldn’t muster an answer when asked after the Rutgers game about the lack of big runs, laughing and shrugging his shoulders instead.
It was fitting, then, that Elliott sealed the win against the Crimson Tide with an 85-yard romp late in the fourth quarter. That followed an earlier run against the Tide in which he bolted loose for a 54-yard scamper. The previous game, against Wisconsin, he torched the Badgers for an 81-yard scoring run to jump-start a 59-0 rout.
All of that is to say that the fluky lack of home-run plays in the backfield had clearly disappeared once the most important games of the year rolled around. By the end of the season, Elliott had morphed into one of the country’s best backs. He finished his sophomore campaign with 1,878 yards, an average of more than 125 per game, and finished second in OSU annals for yards in a season.
When asked at the end of the season what he thought of his powerful back, Meyer kept it short and sweet.
“A monster,” he said.
- 24 rush, 101 yards, 4 TD before being dismissed after seven games for a violation of team rules
15 Ezekiel Elliott (6-0, 225, Jr.)
- 273 rush, 1,878 yards, 6.9 ypc, 18 TDs; 28 catches, 220 yards; will not practice in spring after left wrist surgery
4 Curtis Samuel (5-11, 196, Soph.)
- 58 rush, 383 yards, 6.6 ypc, 6 TDs; 11 catches, 95 yards
25 Brionte Dunn (6-0, 216, Jr.)
- nine rush, 63 yards, 7.0 ypc
28 Warren Ball (6-1, 224, Jr.)
- 18 rush, 88 yards, 4.7 ypc
7 Roderick Smith
Ohio State knows what it has at the top of the chart in Elliott, especially after his 696-yard, eight-TD postseason run over three games, so what it needs is depth. Samuel showed the skills that should make him an every down back at some point in his career, but he’ll look to continue in that vein this spring. This is also a chance to make a move for each Dunn and Ball, who could each move into the two-deep with standout showings. It’s a big spring for all three.
Player On The Spot
Dunn. After an outstanding high school career in which it was thought Dunn was a must-get for the Buckeyes, the Canton (Ohio) GlenOak product can make a move this spring. He’s worked his way into special teams work along with Ball, and Meyer likes to have three backs ready as evidenced by the touches Smith got a year ago before his untimely dismissal. Dunn doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be a breakaway back, but his size gives him an inside-the-red zone presence like the one the Buckeyes got out of Smith last year.
Spring Is A Success If…
The Buckeyes leave pleased with the depth behind Elliott, whose pink cast will keep him off the field as he rehabs postseason wrist surgery. Samuel can show he’s a do-it-all back a year after showcasing good strength and vision between the tackles in addition to his speed, while both Dunn and Ball can prove to be viable options to do more than just get spot carries. Dunn will need to show consistency as a power back and perhaps add some explosiveness, while Ball will look to make more people miss between the tackles.
Spring Is A Failure If…
The Buckeyes leave unsure if they have someone who can receive full-time minutes should anything happen to Elliott in 2015. They dodged a bullet in that regard in ’14 as Elliott’s wrist held up well enough following his camp injury, but given the pounding running backs – even those as durable as Elliott – can take, having depth is key. New coach Alford will want to leave feeling as though he has at least three backs he’s comfortable playing in a game, and the chance to impress him starts now.