That, of course, is an inaccurate representation of the bronze statue modeled after Ed Smith and created by Frank Eliscu, which has both legs firmly planted on terra firma. But Howard did get one crucial detail right – the right arm, fully extended, throwing a stiff arm out to any would-be tackler headed his way.
And in 2015, that could very well be Ezekiel Elliott – and not just because he’s coming off a 1,878-yard season and a star turn in the College Football Playoffs.
One year after a camp wrist injury left him unable to lift weights, carry the ball in his left hand or fend off defenders with that hand for most of the season, he’s now able to use the left hand in a much more functional way.
One of those ways is by throwing stiff arms, something he really couldn’t do because of the pain in his wrist a season ago.
“It’s really good,” new running backs coach Tony Alford said. “He throws at targets and is not just laying a hand out there. He does a good job using his off arm and obviously he couldn’t last year with the wrist. He does a nice job of using that off arm as a weapon as far as forearms, stiff arms, getting guys off his body, hitting them in the right places to get their head turned. He’s skilled at it.”
Looking for proof? How about the win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last year. In the first quarter, Elliott took a handoff from Cardale Jones and bounced his run outside to the right. Cornerback Eddie Jackson closed in but Elliott – finally more than four months removed from the injury and coming off a rest of almost a month – used his left arm to push him away, then turned the corner, hurdled a defender and raced for a 54-yard gain.
Ironically, head coach Urban Meyer said that the injury made Elliott better in an interesting way, but that run against Alabama showed just what can happen when those new skills combined with his newfound ability to engage defenders with his left arm.
“I think it actually helped him in a bizarre way,” Meyer said. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever seen with pad level because he always had it in his right hand, and he really learned to protect himself. The thing a healthy wrist gives you is using it to fend off people. That still remains to be seen. We’ll evaluate that during the year but I do think that will be very helpful for him. He’s doing very well.”
Elliott, in many ways, agreed.
“It definitely was a blessing because it helped me develop my game a little bit differently where I was able to learn some different moves and learn how to use my body a little bit differently to fight for extra yards,” He said. “Have you ever tried to do something with one hand? You know, imagine playing basketball with one hand. You have to figure out a different way to do things.”
This year, he can be back to the old ways, and many people feel that adding a stiff arm will bring him ever closer to being able to capture the famed stiff-arm trophy.
In odds released last week, Elliott was listed as the betting line co-favorite for the honor along with Trevone Boykin of TCU. During the spring, Elliott joked that he would take that bet, but as the season nears, he says he’s focused on more than just the potential individual honor.
“We have a lot of Heisman caliber players,” he said. “If things go well for us as a team, maybe one of us will be lucky enough to be up there at the end of the year … but that’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on getting to the Big Ten championship.”