From Woody Hayes to Earle Bruce, through John Cooper and now Jim Tressel, the concept of the Buckeye running game has seldom wavered. We prefer smash-mouth football with big running backs heading north and south, while mammoth offensive linemen create holes and seams. We love to line up a sixth offensive linemen (sometimes referred to in the press as a "tight end") and we like to establish a smaller more mobile lineman (also called a "fullback") to clear the road immediately in front of the ball carrier. There was no sight more awe-inspiring, in the eyes of Buckeye running purists, than that sight of Orlando Pace clearing holes well into the secondary for Nicky Sualua to clean up as Eddie George got rolling with a head of steam.
The smaller shiftier backs (a Michael Wiley or a Maurice Hall) have suffered
in this system because it caters to inside running. The bigger backs that
couldn't create their own holes (Jonathan Wells?) had problems when the seven
offensive linemen weren't up to snuff. With this understanding as a backdrop,
let's look at our current and prospective inventory.
OSU started this year with an embarrassment of riches at the tailback
position and a suspicion that whichever TB didn't get enough carries would
inevitably transfer away from OSU. Then, during the season, it became a game of
"Survivor." Clarett dinged his knee and then his shoulder (repeatedly). Ross
had a "toe" and a "leg." Hall had some problems hanging onto the ball
and a hand injury as well. JaJa simply didn't get enough carries to assess his
Add to this mix that the oldest back insofar as experience goes (it gets
strange here as Lydell Ross is actually younger than Maurice Clarett) is only a
sophomore in eligibility. Lucky, perhaps, for us fans – but problematical for
the tailback that wants playing time.
Any way you analyze it, Maurice Clarett is something special, although he has
a history of injuries going back to his sophomore year in high school. But when
he's healthy, he will both play and star. There is greatness shining all
around Maurice and he fits the prototypical Ohio State running back ideal as he
can bowl people over straight ahead, can get around the outside and can move a
pile. He's a keeper and will be here another two years. That's right.
Lydell Ross runs somewhere between "good" and "great." Give him a
little wiggle room and he can be dazzling. He tends to dance a bit too much and
spend valuable yards going east-west, but he is an undeniable talent – smart,
with heart and will get better as he gets healthier. He won't move the pile
but he's a keeper and will be here two more years, as well.
There are ample ways to play and to use Maurice Hall's unique talents.
Here's a kid who ran for 3000 yards as a high school senior (and scored over
50 touchdowns that year!) and has jets that neither Lydell nor Maurice the
Bigger possesses. Kick-returner, scat back, end-around guy – there are great
opportunities but he is not the guy Woody had in mind when he said,
"Give the ball to the big dumb-a__ and let's grind some meat" (For the
record, that was Champ Henson who gave way to a better meat grinder named Pete
Johnson, but we digress…). Maurice Hall can be an important cog in the rushing
As noted, JaJa Riley hasn't shown enough yet to critique. It's a
long-standing tradition, however, that the guy we haven't seen is
always the best of the group (Troy Smith, Justin Zwick, Santonio Holmes et al)
so JaJa must be pretty good.
With all this talent, where do we go from here? Well, the two Maurices and
Lydell will probably have two more years of playing time after this campaign. If
JaJa is still here and still develops, he could be The Man in three years. Or he
could be the next Jerry Westbrooks.
There aren't enough footballs to get reps for more than these four backs so
OSU isn't recruiting the position very hard this year. Plus, the best Ohio
talent doesn't make your socks go up and down. Justin Valentine is good, but
won't start ahead of any of the current foursome. Terrance Graves fits that
description as well. OSU has been recruiting Tyrone Moss (Florida) a bit but he
seems to have sold his soul to Miami (along with his two road-grader teammates,
Andrew Bain and Cyrim Wimbs).
I would say, then, that based on "the need" and "the available
talent", OSU won't take a tailback in this class and is waiting for Delbert
Ferguson (Youngstown Ursuline) in next year's class. He fits the Buckeye
prototype: big and strong and durable. Duane Long compares his style –
favorably – to Robert Smith.
Additionally, next year's Ohio crop includes a rising star in Fred Davis
from Toledo Rogers and Pernell Williams – recently from Dayton Chaminade-Julienne
but currently shopping for a new school. National talent? We can't see that
far from here…
Dr. Recruitnik sez: No tailbacks will be taken this year, but two will come in next season's class.
Dr. Recruitnik has no e-mail address, but if you have e-mail for him, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and Mr. Bucknuts will see if he can summon him...