Smith, Blankenship Don’t Make Bowl Trip
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Buckeyes hit the practice field at the University of North Florida for the third time Friday, but they were without a few usual faces.
Photo Dan Harker
Ohio State is preparing to play the University of Florida in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, and at least three players did not make the trip south with coach Luke Fickell and his team.
It was confirmed earlier this month that quarterback Taylor Graham had received his release from the program to seek a transfer. A source close to Graham confirmed that he is headed to the University of Hawaii to play for new head coach Norm Chow.
Graham isn’t the only Buckeye missing from practice, however. Senior lineman Evan Blankenship and redshirt freshman running back Rod Smith also did not make the trip to Jacksonville with Ohio State, but not by their own accord.
Blankenship reportedly did not qualify academically for the winter quarter at Ohio Sate after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications last year. He was a backup guard and defensive tackle for the Buckeyes during the regular season.
Smith, Ohio State’s No. 4 running back, apparently missed the team’s charter flight to Florida, and was left back in Ohio following the holidays. A team spokesperson said, “we’ll see,” when asked if Smith could rejoin the Buckeyes at some point before the bowl game.
It would be his responsibility to find a way down to Jacksonville.
The Fort Wayne, Ind. native ran for 116 yards on 29 carries during the regular season. He also had one touchdown and averaged 4.0 yards per carry, but battled ball-security issues in his first season of playing time at Ohio State.
Smith gained notoriety during last season’s bowl prep, and saw early playing time in 2011 behind Carlos Hyde when Boom Herron and Jordan Hall were both suspended.
He carried the ball 18 times for 74 yards and a touchdown in the season-opener against Akron, but saw only 11 carries the rest of the season. Seven of them came against Toledo in week two, but Smith had a costly fumble late in the game that allowed the Rockets a chance at a game-winning drive.
The 6-3, 230-pound tailback was expected to compete for playing time next season in Urban Meyer’s offense. The Buckeyes lose team MVP Boom Herron, but they are expected to add a pair of freshmen tailbacks in Bri’onte Dunn (Canton Glenoak) and Warren Ball (Columbus DeSales).
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