Most Important Buckeyes: No 18 Rod Smith
By Patrick Murphy
Photo by Jim Davidson
Two weeks ago, Rod Smith ’s role for the Ohio State Buckeyes was clear and unchanged from last season. The junior would serve as the backup to starter Carlos Hyde, while continuing to improve for a potential starting role next year.
If Hyde was injured, Smith would be expected to step in and take the brunt of the carries, just as he did last year when Hyde missed three games. He would rush the ball when Hyde needed a break or if the Buckeyes had the game well under control late.
There had been the talk of the Buckeyes using the diamond formation in the backfield and Smith would fit into that formation. Here, he would lineup along with Hyde, providing OSU many options when handing the ball off.
Smith was set to be a valuable piece of the Ohio State offense, but in a predominately reserve role.
That is until it was announced last night that Carlos Hyde would be suspended for at least the first three games of 2013 season for his involvement in a confrontation with a woman at a local night club.
Smith comes in at No. 18 on our preseason list of Most Important Buckeyes, but may end up being even more important with Hyde’s absence.
What Makes Him Important
In today’s football it is near impossible to have a successful running game with just one viable back. Hyde may be one of the best in the country, but he will need someone to take the load off. Smith is important to do just that.
At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Smith is built like former Buckeye Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. Smith has all of the intangibles to be an elite back in college football if he can put everything together.
For his career, Smith has carried the ball 61 times for 331 yards and three touchdowns, but he is yet to live up to his potential. Like George, Smith has struggled with fumbles early on and it has kept him from getting more oppertunities.
With Hyde out the first three games, Smith should get the first shot at the starting position on the depth chart. This will be his chance to impress the coaching staff and show that he can be a number-one back.
Smith has both the power and the explosiveness necessary to ease the loss of Hyde early in the season. If he can hold on to the ball and really come into his own as the running back on this Buckeye team early in the year, he could add to an Ohio State team that finished 2012 in the top-20 rushing nationally.
What Can Be Expected Of Him
As a junior on this team, and the likely starter for the opening game at running back, there will be immense expectations on Smith heading into the 2013 season. Smith, though, may finally be ready to take on these expectations.
“He's a totally different guy right now,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said of Smith after Spring Practice.
“He's locked in. He's focused. He understands too that his timeline is coming, he's got two more years to play. He's got to improve his value to his football team, and that's important to him.”
This is chance a more focused Smith may have been waiting for to prove that value. Hyde averaged 18.5 carries and 97 yards per game last year as the Buckeyes first running back option. Smith has only carried the ball 18 times once his career and has never approached Hyde’s average yards last season.
The coaches expect that Smith has improved enough that he should be able to step into this role and help carry this team to wins.
“He has improved his awareness,” Drayton told reporters.
“He's year two in this system now, so he's playing faster because of the knowledge of the system. He was just very physical. He was a physical presence out there, and often enough the tempo setter of practice. So I'm really excited where Rod Smith is right now.”
Smith will be expected to improve on his career-best numbers early in the season and be at least a contributor in the run game the rest of the year. He has the potential to make it difficult for the coaching staff to take him out of the game once Hyde is ruled eligible, and that is a problem Ohio State would not mind having.
What Would The Buckeyes Do Without Him
Despite not playing a tremendous amount in his first two years, he provides much more experience than the other Buckeye running backs not named Hyde. Of those expected to lineup in the backfield for the majority of the snaps – Jordan Hall will likely spend more time in the flex position – there is a collegiate total of 25 carries and 133 yards.
With Hyde out early, the responsibility of carrying the ball would likely fall to a true sophomore, a red-shirt freshman, or a true freshman. Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball, and Ezekiel Elliot are all expected to be talented running backs at Ohio State, but all are young and still need to prove their merit.
If Hall is moved more to running back as opposed to the flex spot, the Buckeyes gain experience but would have some decisions to make in who would fill one of the most important roles in Urban Meyer’s offense.
Corey Brown played the H-back position last year with moderate success, but was expected to be a more traditional wide receiver this season. Freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall have also been mentioned as possible players at the spot, but it was believed they would take the reins down the road.
Needless to say, without Rod Smith to lineup for OSU whenever Hyde is unavailable there are a lot of questions to be answered.
Smith is expected to provide those answers and help this team to not miss a beat when he runs the ball this season.