COLUMBUS, Ohio — A season ago, only national runner-up Auburn rushed for more yards than Ohio State's school-record 4,321 yards, so the Buckeyes certainly know their way around a ground game.
Projecting Ohio State's 2014 Season: Running Backs
By Tony Gerdeman
However, OSU must now replace the 2,429 yards rushing that departed when Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall, Kenny Guiton and Philly Brown all departed.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that they do return the seventh all-time leading rusher in school history in Braxton Miller, so that's a luxury in itself. Other than that, however, there's quite a bit of mystery.
The 2014 Buckeyes will feature a deep stable of running backs, but those guys only combined for about 450 yards rushing a season ago. Obviously, they have a lot to prove, though I do expect them to succeed in doing so.
I have asked people both on our forum and on Twitter who they believe will lead the Buckeyes in rushing and with all of the answers that I received, four different candidates were produced -- Braxton Miller, Ezekiel Elliott, Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith. Clearly, 75% of those answers will be wrong, but each of them could also be 100% correct.
But barring a tie, only one player can lead the Buckeyes in rushing, so here is my projection for the running game in 2014.
(I have included all players, and not just the running backs. As with the quarterback projections, this is based on a 14-game schedule.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
As you can see I have Ezekiel Elliott as the Buckeyes' leading rusher, and despite the various opinions out there, I am really quite confident in this projection. I only have him pegged for 14.5 carries per game, which could very well be low. However, with the way the football is planning on being spread around, I didn't want to go too high too soon.
I am also comfortable with his 5.7-yard-per-carry average, which is three yards below his 8.7-yard average last year. He will see more short-yardage carries this year, which means he will see more short-yardage gains. Plus, there is no Florida A&M on the schedule this year.
I've already talked about Braxton Miller in the quarterback projections, so we'll move on to #3 on the list, Dontre Wilson. I've got Wilson with a little over three carries per game, and one of those will probably just be a quick hitch out wide that is actually a lateral.
You can see the rest of the list and notice that the carries are pretty well spread out after Elliott and Miller, which follows what has happened the last two seasons with Miller and Carlos Hyde/Jordan Hall. Basically, there's not always room for three ball carriers.
Since I believe Elliott will be successful, I expect the trend of two dominating ball carriers to continue. However, I do have eight players with at least 25 carries, which would be two more than a season ago and three more than in 2012.
A couple of months ago, I think I had freshman Curtis Samuel on pace for a Dontre Wilson in 2013 type of season, but I think they will involve him in the running game more than they did with Wilson, so that's why his numbers are where they are.
Also, as you can see, I don't have Rod Smith all that involved in the offense. He needed to have a fantastic spring and he didn't, so I can't then expect him to suddenly produce in the fall.
Looking at things now, I think I might have Jalin Marshall with too many carries, but half of those will be intended passes that become laterals. Johnnie Dixon will get a few fly sweeps, and I may actually be pretty low on his numbers.
I didn't know what to do with freshman Noah Brown because there are a bunch of things that he can do, but I don't know how much of an opportunity he will get this season. But we do know that they are looking for weapons on the outside, and they are not planning on holding anyone back if they can help.
Perhaps the projection that I am most confident in is that of punter Cameron Johnston's two carries for 27 yards. He'll have a fake punt early in the season, then he'll have another against either Michigan State or Michigan. Don't even worry about it not happening. It is done.
One of the numbers that I am not all that confident about is Warren Ball. The 28 carries may not sound like much -- it's just two carries per game, after all -- but it's more than any #4 or #5 tailback has had for the Buckeyes the last two seasons.
I have decided to buy into the idea that they will utilize more running backs this season, but I haven't bought into the idea that there won't be one running back who gets more carries than every other tailback combined.
As long as that number one tailback is producing, why not get more out of him?
Until this point I haven't mentioned the offensive line because I don't expect it to be all that much of a story. In other words, it will be fine. It won't be at 2013 levels, which is why the statistics are projected to be considerably lower.
I do, however, believe the running game will be better than it was in 2012. Don't forget, Carlos Hyde was never completely healthy that season, and the Buckeyes were just learning Tom Herman and Urban Meyer's offense.
Also, I did not plan it this way, but when you combine my projected passing yards (3,310) and my projected rushing yards (3,692), it averages out to 500 yards of total offense per game.
I have Ohio State rushing for 263.7 yards per game this season, which is 45 yards less than a season ago and 21 yards more than in 2012. As Gene Smith would say, I think it's right in the sweet spot.
So that's how I see it breaking down, and I've chatted with enough of you to know that there will be some disagreement out there. How do you see it falling?
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