Head coach Urban Meyer has twice mentioned since Ohio State’s 40-20 season-opening win against Buffalo last Saturday that freshman running back Ezekiel Elliott needed to carry the ball more than once as he did in his college debut.
Okay, Meyer didn’t actually say Elliott’s name but the point was made.
“Fifteen didn't do much, did he?” Meyer said, referring to Elliott’s number as he perused the stat sheet during the postgame press conference. “I'd like to get him more (carries). He has a lot of talent.
Then two days later, Meyer had this to say about Elliott, “We would like to get No. 15 a couple more carries.”
Different days but same thought. But the plan of getting Elliott further involved in the offense could get more complicated – in a good way – when the Buckeyes host San Diego State on Saturday.
That’s because junior running back Roderick Smith will be eligible after Meyer suspended him for the Buffalo game for an unspecified team violation in the offseason, although he will have to earn his chance to run with the ball.
“Rod Smith will be back if he has a good week of practice and does it all right,” Meyer said.
But when the depth chart was issued on Tuesday senior Jordan Hall was the starter with sophomore Brionte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball as the backups.
“Rod Smith has to show his value on special teams rather early this week in practice,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said on Monday. “But Rod Smith, he brings the power component. He's a guy who plays on contact. He plays through contact.
“You know, he gives you a nice matchup against bigger backers coming through the line of scrimmage and sometimes those backs are forced to block on their defensive ends, and he's a big body type, as well. You know, really, all phases. Rod is a commodity to this football team and having him back is definitely a plus for us.”
With his size (6-2, 238 pounds) and strength, Smith’s ability to grind yardage between the tackles could free Hall (5-7, 197) to move to the hybrid "H" spot where his speed can be utilized even though he did quite well out of the backfield vs. Buffalo with 159 yards on 21 carries, including touchdown runs of 49 and 37 yards.
“I’m just going go to whatever position they put me at and try to make plays,” he said.
Hall hinted, and then quickly recanted, Monday that he would be at the H against San Diego State.
“That’s the spots I’ve been learning since spring ball,” he said. “I finally get to be the H. I’ll probably - I haven’t talked to Coach Meyer about where I’m going to be yet - so my guess is as good as yours.”
It’s no secret that Meyer prefers Hall play there whenever possible.
“Last spring I had the intention of making Jordan Hall more of an H, but an H that can come in and motion in and that's when he can cause issues for defenses,” the coach said. “So I don't know, we'll see how (Smith) practices. I hope he does earn the right to carry the ball, because that will free up Jordan Hall to maybe help us in some other areas, as well.”
It’s a good problem for Meyer having so many options – and those don’t yet include senior running back Carlos Hyde until he returns from a three-game suspension for the Florida A&M game on Sept. 21.
Hall had a hit of the "hot foot", as Drayton called it, vs. Buffalo, which meant the team's young guns were limited in their carries. Freshman Dontre Wilson carried three times for 11 yards but lost a fumble vs. Buffalo. He did, however, have one reception for 18 yards and was within a shoe-string tackle of taking it all the way.
Ball had 6 yards on two carries while Elliott’s lone tote was for 2 yards, and Dunn did not see the field.
With such an array of potential talent the goal for Meyer and his staff is to rely less on the legs of junior quarterback Braxton Miller. He had 11 of the team’s 19 rushes in the second half when the Buckeyes attempted just five passes.
“There (were) times when we kind of got off of rhythm and the response wasn't quite the way we wanted it from our football players,” Drayton said.