With the events that occurred this past weekend, resulting in senior running back Carlos Hyde's suspension and possible removal from the team, Ohio State fans will be looking at some new faces in the backfield this season. Although the Buckeyes are deep with running back talent, replacing Hyde will not be as easy as people believe. It is not a simple task to replace the 970 tough yardage and 16 touchdowns that Hyde accounted for in 2012.
In Coach Urban Meyer's spread offense, the power running game is key. Most people think of the spread offense as speed and finesse, but Meyer has always wanted his offense to establish their presence between the tackles. At Florida, he did have speed as everyone knows, with Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, but the offense, at times, also revolved around Tim Tebow's power running game. For the Buckeyes, yes they have Braxton Miller at quarterback, but Carlos Hyde was the power running threat that made the offense even more dangerous. The defense had to respect Hyde up the middle, and also key on Miller outside the tackles. Miller is not as durable and strong as Tebow to run between the tackles, so the staff will be looking at junior Rod Smith, sophomore Bri'onte Dunn, redshirt freshman Warren Ball and freshman Ezekiel Elliott to replace Hyde in the backfield.
Rod Smith is the back who will most likely be given the first crack at replacing Hyde as the team's feature back, with Jordan Hall starting at the Pivot position (inbound freshman Dontre Wilson likely serving as his principal backup). The junior from Fort Wayne, Indiana was a four star running back coming out of high school in 2010. Standing at 6-3, 238 pounds, Smith has the build and the running style to be the bruising running back that the offense needs to replace Hyde.
Last season, Smith carried the ball 32 times, rushing for 215 yards at 6.72 yards per carry along with two touchdowns. In fact, in his 61 career carries as a Buckeye, Smith has yet to be tackled behind the line of scrimmage. His two most impressive games came at Penn State (4 carries, 48 yards) and at Indiana (6 carries, 40 yards). His most impressive run came against Nebraska, which showed his power (breaking 5 tackles) and speed on a 33 yard touchdown scamper early in the fourth quarter. Out of Smith's 32 carries, 11 of them moved the chains and 10 of them went for 10 or more yards.
Going into camp, this should be Smith's job to lose as he has a similar build to Hyde and backed him up last season. Hopefully, Rod Smith will seize the opportunity and most importantly earn the trust of his coaches and teammates.
If Rod Smith cannot fulfill the duties, sophomore Bri'onte Dunn will most likely be next in line. Dunn was a four star recruit coming out of Glenoak and was ranked as the number 10 running back in the 2012 class. He gained 133 yards on 25 carries last season with two touchdowns. He broke out versus Illinois, rushing for 73 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Out of Dunn's 25 carries, nine of them passed the first down marker but he only gained 10 plus yards twice. Dunn will most likely be competing with Warren Ball as Smith's back up if everything goes according to plan.
Warren Ball and Ezekiel Elliott
Redshirt freshman Warren Ball and freshman Ezekiel Elliott will both have an opportunity to make names for themselves in camp. Both will likely be fighting to back up Smith and take carries from Dunn. They were both highly touted coming out of high school but have yet to touch the ball in the regular season as Buckeyes. Ball was redshirted last year with a foot injury and Elliott just arrived on campus as a freshman.
Even with the stable of running backs behind Hyde, replacing his production will be an uphill battle. With the season kicking off in a little over a month, somebody will have to step up during camp and prove themselves worthy of the lion's share of the touches. Rod Smith should be that guy ,but he has yet to prove it to the staff on a consistent basis, and the younger players behind him will need to stay healthy and prove they can also play running back at the major college level.
Though Jordan Hall remains a wildcard given the staff's designs on using him to exploit match ups in space, it's not out of the question he sees more snaps at tailback than originally planned. Also, expect freshmen speedsters Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall to occasionally carry the ball, along with Corey Brown.
Next man up.