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Ohio State must stop Josh Ferguson, the best running back you've never heard of

Josh Ferguson may be the most complete running back that the nation is not familiar with.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

When I watch Illinois running back Josh Ferguson, I equate him to a poor man's Ameer Abdullah.

He is the most complete running back that the Ohio State defense will play in the regular season, as he possesses excellent vision, elusiveness, breakaway speed, the ability to catch the football and he has shown some pop for a smaller (5'10", 190 lb) running back. Illinois uses him as a tailback in the I-formation, flanking the quarterback in Shotgun, in the Urban Meyer H-back role out of the slot and in the Pistol.

NFL scouts have described Ferguson as a future NFL three-down back, if his medicals check out. He has missed three games this year due to a shoulder sprain, but has rushed for 514 yards on only 83 carries.

Below, Ferguson shows the type of back that he is on this run, where he combines all of his attributes for an electrifying and bruising 20-yard gain.

Screen game

Illinois does a good job of using Ferguson in the screen game. He sells his block extremely well, then slips behind the defensive line. Once he is in space, this is when he is most dangerous. The Ilini back does a good job of setting up his blockers, then uses his vision and elusiveness to make plays at the second level. They run the screen out of Shotgun, Pistol and the I-formation.

In 2014, Ohio State did a good job last year of bottling him up on screens. He caught two screen passes; one out of the Pistol and one out of the I-formation. Ohio State's smart defensive line, speed at linebacker and athleticism in the secondary limited Ferguson to only 4-yards on two receptions.

Below, Ferguson shows a pass pro fit for three seconds (QB Wes Lunt does a good job of selling it) then slips through the aggressive Purdue defensive line. He catches the ball with three linemen infront of him against only two Purdue defensive backs. He shows patience, sees a crease and explodes through it for six.


All of Ferguson's talents are on full display when Illinois lines him up behind a fullback in the I-formation. Below, Ferguson shows his patience to set up his blockers, his vision and quickness to make a defender miss and see a crease, then his elusiveness to juke out two defenders, en route to a 20-plus yard gain.

Most running backs would have settled for a 3-yard gain here:


Unfortunately for Ferguson, Ohio State's defense has been rolling as of late and they provide a very tough match-up against the Illini's average offensive line. The Buckeye front seven is one of the best in the country, with All-American candidates Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington manning the defensive line, and the athletic and well rounded linebacker trio of  Raekwon McMillan, Joshua Perry and Darron Lee. Not to mention safety Vonn Bell, who has been a missile in run support and has limited short completions. Ferguson may still be having nightmares about last year's game, where he gained 38 yards on ten touches, along with a lost fumble on a Tyvis Powell knockout shot.

Ferguson is extremely talented, but he cannot do it alone and he may have déjà vu running up against the potent "Silver Bullets."