Ohio State expects to compete for a national title in 2020, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t come without its fair share of question marks. While many expect the Buckeyes offense to dominate this upcoming season with a returning Justin Fields and a stacked receiver core, there is still a bit of cause for concern surrounding the running back position.
It’s mostly uncharted territory for OSU in the past few years, as since 2017 they have been able to rely on the trustworthy legs of J.K. Dobbins. After Mike Weber began that season with an injury, a true freshman Dobbins got the rock for the very first time in the opener against Indiana. That night in Bloomington, the Texas native ran for 181 yards as he instantly burst onto the scene. He’d finish his freshman campaign with over 1,400 yards rushing despite having less than 200 carries as Weber bounced in and out of the lineup.
His sophomore season was just a bit less productive as he was forced to fully split carries with Weber, albeit still rushing for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. It was this last year that Dobbins reached his final form and cemented himself as the next great Ohio State running back.
A true bell-cow back for the Buckeyes in 2019, Dobbins ran the ball 301 times for just over 2,000 yards with 21 rushing TDs. Finally with the full brunt of the workload, the junior was able to put his entire skillset on display, and really was the cog that kept Ohio State’s offense on schedule. The speed and power demonstrated by Dobbins alongside the threat of Fields keeping the ball and taking it himself created a powerful one-two punch for Ryan Day — both halves of which they were without when both players were hobbled against Clemson.
Now, Dobbins is off to continue toting the rock for the Baltimore Ravens, where he and Lamar Jackson will look to repeat a very similar rushing attack to the one in Columbus. For Ohio State, they still have Fields, but the Heisman frontrunner QB will need a strong backfield mate if the Bucks have aspirations of winning it all in 2020.
Heading into this offseason, Master Teague was the guy tasked with filling the large shoes left by Dobbins’ departure to the NFL. As a redshirt freshman this past season, Teague did show flashes of high potential, finishing the year with almost 800 yards rushing and four TDs at just under six yards per carry. However, most of his carries came in mop up duty against lesser teams whose defenses had already been beaten to a pulp by Ohio State’s starters through two or three quarters.
It’s a bit tough to say for sure how good Teague truly is, and I'm sure the fans and coaching staff alike were excited to see what he’d be able to do in spring ball. That would not come to fruition unfortunately, as before COVID-19 shut down practices for good, Teague went down with an achilles injury. With Marcus Crowley already out recovering from an ACL injury, this left just Steele Chambers as the only healthy scholarship RB on the roster.
Enter: Trey Sermon.
Ryan Day has done a phenomenal job utilizing the transfer portal in his early tenure with Ohio State, obviously snagging Fields from Georgia but also getting a big piece along the offensive line in Jonah Jackson out of Rutgers. He and position coach Tony Alford are hoping to strike gold once again with the addition of Sermon to a beat up running back room.
Having originally been recruited by Alford back in 2017 before committing to the Sooners, Sermon spent the past three seasons in Norman, racking up over 2,000 yards and 23 TDs. Despite only carrying the rock 54 times in 2019 in Oklahoma’s pass-heavy offense, the back averaged a very good 7.1 yards per carry (384 total yards) and found the end zone four times. He joins Ohio State as a grad transfer, able to suit up immediately.
Now, Sermon obviously does not come without his own injury woes. In his final season with the Sooners, he suffered an ACL injury that ended his campaign after just nine games. Having not been added to the roster until after practices had shut down, Buckeye fans really had no gauge of the current bill of health for their new RB. However, he has recently been seen working out in a video on Twitter, cutting and practicing his footwork, and looks to be in great shape.
Athlete: @treyera— Footwork_King (@footwork_king1) May 22, 2020
Position: Running Back
College: The Ohio State Univeristy
Trey has a solid frame and uses it well when running between the tackles .
Break tackles and pick up yards after contact like it ain’t nothing! Extreme shifty too! Elusive. pic.twitter.com/2tM8EchSKF
With Teague’s return in question, it looks as though Sermon will be Ohio State’s starting RB when the season finally comes along. His skillset meshes very well with the Buckeye offense, and his running style is actually very similar to that of Dobbins.
With decent speed, having been clocked at around a 4.5 40-time (compared to Dobbins’ 4.4), Sermon is your prototypical five yards and a cloud of dust runner between the tackles. Given the strength of Ohio State’s offensive line this season, especially on the interior, Sermon will have a chance to absolutely flourish on this offense if fully healthy. The added benefit of Fields’ ability with his legs will just make it that much harder for opposing offenses to slow down the Buckeye run game once again.
Still, it’s tough to put true expectations on just how good Sermon will be at Ohio State. Is he going to be the next J.K. Dobbins? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be an incredibly important player in 2020.
Everyone expects Ryan Day to air it out a bit more this upcoming season given the way the roster is configured, albeit likely not as much as the pass-heavy offense the Buckeyes saw with Dwayne Haskins in 2018. With the skill and depth from the team’s receivers, Sermon doesn’t have to be a Heisman contender for Ohio State to be successful. As long as he is able to keep the offense on schedule and provide a serviceable rushing attack to then build the passing game off of, the team in Columbus will be in phenomenal shape.
Anything extra would be gravy.