The Scene: Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Ohio State is playing Tulsa and looking to rebound from a disappointing loss against Oregon. In front of the smallest crowd in Ohio Stadium in years, the Buckeyes have gotten off to a slow start. It’s the third quarter and OSU is only up 13-6, and their redshirt freshman QB is struggling.
It’s 2nd and 6 on the Tulsa 48-yard line with 12:24 left on the clock; unbeknownst to everyone watching the game, freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson was about to announce his arrival and stake his claim to being the most talented running back in Ohio State history.
Stroud claps, turns right and hands the ball to Henderson aligned in the pistol formation. Henderson, like he’s shot out of a canon, blasts through a huge hole on the right side of the line, he’s untouched and running full speed at some poor safety. A fake step right followed by an explosion renders the safety useless, a corner comes in late, but nothing will stop Henderson on this play as he barrels over the last Tulsa defender and finds his way into the end zone.
It was one play, but it showcased the full arsenal of weapons at Henderson’s disposal. The vision to find the hole, the acceleration that is unlike anything we’ve seen, the track speed to create separation mixed with insane body control, and the ability to make safeties miss.
That’s not enough, he also displayed the strength to run through an arm tackles, stamina as he never slows down, and lastly a nastiness to lower his shoulder to run over the last defender; why go around him when you can go through him?
In that moment, Henderson announced himself to the world and his play has dictated that he must get the majority of snaps from now on.
TreVeyon Henderson in just three games might be the most talented running back in Ohio State’s history. The former five-star recruit has five touchdowns in three games. Despite sitting out his senior season of high school due to the pandemic, it took him only three games to become Ohio State’s starting running back.
And in his first official game as the starter, all he did was break OSU’s record for most rushing yards in a game by a freshman; a record that had been held for nearly 49 years by the only two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin.
In his third collegiate game, Henderson ran for 277 yards on 24 carries adding three touchdowns. He had runs of 54, 48, 52, but his most important runs may have been for five yards or less.
Henderson is a complete back because he showcases an insane blend of talent, skill, and desire. In my opinion there are six skills that make a good running back:
The good running backs have one or two of these skills. The great running backs have three or four, while elite backs have five of these skills There is a difference between elite and special and the truly special running backs have all six.
The special running backs are generational and I’m here to tell you that Henderson is SPECIAL.
One of the most important traits for a running back is toughness. While not every running back is tough, every team needs to have at least one guy in the backfield who is. That skill is important because you won’t always have wide open lanes. As a running back, you need to be able to fight through arm tackles and lower your shoulder to pick up yards in short yardage situations. If you can’t be trusted to pick up a yard on third and fourth downs in short yardage situations, the coaches will find someone else to put in the game on those downs.
In this clip, Henderson displays toughness. It’s third and short, he finds a crease, lowers his shoulder, and fights through the defense to pick up the first down. This play could have easily been a tackle for loss, but Henderson had other plans.
Most people will tell you that a running back needs vision, you must be able to spot small holes to get yards. If the play isn’t there, you need to be able to find the cut back lane, and in the open field it’s helpful to identify blocking and get extra yards.
Coupled with vision is decisiveness, it doesn’t matter if you can see the hole unless you can make up your mind in a split second and hit that hole. A lot of running backs have vision, but not everyone can be decisive and hit holes as soon as they’re created.
Conversely, there are plenty of running backs who are decisive, but without vision they just end up running into the back of their offensive lineman and getting tackled for no yards.
In this play, the call was to the left, Henderson didn’t like what he saw and cut back right, then he ran through a small hole for a touchdown. Tulsa’s defense played this well, so without vision — and especially without the decisiveness — Henderson would’ve been tackled short of the end zone.
One of the quickest ways to become viral on social media is to display strength while running the ball. Everyone marvels at Derrick Henry showing his superhuman strength and stiff-arming defenders into oblivion.
Now, I’m not saying Henderson is that strong, but in this clip, he shows that he is definitely a strong back. He runs right into a huge hole, but instead of settling for a 30-yard run, he showcases his own stiff arm and picks up another 15-20 yards on this play.
Check the math, there is a huge difference between 30 yards and 54 yards, which this play ended up being. The only complaint on this is accuracy, Henderson must get his arm in the defender’s chest because this play drew a 15-yard face mask penalty. This display of strength is encouraging, because Henderson is putting on tape that he will not go down easy, and he can deliver hits.
The last two skills that signify a good running back are speed and agility. Again, not every running back is fast, not every running back is agile, but when you combine the two it can lead to a bunch of big plays. Agility and balance are what lets running backs make quick cuts, put moves on defenders, and keep their balance through arm tackles and attempts at their legs.
Now there are varying levels of speed, there is quick/acceleration (i.e., J.K. Dobbins.) The current Baltimore Raven was quick and could accelerate, which is why he hit the hole so fast, but he didn’t have long speed, which is why he would get caught on long runs.
Then there is track speed. Track speed is showcased by someone who seems to get faster as they keep running. Track athletes regularly run 100m, 200m, 400m races which are longer than the length of a football field. Ezekiel Elliott — a Missouri state track champion — obviously had track speed; once he got going, you weren’t catching him.
I’m here to tell you that Henderson has track speed. He does not slow down; he is finishing runs at full speed and that speed allows him to take away angles from defenders. This leads to long runs like this one in which he also showcases his agility by making multiple cuts and then turns on the burners. No one was going to catch him.
There have been a lot of really good running backs in Ohio State history, there have even been a few elite running backs. But there have only been a couple of special running backs. Archie Griffin: Special. Maurice Clarett: Special. Ezekiel Elliott: Special. It’s time to recognize that TreVeyon Henderson is another special running back, and he just might end up being the most special running back in Ohio State history.
It’s early, but Henderson has three years to make his case, and I fully expect him to re-write OSU’s record books. So, enjoy him while he’s here. This is history in the making and we may not see another running back with his blend of skills in a long time... if ever.