It wasn’t all that long ago when Trey Sermon broke Eddie George’s single-game rushing record, running for 331 yards against Northwestern in the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game. That record might fall this year against a very similar opponent.
The opponents, of course, are the Northwestern Wildcats, whom Ohio State is scheduled to face off against Nov. 5 in Evanston. This time, the rusher in question is TreVeyon Henderson, who is entering his sophomore campaign with high expectations.
The record perhaps feels more in reach since Henderson is already close to the top of the list of single game rushers. His 277 yards against Tulsa positioned him squarely in the No. 3 spot behind Sermon and Eddie George. That performance was even more impressive, considering Henderson started the season behind Master Teague III and Miyan Williams.
Henderson’s 6.8 yards per carry last season were tied for second in the conference with Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen, and behind only teammate Williams, who had 7.1 yards per carry off the bench.
Northwestern will be better this year, but alas, the Wildcats were at the bottom of the Big Ten last year in rushing yards allowed per game with 213. That mark was also good for 119th in the FBS. They gave up 5.3 yards per carry, which was also worst in the conference.
The Wildcats are entering the season down linebacker Chris Bergen, their top tackler from last season, and safety Brandon Joseph, who transferred to Notre Dame. The two were the only All-Big Ten selections on defense for the Wildcats, who struggled in pretty much all aspects of their defensive play in 2021. Still, they return most everyone else from a run defense perspective, so at least a certain amount of veteran talent should be able to lift the Wildcats from the depths we saw last season.
On the other sideline, the Buckeyes had one of the nation’s best offensive lines last season (until that game against Michigan that we don’t need to talk about) — something they will naturally need to replicate if they hope to pave the way for Henderson to break Sermon’s record. They’ll have to manage that feat in the absence of Nicholas Petit-Frere and Thayer Munford, who left Ohio State for the NFL in the spring. The Buckeyes will also be breaking in new offensive line coach Justin Frye, which could prove disruptive. The November date could prove a boon when it comes to the offensive line, as the unit will have had time to gel and work more into Frye’s system.
On the flip side, Ohio State’s hallmark is its passing game. With CJ Stroud anchoring the offense, the Buckeyes really haven’t had to rely on the rush to score points. As a result, how much Henderson will see the ball is questionable. The fact Henderson’s best rushing performance came during non-conference play last season supports this fact, as Stroud was still finding his rhythm at that early point in the season. Would we expect another high-flying passing attack when the Buckeyes travel to Evanston in November?
We also must acknowledge that Henderson averaged less than 100 yards per game in 2021 (not that much less…). With that in mind, hitting Sermon’s record would seem somewhat unattainable. However, in this case, we’re not addressing a season-long rushing record. It’s a lot more variable to hit a single-game record. Said differently, any back might have that special day against a given opponent. In many ways, that’s what happened with Sermon in 2020 when he turned it on against Northwestern. It also happened for Henderson when he hit his 277-yard mark against Tulsa last year.
In terms of the opponent, Ohio State hasn’t faced Northwestern since 2020 in the Big Ten Championship, when the Buckeyes emerged with a 22-10 victory won solely on the back of Sermon. It was a far cry from the season before, when Ohio State traveled to Evanston and earned a 52-3 victory in a rare Friday night kickoff.
The timing against Northwestern, in this instance, could work in favor of the rushing attack. November in Chicago will probably be chilly, and a game made speedier with more rushing is a reasonable gameplan. Stroud might also be looking for a game to take a step back following a road game against Penn State.
Given how things have often gone against Northwestern in the past, with Ohio State putting the game out of reach early, it’s not unreasonable to imagine Henderson playing the role of workhorse for most of the second half and racking up yardage against a less-than-average defense.
Of course, if that’s the case, we might not see Henderson at all, and some new face could have a shot at the single-game record.