The tradition of Ohio State running backs is strong and varied over the years. Archie Griffin is firmly established on the “Mount Rushmore” of Ohio State greats, as the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the 1980s, players such as Tim Spencer and Keith Byars made their respective marks on the program in a positive fashion for Earle Bruce’s teams.
While John Cooper’s tenure is often derided for a lack of wins versus Michigan, the Buckeyes had players such as Robert Smith and Eddie George carrying the ball, and creating tremendous Ohio State football memories.
Jim Tressel’s teams were traditionally oriented towards ball control, and players such as Chris “Beanie” Wells were often called upon to pound opposing teams into submission. And of course, Urban Meyer, with his spread offense — which was rooted in a power running game — relied on the talents of Carlos Hyde, Ezekiel Elliott, and J.K. Dobbins during his tenure.
So there have been a wide variety of skills and talents over the years from Ohio State running backs, which brings us up to the present day, as Ohio State again has an abundance of talent in its RB room for the upcoming 2023 season. Miyan Williams, TreVeyon Henderson, Chip Trayanum, Dallan Hayden, and Evan Pryor will all be looking for carries when the season begins.
Ohio State fans have grown accustomed to the old adage for their running backs of needing “a pair and a spare.” Ohio State has that, and more, with Williams and Henderson considered to be the “pair,” and Trayanum, Hayden, and Pryor all filling that “spare” role. Considering how precarious Ohio State’s running back depth was at the end of the 2022 season, it is a good thing that there are plenty of spares ready to go in 2023.
Focusing on Williams and Henderson as the likely starters, I tend to think of them as co-starters, each having a unique skill set that fits nicely into the OSU offense. Williams, listed at 5-foot-9, 225 pounds, is more of a power back who is happy to run by you, or over you, as he demonstrated versus Clemson in the 2020 Sugar Bowl. Williams was eventually slowed by injuries at the end of the 2022 season, including following a freak entanglement with a yardage chain.
Henderson — listed at 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds — is capable of power, but usually elicits the oohs and ahs when he breaks out into the open field. Henderson battled injuries throughout 2022 and will be itching to get back to show the college football world the type of player he demonstrated in his freshman season of 2021.
He even admitted that the negativity surrounding his injury and how it was handled inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center briefly led him to consider transferring. However, the former five-star prospect is still a Buckeye and looking to finally meet his full potential as a college running back.
Thunder (Williams) and Lightning (Henderson), both have considerable talents, and both figure prominently for the 2023 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Should it be a case of one over the other? My answer is emphatically no.
The ideal game plan, in my estimation, is to play to each running back’s strengths. In Williams’ case, his power and deceptive shiftiness would make him an ideal candidate to wear down opponents. In the case of Henderson, his explosive speed as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield — as demonstrated in the video clip up above — would seem to make him perfect to come in to seal the victory, after the opposing defense has been worn down from the power running style of Williams.
How many carries or touches should each get? That is a tough call, as most running backs will tell you that they prefer to stay in the game after they have developed a rhythm. As I wrote up above, looking at how the defense is — or is not — responding to the play of Williams or Henderson would be key for the Ohio State coaching staff. Considering the Buckeyes will be breaking in a brand new quarterback, it may make more sense to rely upon a strong running game, to help get the quarterback better acclimated throughout the early part of the season.
This is just my opinion, but it seemed like Henderson, at times in 2022, was bound and determined to demonstrate his physical toughness, that he was just as tough as Williams. Perhaps that contributed to some of the nagging injuries that he sustained last season.
I guess I would summarize it in a manner or fashion that my late Dad might have said. My Dad enjoyed woodworking, and he would often say that “every tool has a specific purpose.” Could I use the thick end of a screwdriver to try and hammer a nail into a wall? Sure, but why not use the right tool, in this case, a hammer, to do the job?
Every tool has a specific purpose. With this theme of “This or That,” I am of the belief that it is more a case of This AND That, and Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson will both be needed for specific purposes in 2023 for the Ohio State Buckeyes.