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An Ohio State backfield of Henderson, Judkins would be the best in the country

Nothing is official, but it’s pretty exciting to imagine what OSU could do if both Henderson and Judkins were Buckeyes next fall.

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports | Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

I know that there has been a ton of consternation surrounding the Ohio State Buckeyes’ football team over the past month and a half, and things seemed to hit something approaching rock bottom at the Cotton Bowl in what would generously be considered an embarrassing performance by the team and especially the coaches. There were rumors of squandered practices and a coaching staff asleep at the wheel, but, my fellow Buckeye fans, in the immortal words of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, “It’s alive... It’s ALIIIIIIIIIIVE!”

From landing the All-Big 12 second-team quarterback in Kansas State’s Will Howard to picking up a pair of future starters in Alabama center Seth McLaughlin and Ohio tight end Will Kacmarek, things appear to be picking up. The Buckeyes also secured the commitment of the No. 1 cornerback and No. 4 player in the country in Devin Sanchez. And with rumors swirling about a bit of a staff overhaul, it seems like head coach Ryan Day is approaching this month as one that could make or break his tenure at Ohio State.

Well, over the weekend, it at least seems like the Buckeyes took one more step to reestablish their offense as a multi-faceted attack complete with top-line depth at every skill position. While nothing has been confirmed as of this writing, it appears that former Ole Miss Rebel and two-time first-team All-SEC running back Quinshon Judkins is set to transfer to Ohio State; that announcement could come at any time.

Naturally, that raises questions about the Buckeyes’ incumbent back TreVeyon Henderson, who has yet to make an announcement about whether or not he will be returning for a fourth season in Columbus, or if he will opt for the NFL Draft instead. However, Henderson had long been believed to be one of the Buckeyes planning to run it back; so, does Judkins' impending commitment mean that Henderson is on his way to the pros? Or is there a chance that Ohio State could be on the verge of securing the best backfield in the country as they head into the first season of the expanded College Football Playoff?

2023 Rushing Stats

Stat TreVeyon Henderson Quinshon Judkins
Stat TreVeyon Henderson Quinshon Judkins
Attempts 156 271
Yards 926 1,158
Per Carry Avg. 5.9 4.3
Per Game Avg. 92.6 89.1
Rushing TDs 11 15
100-yard games 4 6

Now, I know that many of you think that this blog is overly hard against Day, and while I would contend that we are appropriately hard on a coach who has failed to live up to any of his own publicly stated goals for the past three seasons, we actually really like Ohio State’s head coach and think he is capable of getting the Buckeyes to the top of the college football mountain. But, if you are a parent, you understand what it’s like to love someone and think that they are capable of incredible things, but also be disappointed in their performance. That’s where we have been with Day over the last few years, but he sure seems to be attempting to remedy many of our concerns.

While we don’t yet know the 2024 plans for players like Denzel Burke, Emeka Egbuka, Ty Hamilton, Jordan Hancock, Donovan Jackson, J.T. Tuimoloau, or Henderson, there seems to be varying levels of optimism around each returning for another year in scarlet and gray. The Buckeyes are still efforting to add offensive and defensive linemen, and perhaps other players via the portal, but the potential pledge of Judkins ahead of the spring semester starting on Monday is exciting for a number of reasons.

Obviously, landing arguably the best running back in the SEC is always going to be exciting. In his two collegiate seasons, Judkins has rushed for 2,725 yards and 31 touchdowns, while also catching three TDs as well. Admittedly, Judkins did see a fairly significant decline in efficiency from his freshman to sophomore seasons, going from averaging 5.7 to 4.3 yards per carry, but with 271 carries in 2023 (sixth most in FBS) and 274 in 2022 (eighth most) you can understand how those numbers could be impacted by the wear and tear sustained by a back. But to me, that’s the reason that I am increasingly optimistic about both Judkins and Henderson being on the Buckeyes’ roster in the fall.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin primarily used Judkins on inside zone plays, with counters and power runs in the mix as well. This past season, 740 of his 1,158 rushing yards came between the tackles, while Henderson on the other hand, picked up 660 of his 926 yards outside of the tackles. So, it would seem that their specific skill sets and usages would complement each other, thus potentially lessening the load on each before they both could be headed to the NFL in 2025.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to believe that Judkins coming to Columbus means that Henderson has already made his plans to move on known to the coaching staff, but if that’s the case, it is curious that he hasn’t made those plans public. Perhaps it is my perpetually optimistic nature and the scarlet and gray colored glasses permanently affixed to my head, but I think that this backfield pairing makes a lot of sense for both guys.

Judkins has played two collegiate seasons and has wracked up over 582 touches in that time. Henderson, who just completed his third year in Columbus, has not played a full season since his freshman campaign, playing in eight games in 2022 and 10 in 2023.

While Henderson had an impressive four-game run from late-October to mid-November that saw him accumulate 499 yards, he could be concerned about NFL teams not viewing him as durable enough to draft as highly as he would like. So, returning to college for another season where he doesn’t have to be the only bell cow could be attractive.

Similarly, Judkins has worn a lot of tread on his proverbial tires in just two seasons and might be concerned that next spring, NFL franchises could think that his body has already taken too much of a beating to spend an early-round pick on.

In both cases, teaming up with another potential All-American level back could prove beneficial. Of course, this would be something of a risk for both, and honestly, a bit of an experiment for the team. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but in this new era of the transfer portal, I can’t recall a back of Judkins’ caliber choosing to join a team that also featured a player like Henderson; but 2024 would be the perfect time to give it a try.

As we all know, tonight marks the final game of the four-team College Football Playoff, so starting next season, it is possible for the Buckeyes to play 16 games and for a team that has to grind it out against Big Ten defenses — including the two featured in the national championship game tonight — having two top-line backs could make a huge difference; not to mention Dallan Hayden, who I believe could be a dynamic back in the Buckeye offense if given the opportunity. However, if both Henderson and Judkins are on the roster in 2024, I could see Hayden entering the portal following spring practice.

College football fans have seen both Judkins and Henderson at their best. When they are healthy, they are two of the top backs in the country and could contend for the Heisman Trophy. But the days of a single running back leading a team to a national title are mostly behind us. With the potential for four postseason games looming, it makes sense for a team like Ohio State who is trying to rediscover its offensive identity, to look to bring in as many elite weapons as possible.

And with the devaluation of running backs from the NFL’s perspective, it would also make sense for both Henderson and Judkins to find a situation where they could have moments to shine on a team that would invariably play on the biggest stages in the sport without having to carry the entire load.

Personally, if I were Henderson, I think I would be opting to start my NFL career now, coming off of a strong back half of the season. While you could potentially move up even higher on NFL draft boards, as a Day 2 pick, you are still going to get a contract worth up to $6 million, and it gets you closer to signing your second NFL contract, which is where the real money is made.

Nonetheless, I would certainly not be disappointed if he opted to return. I think that pairing a between-the-tackles back like Judkins with a running QB threat like Howard could go a long way to fixing OSU’s red zone issues — although the offensive line is still the biggest culprit in that crime as far as I’m concerned — but I also think that Howard’s willingness to keep it on designed QB runs would open things up outside for Henderson as well.

As almost all football coaches do, Day has always preached wanting to be balanced between the run and the pass. And while the number of attempts have been relatively equal during his tenure, there is no denying that OSU’s offense has always been pass-first. However, if they do end up with Judkins and Henderson (and Hayden and true freshman James Peoples) on the roster next year, this could be the first time under Day that the running attack could be as potentially explosive as the passing game and I, for one, am ready to see how that would work out.