COLUMBUS, Ohio – With its top two running backs from last season suspended and the plan to make Braxton Miller more of a quarterback and less of a runner, No. 2 Ohio State is in a unique situation as it zeroes in on Saturday’s season opener.
It wouldn’t be accurate, though, to say the Buckeyes have a problem. There’s enough talent on hand — and maybe more than enough.
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The Buckeyes have known that Carlos Hyde is suspended for at least the first three games and that Rod Smith is suspended Saturday’s game vs. Buffalo. On Monday, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Jordan Hall has been “as good as he’s ever been” and has earned the right to start.
“He’s the best running back on our team right now,” Meyer said. “He’ll have to lose that spot.”
Hall is back for his fifth year in Columbus after taking a medical redshirt for the 2012 season as a result of multiple injuries. He missed the beginning of the season recovering from surgery to repair a foot tendon then missed the second half of the season with a knee injury. He played in three games, running 40 times for 218 yards including a career-best 105-yard game last September vs. UAB, a game during which Hyde was injured.
Meyer said that sophomore Brionte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball follow Hall on the depth chart, which wasn’t distributed on Monday, and that true freshmen Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson also figure in the plans. It’s been assumed that Hall and Wilson, and maybe both, would play in the Buckeyes H/slot position at times this season. Wilson has rare speed, the kind the Buckeyes didn’t have last season.
Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman said he wasn’t prepared to share “the hierarchy” of the position as the coaches see it but said “you certainly want to get those guys some (game) reps and see how they perform.”
Meyer said the only freshmen he’s sure will play in Saturday’s game are Elliott, Wilson and defensive end Joey Bosa. The head coach said Hall has been good with pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield, adding that both are important in Ohio State’s offense.
Miller led the Buckeyes with 1,271 rushing yards on 227 attempts last season. Meyer said with improved talent around him and a better grasp on the offense this year, Miller will still be capable of making big plays with his feet; the plan is for him to make fewer of them.
“I don’t see (Miller leading the team in rushing) happening,” Meyer said. “If it does, it means it’s not going well.”
At receiver, Herman said the Buckeyes have four players who have proven good enough to start or play significant roles, and those four are seniors Corey “Philly” Brown and Chris Fields and juniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Herman said Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and freshman James Clark are battling for “leftover reps and snaps during the game.”
Highly-regarded freshman Jalin Marshall is still on the outside looking in after he missed significant training camp time due to a concussion.