- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The projected starter has handled his business and is finally returning after a three-game suspension. Carlos Hyde is a proven touchdown machine, and he will no doubt want to make up for lost time.
The guy who filled in for him is still healthy, red-hot and has done nothing to lose his spot in the Ohio State backfield. Jordan Hall has shown he's more than capable of handling the every-down workload, and there might not be much reason to tinker with what has worked early in the season.
The electric freshman has put his speed on full display and lived up to the enormous hype that built from the moment he signed with the Buckeyes through a head-turning training camp. The package of plays for Dontre Wilson appears to be steadily expanding, and Ohio State hasn't exactly been hiding the fact it would like to get him more involved.
But coach Urban Meyer only has one football at a time at his disposal during the game, and with Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Ezekiel Elliott all clamoring for touches as well, finding a way for them all to be involved is about to become an even bigger challenge with Hyde set for his debut on Saturday against Florida A&M. Maybe it's an issue that would make Meyer's peers around the country envious, but it's a potential problem nevertheless.
"Jordan Hall has certainly earned the right to touch the ball in a big way, so I'm not sure yet [about the distribution of carries]," Meyer said. "Carlos did a lot a for us a year ago -- a lot. He's a very talented running back, and that [suspension] was hard on everybody.
"But this is a good issue to have."
Meyer doesn't appear to be in a hurry to solve it, and this week it might not make any difference against a Football Championship Subdivision defense that figures to be grossly overmatched against one of the most explosive offenses in the country. But based on a relatively small sample size since he took over the program last year, it doesn't appear Meyer will be worried about hurting any feelings when it comes time to decide who will be taking handoffs and how many they might get.
The Buckeyes weren't nearly as deep at tailback a year ago after Hall's second injury forced him to redshirt after appearing in just three games, and that was obviously a significant factor for an attack that leaned heavily on Hyde and his 185 carries. But despite having Smith and Bri'onte Dunn available on the bench, Hall actually still finished the season second among running backs with 40 attempts.
So far this season, Meyer has again appeared to favor riding with one running back to complement his mobile quarterbacks the majority of the time in the ground game. Excluding rushing attempts by the quarterbacks, Hall has taken 65 percent of the carries through three games despite some lopsided scores -- including a career-high 30 attempts in the blowout win over California on Saturday.
Wilson chipped in five carries, and with 59 yards to show for it a week after producing 51 yards and a touchdown, the speedster only figures to be getting more involved moving forward.
But now Hyde is coming back into the equation as well. And while the Buckeyes had laid some plans in spring practice for Hall to slide out to H-back and the offensive staff had toyed with full-house backfields featuring three running backs to incorporate all that talent into the formation at once, no matter how Meyer eventually decides to spread the ball around, the pickings will have to get slim for a few guys.
"I've been thinking about that," Meyer said. "I don't know yet. I'll answer that later in the week."
Finding a way to keep everybody happy this week probably won't be that tough. But even once the competition does pick up again next week when Big Ten play opens, sorting through too many options in the backfield certainly beats the alternative for the Buckeyes.
6dDan Murphy and Austin Ward