Ohio State Buckeyes: ezekiel elliott

Helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
8:30
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Honoring the best and brightest from No. 6 Ohio State's 42-28 win over rival Michigan to clinch another perfect regular season in the Big Ten under coach Urban Meyer.

QB J.T. Barrett
  • The redshirt freshman tacked on three more touchdowns to add to his record-setting season and then may have added to the legend of his first year at the helm by proving his toughness by hanging around the Horseshoe after breaking his ankle, but this will be the final helmet sticker for Barrett this year. The job he did in replacing Braxton Miller on short notice before the season with no prior experience leading the offense was simply remarkable, and it's a tribute to Barrett that the shoes Cardale Jones now has to fill in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin are so big when there was little reason to expect the Buckeyes could simply replace one Heisman Trophy candidate with another at the most important position on the field. It's a shame for Barrett that he won't get to play a role in the postseason after guiding the Buckeyes through the turbulence and to an 11-1 record.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
  • The workhorse rusher should expect a heavier workload next weekend, and he proved with one explosive run on fourth-and-1 with Jones already on the field at quarterback that he may be ready to take over as the focal point of the attack. Elliott's 44-yard burst was the knockout blow to Michigan's upset bid, the second consecutive touchdown for the sophomore after that game had been tied again midway through the third quarter. He finished with 121 yards on the ground and added a 7-yard reception in another productive outing in the backfield, and Elliott certainly figures to touch the ball more than 18 times against the Badgers.
LB Darron Lee
  • Comparisons to Ryan Shazier are still probably a bit premature, but Lee did a pretty decent impression of the first-round NFL draft pick by flying all over the field and making plays in a variety of different ways to impact the outcome from his spot at linebacker. Lee finished with a team-high nine tackles, including two for a loss and a sack, but it was his 33-yard fumble return for a touchdown that iced the win over the Wolverines and offered yet another glimpse at his uncanny ability to find the football. He also provided a nice bookend for his first year as a starter, dashing to the end zone in the final week of the regular season to help produce a win just like he did in Week 1 against Navy to announce his presence for the Ohio State defense.

Helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:30
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohi0 -- Honoring the best and brightest from No. 6 Ohio State's division-clinching 42-27 win over Indiana on Saturday at the Horseshoe.

H-B Jalin Marshall
  • The virtuoso second-half performance against the Hoosiers will go down as definitive proof why Urban Meyer and the coaching staff never batted an eye about keeping him on the field and prominently in the game plan despite two fumbles at Minnesota. Marshall was almost impossible to defend after the game had started to slip away from the Buckeyes, and his four-touchdown barrage, starting with a punt return for a score that energized a restless Ohio Stadium, also might have helped save the season. Expect him to continue to play a major role against rival Michigan and then in the Big Ten title game the following week.
LB Joshua Perry
  • The junior doesn't often come up in discussions about the best linebackers in the Big Ten, but he is certainly valued by the Buckeyes for the way he goes about his business and quietly, efficiently racks up statistics and disrupts offenses. Perry was everywhere for Ohio State against the Hoosiers, including the backfield where he made three tackles for loss and led the team with two sacks. In all he finished with 14 tackles, and while Tevin Coleman did bust a few big plays on the ground against the Buckeyes, it might have been worse without Perry on the field.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
  • The probability was always high that the sophomore would find rushing room against Indiana's soft defense, and Elliott exploded almost right from the start with a 65-yard touchdown rush that put him over 1,000 for the season. But he was just as valuable as a receiver out of the backfield, which could add another dimension to an Ohio State offense that seems to be developing new wrinkles every week. Elliott led the Buckeyes with seven receptions, and combined with his work on the ground, he piled up 146 yards in the victory that punched a return ticket to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

Picks to click: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
4:30
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A closer look at Ohio State players in position for big outings as the No. 6 Buckeyes try to clinch another division title on Saturday against Indiana.

RB Ezekiel Elliott
  • The Buckeyes figure to be able to score any way they want against a defense that is allowing more than 33 points per game, and it's a safe bet J.T. Barrett is going to throw for a few touchdowns. But Ohio State will probably lean more heavily on its ground game against the Hoosiers, and Elliott will be the direct beneficiary of a game plan that could keep the clock rolling along while still lighting up the scoreboard just in case Urban Meyer thinks he needs some style points to impress the selection committee. Expect Elliott to get the 46 yards he needs to top 1,000 for the season by the end of the first quarter as the Buckeyes play it relatively safe and conservative while feeding the sophomore rusher carries.
  • DB Tyvis Powell
  • The Hoosiers have been a mess throwing the football since losing Nate Sudfeld to injury, and they weren't even all that dangerous through the air even with their starting quarterback healthy. No Big Ten team has more interceptions than Ohio State's 16, and it will no doubt be looking to add to that total this weekend -- and there might not be a player with more motivation to make a big play than Powell after a bit of an inconsistent outing against Minnesota. Powell's contributions have perhaps been a bit overlooked this season considering he's tied for second on the team with 54 tackles and he's picked off a pair of passes, but he could be in the spotlight against the Hoosiers for all the right reasons.
  • QB Barrett
  • Maybe he's a safe choice, and perhaps he will only be needed to play a half, like in his last home outing, against Illinois. But with the way the redshirt freshman is rolling, no list would be complete for Ohio State right now without his name on it. Backup Cardale Jones actually did some impressive work in relief of Barrett against the Illini, and Jalin Marshall has chipped in admirably as a Wildcat threat, so potentially the quarterback position in general could shine and not just Barrett. But with a Heisman campaign in full swing, Barrett probably won't leave the game until he's added to his already bursting resume.

Helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 3, 2014
Nov 3
8:30
AM ET
Honoring the best and brightest from Ohio State's 55-14 blowout over Illinois on Saturday night to set the table for an enormous showdown with Michigan State.

DE Joey Bosa
  • The sensational sophomore season rolled on, and it's getting harder and harder to even consider another player as a challenger to Bosa for top defensive honors in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes didn't even need him to turn in a full shift against the hapless Illini, but Bosa still tacked on three tackles for loss and two sacks before resting for most of the second half in the easy victory. There might not be a more difficult blocking assignment in the nation than lining up against Bosa, and lately it's been his versatile ability and Ohio State's willingness to move him to different spots up front that is giving opponents even more fits.
LB Curtis Grant
  • Somewhat lost in the hype swirling around true freshman Raekwon McMillan, the senior has been steady, reliable and occasionally a standout for the Buckeyes in the middle of the defense. Against the Illini, Grant put himself in position to deliver a pair of turnovers and spark the lopsided victory, deftly nabbing a bouncing ball for an interception and then later pouncing on a fumble to put another nail in the Illinois coffin. The veteran also chipped in three tackles, and against Michigan State's improved offense, the Buckeyes will no doubt need Grant to be a factor again next week.
RB Curtis Samuel
  • The true freshman was a surprise starter, but it was clear he had earned the right as he carved up the Illini with his blinding speed and more toughness than perhaps he had shown previously this season. Samuel ended up carrying the football just nine times, but he turned those opportunities into 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns to offer a reminder that Ohio State will be just fine without the services of Rod Smith moving forward. The one-two combination with Ezekiel Elliott at running back could be critical for the Buckeyes down the line as they continue to incorporate more young, talented players into the rotation on offense.

Picks to click: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
4:30
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A few players to keep an eye on as No. 16 Ohio State opens up the stretch run in the Big Ten with a primetime matchup against Illinois.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott figures to play a prominent role against Illinois.
RB Ezekiel Elliott: The touchdown vulture is gone now that Rod Smith is no longer with the program, so the sophomore tailback should see more action in the red zone and a chance to add a few scores to his resume. Elliott has looked increasingly dangerous as the season has progressed thanks to his growing confidence and extra experience, and after racking up 109 yards against Penn State's stout rush defense, he should run wild against the worst total defense in the Big Ten on Saturday night. With J.T. Barrett nursing a knee sprain, Elliott figures to have a heavy workload -- and Smith is no longer around to poach a few of his touchdowns.

DT Adolphus Washington: The junior was a force up front a week ago, turning in one of the finest performances of his career as he continues to thrive on the interior. He has embraced a role taking on blockers and helping open up playmaking opportunities for teammates, but Washington still has used his strength and speed to bust into the backfield and disrupt offenses on his own on occasion. He has 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks to his credit despite doing a lot of dirty work in the trenches, and Illinois will have to account for Washington if it hopes to generate much with the football.

WR Michael Thomas: Barrett is expected to play, and coach Urban Meyer has stressed all week that there's no concern about the knee injury impacting the passing game. And since the knee sprain could limit Barrett's mobility, that should mean the ball will be coming out of his hands quickly and a bit more often than it did a week ago. The most likely beneficiary of that tweak to the attack should be Thomas, who has been a handful for defensive backs this season after building himself into a more complete receiver during his surprising redshirt year as a sophomore. Thomas already leads the Buckeyes with 22 catches and five touchdowns, and he figures to add to both totals against the Illini.

Picks to click: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
11:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a second bye week, Ohio State has been itching to get back to work and keep the ball rolling after winning its Big Ten opener. If the Buckeyes are going to stay unbeaten in the league after Saturday's matchup with Rutgers, these guys figure to play significant roles.

TE Jeff Heuerman
  • The veteran's injured foot took longer to fully heal than previously anticipated, but Heuerman looks healthy and ready to add yet another dimension to Ohio State's rapidly improving offense. With J.T. Barrett at quarterback, the Buckeyes have played some of their best football by pushing the tempo, and Heuerman's versatility is key in helping to ramp up the pace given his skills as both a blocker and a receiver. Heuerman is too big to be covered by a defensive back, he's too athletic for a linebacker to handle one-on-one -- and might also be just the answer the Buckeyes need to shore up some inconsistency in the red zone.
DT Michael Bennett
  • Thanks to relatively modest numbers at this point, the senior has somewhat fallen off the awards radar at this point of the season. But the same ability that made him a preseason All-America candidate is still there, and it shows up at least a couple times per game even if it doesn't produce individual statistics. Bennett still has 3 tackles for a loss and a sack to his credit, and Ohio State's blowout wins have given him rest late in games, but his work occupying blockers down after down has helped Joey Bosa and other blitzers keep quarterbacks off balance. When a team stops paying extra attention to him, Bennett still has the speed and strength to slice into the backfield and make some noise.
RB Rod Smith
  • The majority of the backfield workload will continue to be on Ezekiel Elliott's shoulders, but the former ESPN 150 recruit is finally showing signs of living up to his promise and carving out a role for himself in his final season. The process actually started by proving he could be trusted with special teams playing time, and now Smith might be in position to become Ohio State's short-yardage and goal-line finisher with his tough running between the tackles. Smith has scored a rushing touchdown in each of the last three games and has also grabbed one as a receiver this season, making him yet another threat that a defense must account for.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
4:30
PM ET
Mondays stink. Except when it's mailbag time. Which it is right now. Go.

Mitchell C. from Parts Unknown writes: How confident should Ohio State be coming into the third year with Urban Meyer and five new starters on defense and six new starters on offense? And will new RB Ezekiel Elliott be like Carlos Hyde and live up to the (production) he left behind?

Brian Bennett: Those are good questions, and they are why I find the 2014 Buckeyes to be one of the most fascinating teams in the Big Ten and the nation. A lot of people assume that Ohio State won't drop off at all from the first two seasons under Meyer, but the team is dealing with a lot of turnover and counting on numerous young players to step forward. Yet there is serious reason for optimism. For one, those young players are incredibly talented and athletic, which can help make up for a lot of mistakes. The coaching staff is also a proven commodity. For example, while the offensive line replaces four starters, position coach Ed Warriner faced similar questions two years ago and quickly turned that unit into the best offensive line in the Big Ten for two years running. Elliott might not match Hyde's numbers, both because Hyde put up huge stats and because Ohio State is likely to spread the ball out a bit more than it did in 2013. But he's another prime example of the immense potential on hand.

With all that talent and coaching, the Buckeyes should feel optimistic about 2014. Unless Braxton Miller gets hurt. Then all bets are off.


Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: I was reading your take on the Athlon Big Ten predictions, and I have to tell you that your take on Wisconsin's QB situation is a bit off the mark but is similar to what I am reading from other Big Ten predictors. Joel Stave is playing his third year. In 2012, his QB rating was 148.3, and his stats were comparable to Devin Gardner. In 2013, Stave was fourth in the Big Ten in QB rating at 138.1. Statistically, he was ranked sixth in the B1G because Wisconsin ran the ball (so well). With the above in mind how can QB be a major concern? Keep in mind that Wisconsin has basically its entire offensive line back and should be deeper and healthier, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement should challenge if not beat the rushing record set by James White and Gordon. The issue at Wisconsin is not that the QB position is weak but that it has lots of competition. Stave does have his weaknesses and I hope he overcomes them or is beat out by Tanner McEvoy, but the QB position should not be a concern.

[+] EnlargeJoel Stave
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin QB Joel Stave will serve as the backup to Tanner McEvoy as the Badgers open Big Ten play.
Brian Bennett: One thing we can agree on about Stave is his experience should help him. Last year was his first as a full-season starter after he got knocked out early in 2012 because of an injury. And when Stave is on, he shows good arm strength and decision-making. Unfortunately, what we saw from Stave on the field last year didn't always line up with some of the stats you mentioned. Several times he misfired on completely wide-open receivers down the field as defenses keyed on that running game. (What would Jared Abbrederis' numbers have looked like had Stave hit him in stride all those times he had gotten behind defenders?).

Stave played poorly in the upset loss to Penn State to end the year and against South Carolina, causing Gary Andersen to say the team needed better play from its quarterback position. There's a reason the Badgers opened up the quarterback competition this spring despite having a veteran starter. And Stave's shoulder injury is worrisome.

Maybe Stave gets healthy and builds upon his experience. Or maybe McEvoy steps in and plays well. But you're talking about one guy who has yet to put it all together and another who has never done it at this level. That's why there are legitimate reasons for concern at the quarterback spot in Madison, before we even get to the pressing issue of who is going to catch the ball for Wisconsin. That's a big reason why I'm a little surprised by all the rosy preseason projections for the Badgers.


DJ from Minneapolis writes: I have to slightly disagree with you about Minnesota not seeing a benefit to an early signing period. As Brady Hoke mentioned, they might have to start allowing earlier or summer visits which would be a big boon to Minnesota. It would show all of the recruits in the South that it isn't actually minus-40 degrees 365 days a year here like a lot of people make it out to be.

Brian Bennett: DJ, I think you might be conflating two different issues here. As I mentioned in my early signing day piece, schools that are farther away from major talent bases (i.e., Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, etc.) wouldn't see as much benefit with an early signing period without the corresponding move of allowing for earlier official visits. (Adam did a great job of exploring that issue in this post). Right now, prospects can't take official visits (i.e., have their trips paid for by the school) until the start of their senior year in high school. It's difficult and expensive for many prospects, especially ones who live in the South and in other far-flung locales, to visit northern schools like Minnesota on their own dime. They can often take unofficial trips to schools closer to their hometown with far less hassle, however.

That's why, if there's an early signing period -- especially one in the summer before a prospect's senior year as the ACC has proposed -- kids could be inking their national letters of intent before ever getting on a plane to Minneapolis. The Gophers would stand to gain if prospects could receive a paid trip to their campus in the spring and summer, when it's a great time to be in the Twin Cities. Those earlier visits, then, loom as even more important for a school like Minnesota than an early signing period would be.


Spencer from Lincoln, Neb., writes: On your piece about impact freshmen, I noticed you left off Tanner Farmer. My question is: Why? The kid is a beast of a specimen. Athletic. Big. He is your typical Midwest hard-working player. He even benches 500 pounds! Name another one of your impact freshmen you chose that can do that.

Brian Bennett: Spencer, I am very intrigued by Farmer and think he can end up being a cult hero to Nebraska fans. We didn't have time or space in that post to mention every promising freshman in the league, though, and it's much tougher for a first-year player out of high school to make a big impact on the offensive line than it is for just about any other position, save perhaps defensive tackle. Farmer could be an exception. We shall see.


Joel L. from Tuscola, Ill., writes: In regards to Tim Beckman's job status: I think from the perspective of a huge Illinois fan the situation is actually going to be very difficult for Mike Thomas. I will say before I start here if we win 4 games or less I think Thomas' hands are tied and he will have to let Beckman go because the attendance will be dismal and it will probably affect season ticket sales the next year. If I had to guess, we will most likely end up with five wins this season. That will cause a major predicament for Thomas because Beckman's recruiting class next year is actually going to be very solid, especially with offensive talent that Bill Cubit (who is the mastermind of the offense) will be able to use immediately. That is where the problem will lay for Thomas, because Beckman really could turn this around in year 4, but Illinois fans are ruthless and if we do not make a bowl game this year people will go absolutely nuts if he is retained.

Brian Bennett: Some good points here, Joel, and I agree that five wins is kind of the fulcrum for Beckman in 2014. If that happens, I think a lot will depend on how that 5-7 season went down. Were the Illini highly competitive in their Big Ten games, especially against the best the league has to offer? Did young players show obvious development and improvement? Were fans responding in a positive way? You're right that Beckman could have his best and most experienced roster in 2015, and Thomas might be able to bank on that. However, three years without a bowl and a potential devastating hit to attendance and season-ticket sales might be too much to overcome.


Pat from Iowa City writes: Is it safe to say that AIRBHG is gone for good?

Brian Bennett: Oh, Pat, how dare you tempt the curse! You might have just woken that evil spirit from its peaceful slumber in that great cornfield in the sky. We apologize in advance to Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock, et al. Pay no heed to Pat's question, AIRBHG. We kneel and offer you this bushel of corn as a humble token of our appreciation for your recent mercy.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 30, 2014
May 30
4:30
PM ET
The next time we meet (barring breaking news), it will be June. One month closer to the season.

Follow us on Twitter.

Looks like I made a few friends down South after this post.

To the inbox ...

Jonathan from San Antonio writes: While I get the irony of oversigning and then standing on "integrity" to complain about Franklin, do you get the irony of your article? You seem to defend Franklin's strategy based on the fact that others do it and that it's within the rules. Yet, you (Big Ten proponents and fans) complain about oversigning, when it too is a "others are doing it," and "it's within the rules" equally applies to that practice. So if you want the SEC to stop complaining about this particular issue (and join in), then the Big Ten needs to stop complaining about oversigning (and join in).

Adam Rittenberg: Jonathan, you can't possibly be equating oversigning to guest-coaching at another program's camp? Only one of those tactics hurts players. Only one involves dishonesty. My post had a heavy dose of sarcasm, but just to be clear, I don't like oversigning. I have no problem with guest-coaching at camps. Who does it harm? It's a brilliant move by James Franklin, and other coaches either have or will follow. The SEC should get rid of its rule and guest-coach as well. No issue there. These are two extremely different tactics, and only oversigning does real damage, in my view.


Tracie from Manhattan, Kan., writes: You obviously have a personal vendetta against the SEC and are using your public platform to voice your biased opinion. It's disappointing that ESPN allows this type of journalism to be on the website. The message that I received from this article is how jealous you are of the SEC and will try to put the conference down in order to make the Big Ten look better. What actually happened is you made the Big Ten look like all it can do to compete with the SEC is to try to find a loophole. Good luck in your future attempts at journalism, this was a complete fail. Go Hogs.

Adam Rittenberg: It's kind of funny, Tracie, because every third email I receive states how ESPN promotes the SEC whenever possible. I don't have a vendetta against the SEC. It's a great league with great coaches. It's also a league that doesn't get called out enough for things like this. People might think I'm a Big Ten homer for writing that post. Those who read me know that's far from the truth. The Big Ten is justifiably criticized for its missteps. The SEC seems to get a pass because it wins national championships. It's not a jealousy issue. The Big Ten is way behind the SEC when it comes to recruiting and winning. That's why Franklin's guest-coaching plan makes complete sense. The funny part is that the SEC, a league very good at football but also very good at bending recruiting rules to its advantage, has a problem with it. Woo Pig Sooie!


Zac from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: No Ezekiel Elliott on your list? I know Meyer only has one 1,000-yard (running back) rusher all time, but Elliott is going to get the majority of the carries this year for the Buckeyes. He's more of a home-run threat than Hyde and I'm sure he'll get 1,000-plus this year.

Adam Rittenberg: I like your confidence, but I need to see more from Elliott to include him on the list of likely 1,000-yard rushers. I can't include every player who eclipsed 250 yards last year. The list becomes pointless. Elliott is a talented back, but 162 of his 262 rushing yards last year came against Florida A&M. He had more than two carries in only one Big Ten game, against last-place Purdue. I also think Ohio State will mix and match backs. So while Elliott could reach 1,000 yards, he needs to prove himself this season.


Kevin from Fort Myers, Fla., writes: Adam, I know there has been talk about [head coach Brady] Hoke being on the hot seat or even let go if there is another losing or unsatisfactory season. If this were to occur (knocking on wood), would there be a chance Coach [Doug Nussmeier] would take over, seeing how he has the résumé for it and that there was talk that his stop at U of M was just temporary until a college came for him as a head coach? Head coach of the Wolverines would be an attractive job for Nuss. ... Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be an attractive job, Kevin, but it won't happen for several reasons. The biggest one is simple logic. If Michigan is to consider Nussmeier for the top job, Nussmeier would have to perform well as offensive coordinator this season. And if the offense performs better, the team seemingly will, too. Michigan's defense should be as good and likely better than it was in 2013. The team's big issues are on offense. If those are rectified, the win total goes up and Hoke stays. Athletic director Dave Brandon does not want to fire Hoke, whom he hired. Plus, I'd be surprised if Michigan would replace Hoke with a first-time head coach.


Anthony from Columbus, Ohio, writes: It seems like whenever a Big Ten team has a successful year (aka beating Ohio State), that team always underperforms the next season. Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan have all made it to BCS bowls after winning against Ohio State, but didn't have the same success the next year. Do you think this will happen with Michigan State?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting observation, Anthony, although I wouldn't say the 2011 Wisconsin team, which beat Ohio State in 2010 but repeated as Big Ten champion the following year, grossly underperformed. This seems more coincidental than anything else. Michigan State could take a step back if certain linebackers and defensive backs struggle, or if some of Connor Cook's near interceptions turn into actual interceptions. But I like how the Spartans, who have been very good at home under Mark Dantonio, get Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska on their home field.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

How will the Buckeyes divvy up the carries?

Urban Meyer has never seemed all that worried about establishing one true workhorse in the backfield, though when he found one in Carlos Hyde the Ohio State coach turned him loose and let both the yardage and the carries pile up.

But with last season's top tailback out of the picture, will the Buckeyes try to duplicate the formula of identifying one featured rusher to pair with quarterback Braxton Miller or will they unleash all the weapons in a stocked arsenal to try to replace all the production left behind by Hyde as he heads to the NFL?

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteWill Ezekiel Elliott take over the lead running back duties this season?
If they're going to settle on one guy, Ezekiel Elliott is the clubhouse leader after spring practice, even if Meyer has been hesitant to reveal a pecking order. At the end of his true freshman season a year ago, Elliott had already shown in a handful of appearances why he was such a coveted recruit, taking advantage of the rare opportunities afforded backup rushers with 262 yards on just 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Elliott doesn't appear as physically imposing as Hyde, but at 225 pounds, he's not much lighter than his predecessor, capable of taking and dishing out punishment and also bringing more than enough speed to break away from defenders when he finds some daylight.

But if the Buckeyes would like to mix it up and spread the touches around, they have no shortage of candidates with plenty to bring to the table. Senior Rod Smith still hasn't quite lived up to his enormous potential and had to sit out the end of spring practice due to academic issues, but his natural talent remains hard to ignore and could encourage the coaching staff to find a way to get him on the field. The same is true for Bri'onte Dunn, who surprisingly took a redshirt as a sophomore but flashed his ability with explosive runs during open workouts during camp before capping it with 35 yards on 6 carries with a touchdown in the spring game.

It's a new face, though, that might actually be the biggest threat to a backfield monopoly, with early enrollee Curtis Samuel turning heads throughout March and April and giving Meyer another speedy, versatile threat to open up the spread rushing attack. The Buckeyes already have Dontre Wilson tabbed in their hybrid role and he's certainly likely to take a few attempts from the tailbacks, but Samuel is cut from the same mold and clearly had Meyer enticed by his game-breaking ability heading into the offseason.

So as they move into the summer conditioning program, the Buckeyes could easily go either way -- but to some extent, that was the case a year ago with Smith, Jordan Hall and ultimately Wilson all offering legitimate options to shoulder the load. It was up to Hyde to prove as the season progressed that he simply shouldn't ever come off the field, and now it appears to be Elliott's turn to help decide if a workhorse or a committee is the best option in the Ohio State backfield.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always trying to find new ways to motivate his players.

Last spring, he had a banner put up in the Ohio State field house reading “The Chase …” in reference to the Buckeyes’ championship pursuits. Meyer said he thought about changing the display for the 2014 offseason. In the end, though, he stuck with the same one.

“We didn’t accomplish it,” Meyer told ESPN.com. “We chased it but didn’t catch it. So the chase is still on.”

Ohio State, of course, nearly made it to its desired finish line. After going 12-0 for the second straight season under Meyer, the Buckeyes just needed to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to clinch a date with Florida State for the BCS national title. Instead, they fell 34-24 to the Spartans and closed the year on a two-game losing streak with a 40-35 setback against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer says Ohio State is still trying to finish "The Chase."
So the chase continues, albeit with a much different-looking team in the 2014 starting gate. Gone is four-fifths of the offensive line that formed the backbone of the Big Ten’s top-scoring offense the past two seasons. Also gone are reigning Big Ten running back of the year Carlos Hyde and top receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, as well as the two biggest stars on defense -- linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby -- who opted to enter the NFL draft.

Experience is lacking in many key areas, but Meyer is ready to let some talented youngsters loose, including true freshmen. In retrospect, he wishes he had done so last year, when defensive end Joey Bosa and receiver Dontre Wilson were the only first-year players to make a big impact until safety Vonn Bell started in the Orange Bowl.

“We redshirted too many last year, and that was our fault,” he said. “There was a misunderstanding, and we just didn’t do a good job, especially on defense. When they show up on campus, we need to get them ready to play.”

This spring, early enrollees Raekwon McMillan (linebacker), Curtis Samuel (tailback) and Johnnie Dixon (receiver) were all heavily involved and have secured roles in the fall. Redshirt freshman are also at or near the top of the depth chart at strongside linebacker (Darron Lee and Chris Worley) and cornerback (Gareon Conley and Eli Apple), while true sophomores like safety Cam Burrows and tailback Ezekiel Elliott could force their way into the starting lineup.

“When you talk about inexperience, that’s a good thing right now,” said Chris Ash, who was hired from Arkansas as co-defensive coordinator to help fix Ohio State’s pass defense. “There aren’t a lot of habits that we have to change to fit what we’re trying to do. We don’t have older guys that are comfortable with where they’re at in their careers.”

An already young offense became even greener this spring because of injuries to three senior leaders: tight end Jeff Heuerman, receiver Evan Spencer and quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will no doubt look a lot different when Miller returns from shoulder surgery. During the 15 spring practices, the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year often stood behind the offense and wore a camera on his head so coaches could go over what he was seeing on the field.

“We're exhausting every avenue and even inventing different avenues to make sure he's engaged and getting mental reps,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “We're doing the best we can with a bad situation. He has embraced it and is working his tail off, making sure he’s getting the most out of it.”

Herman says the Buckeyes should be more explosive on the perimeter this season, with guys like Wilson, Dixon, junior college transfer Corey Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and freshman Jalin Marshall at receiver and a stable of athletic tailbacks. The safeties are longer and quicker than they have been in the past, and the defensive line -- which could be one of the nation’s best -- will have four starters who all used to be defensive ends.

The objective is clear: more speed. To that end, Meyer has hammered a new mantra in the players' heads: “4 to 6, A to B.” That means play hard for four to six seconds and get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It's hard to interview an Ohio State player these days without hearing the phrase.

“That’s all he’s been preaching this spring.” defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. “He said he’s not really worried about technique and all that stuff. It’s just about playing hard, because if you play hard, effort makes up for mistakes.”

Washington said the defense was greatly simplified this spring, with only about four or five different calls to learn. Aggressiveness trumped scheme.

“The culture of Ohio State is to go hard, not trick you,” Meyer said. “I just felt like there was too much stuff last year, instead of just going hard.”

By moving faster and playing harder, the Buckeyes hope to overcome their youth and track down what they've been hunting. They have been tantalizingly close.

“We’re still on a chase,” Washington said. “We’ve just got to finish it.”


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ezekiel Elliott never has to go too far to be reminded of the tradition he's hoping to uphold.

Inside the Ohio State running backs meeting room are pictures of legends like Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Chris "Beanie" Wells.

"I'm very aware," Elliott said. "Every day, [running backs] coach [Stan] Drayton reminds us. When you see those guys every day, you know you have to continue the legacy."

[+] EnlargeElliott
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott is hoping his versatility will make him Ohio State's primary ball-carrier in 2014.
Elliott doesn't even have to think back that far in history to know what he's trying to replace. Last year, Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, finishing with 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns despite serving a three-game suspension to start the year.

Hyde's departure leaves a seemingly gaping hole in the Ohio State backfield. Elliott, a sophomore, will get the first crack at filling it.

He ran 30 times for 262 yards last year, with most of that production coming in a 162-yard performance in mop-up duty against Florida A&M. There’s certainly a difference carrying the ball against an overmatched opponent like the Rattlers and doing it in the heart of Big Ten play, but Elliott says that brief experience as a true freshman was beneficial.

"Getting out there and playing helped a lot, just getting those jitters out," he said. "Hopefully this year, I'll be ready to go.

"I think I've improved a lot. I've gotten a lot bigger, I'm faster and I anticipate the game a lot better."

Urban Meyer has stopped short of anointing Elliott as the heir to Hyde, but Elliott practiced with the first unit almost the entire spring. He had only three carries in last week's spring game, as the Buckeyes know by now what they've got with him. Senior Rod Smith, who missed spring practice because of academics, and sophomores Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn also are in the mix for carries. Midyear enrollee Curtis Samuel also impressed the coaches this spring.

Still, it's pretty clear the Buckeyes see Elliott as the starter in 2014. Elliott has the pedigree; ESPN Recruiting ranked him the No. 11 running back in the Class of 2013 after he piled up 3,061 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns as a high school senior in St. Louis. He also won three Missouri state track and field titles.

"He probably has some of the best quick-hip explosion of anybody on the team," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "You see it in his pass protection. You see it in his quick, sudden burst cuts. He has good vision, and he's a great team guy who just wants to win and go hard. There's a lot to like."

There's more of Elliott to like this season, too. Last year, he played between 210 and 215 pounds. This spring, he said, he weighs about 225 pounds. He doesn't look as thickly built as Hyde, who was listed at 236, but he still packs some power in his carries.

"He's a very strong runner," Herman said. "On a scale of 1-to-10, if Hyde is a 10, then he's an 8.59. He's not there, but he's still pretty darn good when it comes to running between the tackles, putting his shoulder down and making the tough two-, three- and four-yard runs."

Elliott, however, won't have the veteran offensive line that Hyde enjoyed running behind the past two seasons. Only one starter -- tackle Taylor Decker -- returns from last year's unit, and the Buckeyes spent this spring trying to find the right combination up front. That remains a concern heading into the summer, but Ohio State remains dedicated to establishing a physical ground attack.

"We're never going to abandon our core principles and tenants and beliefs offensively in terms of being a downhill, A-gap, tight zone and power running team," Herman said. "Now, will we need to get the ball to the perimeter a little more to take the heat off the guys up front? Probably."

That's another reason the Buckeyes like Elliott. He can get those tough yards in between the tackles, but he's also got the speed to do more than just that, as evidenced by his 8.7 yards-per-carry average in limited duty last season.

"I can take it outside, run tight zone, power and catch the ball out of the backfield," he said. "So think it helps a lot that I'm versatile."

Elliott will need every tool at his disposal to live up to the standards set by some of his Ohio State predecessors. Good thing he's got a lot of them.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer seemed to be guarding a secret, and it couldn’t be deciphered by reading between the lines.

The Ohio State coach joked about being a little bored by his spring game, expressed some frustration about the lack of offensive execution and stressed that there was plenty of work to do at a few key positions heading into the offseason.

But the truth about how good his third team at Ohio State might be was tucked away on the sidelines, leaving little to truly evaluate between them as the Gray beat the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe. And based on the number of players he held out of the spring-closing scrimmage, it might be a safe bet that Meyer is actually feeling pretty good about what he has returning in the fall.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe spring game didn't say much about Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. And he seems fine with that.
“There were guys out there who will either never play or they’re not ready to play now,” Meyer said. “Like, [Ohio State sports information director] Jerry [Emig] hands me stats, I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.

“... We all know what we saw out there. It’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

Exhibition games rarely provide much of a reliable gauge for how good a team might truly be, and in the case of the Buckeyes, that might have been by design.

Braxton Miller was already on the shelf as he finishes up his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Having the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year and a three-year starter at quarterback out of the equation obviously changes the complexion of the Ohio State offense. Cardale Jones was productive enough throughout camp to win the backup job, but his 14-of-31 passing performance Saturday was yet another reminder of the importance of having a healthy Miller to lead the attack.

Meyer indicated there was some uncertainty about his receiving corps after the spring game, but he had enough faith in Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson that he didn’t feel the need to press either of them into action over the weekend -- aside from a cameo appearance by the latter in a race against students at halftime.

And after watching what could be one of the most talented defensive lines in the country terrorize a rebuilding offensive line throughout camp over the last month, Meyer certainly didn’t need to see any more from Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett or Adolphus Washington to boost his confidence heading into the summer, adding to the list of starters who effectively were allowed to take the day off.

Cornerback Doran Grant was largely an observer as well, though he did make an appearance to win the halftime derby and became the “fastest student” on campus. Projected first-team guard Pat Elflein was a scratch, and presumptive starting running back Ezekiel Elliott only touched the football three times. Tight end Jeff Heuerman was on crutches after foot surgery, but he’ll be back in time for the conditioning program next month.

So while the game itself left little worth remembering aside from what appeared to be marked improvement and depth in the secondary and another handful of mesmerizing catches from Michael Thomas, there were actually clues littered around Ohio Stadium that Meyer is poised to unleash his most talented team since taking over the program in 2012 and rattling off 24 consecutive wins.

The trick was knowing where to look.

“[The spring game] was a chance to see some young guys [who] really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will play,” Meyer said. “This is a chance for a lot of guys in our program who work very hard, and to be able to get some guys play or catch a pass in Ohio Stadium or whatever, in the big picture it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”

The real thrills, of course, don’t come for a few months. And based on the amount of players who didn’t get to actually step between the lines on Saturday, Meyer might not-so-secretly have plenty to be excited about by fall.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spring weather has just now finally arrived for Ohio State, but its camp is already about to come to a close. Ahead of Saturday's exhibition game to wrap up the 15 workouts spread through March and April, the final look at things to watch will breakd own some intriguing matchups now that the official rosters have been unveiled.

[+] EnlargeDarryl Baldwin
AP Photo/David DurochikWith a tough matchup in Ohio State's spring game, Darryl Baldwin could prove he can lockdown the starting RT job.
Scarlet QB Cardale Jones vs. Gray secondary

  • The redshirt sophomore has strengthened his case to fill the backup role at quarterback behind Braxton Miller with strong practice performances throughout camp, but he's shown some signs of nerves at times during scrimmages and could benefit from a productive outing in a live setting in front of a big crowd. Urban Meyer typically focuses his attention and play-calling on the passing attack during spring games, and with the Gray having what appears to be the full starting secondary with Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows at safety and Doran Grant, Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley at cornerback, Jones will be tested.
Gray LB Raekwon McMillan vs. Scarlet RB Ezekiel Elliott

  • The hype is only building for the touted early enrollee on defense, and McMillan might be the most closely watched player in the Horseshoe as he's thrown into a lineup that includes two projected starters next to him at the outside linebacker spots. The true freshman has impressed the coaching staff during the 14 workouts so far, looking the part physically and embracing the culture Meyer is working so hard to reestablish. Even if finishing camp with some solid work against Ohio State's front-runner at tailback and three first-team offensive linemen doesn't help McMillan reel in senior Curtis Grant on the depth chart, it could still bode well for his chances to help provide depth in the fall -- and start building even more buzz for next season.
Scarlet RT Darryl Baldwin vs. Gray DE Noah Spence

  • Tougher spring game assignments than what Baldwin will face on Saturday are hard to come by, and really, the redshirt senior isn't likely to take on many pass rushers better than Spence when the real season arrives. So if Baldwin can hold his own against one of the fastest, most tenacious players off the edge in the Big Ten this weekend, that would go a long way toward solidifying a starting job and easing some of the uncertainty still swirling around an offensive line that must replace four starters. The Scarlet line as a whole caught a bit of a break with the first-team defensive line being split up, but Spence still has Adolphus Washington alongside him and ready to wreak the kind of havoc that stole the show in last year's edition of the spring showcase.
Michigan's defense controlled play throughout the spring game Saturday at Michigan Stadium, echoing a theme throughout most of the league that day.

Several Big Ten squads held scrimmages or open practices, and the defenses had the edge in most of them. The offenses stepped up in a few, and several quarterbacks appear to be separating themselves.

Let's recap the weekend scrimmages. (Note: Scrimmages that were closed to the media and had no available statistics.)

WISCONSIN

Despite a new-look front seven and several position changes, Wisconsin's defense dominated Saturday's scrimmage. Cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary both had good days against an undermanned receiving corps, and coach Gary Andersen called the quarterback play very average. "We have a long way to go in the throw game, and that's disappointing," Andersen said. "If we want to be a good team, we have to figure that out." The defense also shined against the run, even against top backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.

PURDUE

Technically, the Boilers' offense won Saturday's jersey scrimmage at Ross-Ade Stadium. But the defense looked stronger for much of the day, recording seven sacks and two takeaways. Unofficially, five Boilers recorded sacks, including two from tackle Michael Rouse III, who finished with three tackles for loss. Coach Darrell Hazell said of the defensive line, "They played in the [offensive] backfield."

Top quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby struggled, combining to complete 21 of 42 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown (Etling) and an interception (Appleby). Running back Raheem Mostert highlighted the offense with 134 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries. Mostert is making a strong push this spring to be Purdue's No. 1 running back.

MINNESOTA

The Gophers' defense loses top performers Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen from last fall's unit, but it controlled play on Saturday. Minnesota's D held the offense without a point on its first seven possessions in the scrimmage. Safety Cedric Thompson had an excellent interception off a deflection on the first drive. The offense picked it up later in the scrimmage, as quarterback Mitch Leidner found KJ Maye for a 50-yard touchdown strike, and both Leidner and Berkley Edwards had long touchdown runs.

NEBRASKA

Here's one offense that flexed its muscles on Saturday after being subdued earlier in the week. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had an "efficient" performance, according to coach Bo Pelini, as he continues to look like the team's top signal-caller. Armstrong ran for two touchdowns. Sophomore Terrell Newby received a lot of work at running back as Ameer Abdullah sat out, and receiver Jordan Westerkamp turned a short pass into a long gain. Defensive tackle Aaron Curry left the field with a neck injury, but Pelini thinks he'll be fine.

MICHIGAN STATE

The offense recorded a 27-25 win against the defense in MSU's first spring jersey scrimmage, as quarterback Connor Cook completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett, who has been relatively quiet since transferring from Tennessee, had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. Tyler O'Connor, competing for the backup quarterback job, had a good day (10-for-15 passing, 132 yards, TD).

After allowing a touchdown on the opening possession, the defense forced four consecutive stops. Standouts included safety Kurtis Drummond (six tackles, 1 TFL, interception), end Shilique Calhoun (two sacks) and linebacker Chris Frey, an early enrollee, who had two sacks and three tackles for loss.

ILLINOIS

The Illini had their second off-site practice of the spring, traveling to Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield for a controlled scrimmage on Friday night. Quarterback Wes Lunt continues to look like Illinois' starter. According to Rivals.com's Doug Buchson, Lunt completed his first 14 pass attempts against the second-string defense for about 250 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman wideout Mike Dudek continues his strong spring, and receiver Geronimo Allison had a 45-yard touchdown catch from Lunt.

Defensive linemen Kenny Nelson and DeJazz Woods stood out against the second-team offensive line, consistently penetrating the backfield. Cornerback Caleb Day also looked good.

RUTGERS

The most important thing coming out of Rutgers' first spring scrimmage was some clarity at quarterback, as Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano all worked with the first-team offense. Although a rash of injuries made it tough to get a true gauge, Bimonte had the best day, leading two touchdown drives. Coach Kyle Flood said all three signal-callers will continue to work with the top offense. Flood singled out defensive linemen Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay for their play during the scrimmage.

NORTHWESTERN

Like several other Big Ten teams, Northwestern can't have full-blown scrimmages because of its injury situation. But the Wildcats had their top units match up for stretches of Saturday's practice on the lakefront. Trevor Siemian entered the spring as the No. 1 quarterback and appears to be ending it the same way. Siemian looked sharp on his first series, completing all three of his attempts. Dropped passes were a problem for much of the day, but wide receiver Kyle Prater, a USC transfer who has battled injuries for much of his career, had a one-handed grab on a pass from Zack Oliver. Cornerback Matt Harris and safety Kyle Queiro both made plays for the defense.

OHIO STATE

The Buckeyes invited students inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for Saturday's practice, creating some cool scenes. Several young players stood out, namely cornerback Eli Apple, who had two interceptions and a big hit. Running back Curtis Samuel, an early enrollee, also sparked the crowd with a 50-yard touchdown run. Linebacker has been an area of concern for Ohio State, but Darron Lee and Chris Worley both made some plays on the outside. Ezekiel Elliott is looking more like Ohio State's top running back, as he showed his size and versatility during the practice.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The kitchen is still stocked with enough ingredients to make another delicious offensive meal, but the main dish probably won’t be beef again.

With four senior starters gone from the line and bullish running back Carlos Hyde headed to the NFL, Ohio State is going to have to make some changes to its high-scoring recipe after rewriting the record books thanks in large part to all the meat it had in the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State's offensive line will be revamped in 2014, with tackle Taylor Decker as the only returning starter.
And while that doesn’t mean Urban Meyer or coordinator Tom Herman will be abandoning the power rushing attack that has been the calling card of their version of the spread attack in favor of a more finesse approach, some of its finest ingredients are now on the perimeter, potentially giving the Buckeyes a new look when they’re done experimenting this spring.

“As bad as we want an offensive line like last year, it’s going to take a while to develop that,” Meyer said. “I think at some point because we recruited well and with our line coach [Ed Warinner], that will happen. But no, it’s going to be different.

“We’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that. Last year [it] was rushing for 300-plus yards per game. It’s because that offensive line was so good. We have other weapons, but it will be a little different taste to it than last year.”

Braxton Miller will still provide the most flavor heading into his senior year at quarterback, but there will be plenty of fresh faces around him as the Buckeyes transition from the veterans who helped pile up points over the last couple seasons to the younger talent Meyer has recruited since taking over the program.

The loss of the core group of linemen is certainly a blow, though Ohio State has prepared for it by working the replacements into games and getting them extra practice work last fall. Filling the void left by the workhorse Hyde might seem like a tall order as well, but the Buckeyes have as many as five candidates they have confidence in to carry the load on the ground in his absence. There’s also the matter of replacing leading receiver Philly Brown, a versatile athlete who supplemented his 63 receptions with a handful of rushing attempts in a hybrid role.

But if there aren’t experienced seniors ready to step up on the line, the Buckeyes at least have returning starter Taylor Decker around to bridge last season to the future at left tackle. Hyde’s production and consistency made him one of the nation’s best tailbacks and a potential first-round draft pick, but Ezekiel Elliott shined in his limited opportunities and senior Rod Smith has never had his physical tools questioned. Dontre Wilson is more than capable of taking over Brown’s role now that he has had a chance to grasp the responsibilities of the H-back position and improved his hands enough to be considered a full-time receiver.

Meyer has suggested that using Wilson and athletes like Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel on bubble screens or jet sweeps to get to the edge might be the best way to adapt while the offensive line develops, and he’s certainly been recruiting enough speed to perhaps more truly spread the field than the Buckeyes have done in his first two seasons. And as successful as they've been anyway, that different taste might not go down easily for opposing defenses.

“We’ll never leave our core values,” Herman said. “Spread the field horizontally and vertically, be in the shotgun, add the quarterback as part of our run game and have that dimension and to be a downhill, A-gap, tight-zone, vertical, power-run team with vertical play-action pass off it. What does that evolve to? I don’t know.

“But I think when people ask me maybe what I’m most proud of the first couple years here is we didn’t fit a square peg into a round hole. ... You've got to figure out what everybody can do, what they do well and try to mask the deficiencies while you’re improving them yet play to the strengths. Where that’s headed after six spring practices, I have no idea. But it will be different.”

The Buckeyes still have plenty of time to tinker, and the cupboards are far from bare.

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