If fortune telling was easy, more people would do it. Such is life for Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford, who when asked to peer into the future about his players, simply refuses to even attempt the impossible.
“Tony, how many carries per game are you going to give to running backs TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, and Evan Pryor?”
A chuckle and a slight shake of the head should be all the answer that is necessary.
And in fairness, the question of carries that Alford dealt with this spring is about as dynamic and fluid as the path taken by a running back on any given running play. Every play has a designed point of entry and exit, but getting into and out of the hole is rarely done the same way twice because of all of the moving pieces on both offense and defense.
Good design is necessary for running the ball, but so is timing, talent, determination, luck, and anything else that can be tossed into the goulash of punishment that occurs at the line of scrimmage and beyond.
“A lot of it is just timing. Game situation. Who’s hot? Who’s not?” Alford explained. “I mean, if you go back two years ago, Master Teague got hot against Indiana. He rolled. Two weeks later, Trey Sermon got hot against Michigan State. Gotta let him roll. It’s hard to say, and I don’t think you can paint yourself into a corner by saying this or that. I don’t have that crystal ball. I don’t. We need all three guys to be prepared, ready to play at an extremely high level because their numbers are going to get called. They’re gonna get tapped on the shoulder, ‘I need you.’ With 100% certainty that’s going to happen. All three of them are going to get tapped on the shoulder and I’m going to say, ‘I need you.’ You’ve got to be to be ready go.”
As the boxing adage goes, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. In a successful running game, the running backs are the ones doing the punching, and the more successful they are in a game, the more haymaking opportunities they will get.
TreVeyon Henderson rushed for 1,255 yards last season as a true freshman, averaging 14 carries per game. Miyan Williams carried the ball an average of seven times per game, though nearly half of his carries came in his first three games. Pryor redshirted last year but still played in four games and carried the ball 21 times.
Henderson clearly did well with 14 carries per game as a freshman, but given his experience and the 6.8 yards per carry he averaged last year, could he demand more carries this year? Also, if Williams is one of the top backs in the Big Ten, is he going to be limited to five rushes a game over the Buckeyes’ final six contests like he was last year? And let’s not forget about Pryor, who was one of the top running back prospects in the 2021 class.
The good news is that they’re all good enough to play. The bad news is that the Magic 8-Ball is a bit hazy at the moment.
“I don’t have an answer as far as ‘well, this guy gets 10, and he gets 12, and he gets…’ I don’t have that answer,” Alford reiterated. “What I can tell you is that all three of them have to play. We have to deploy them properly. Does that mean there’ll be an even amount of carries? Some games maybe yes, other games maybe no. Maybe one guy will get more plays than the other guy. I don’t know. But I do know that we’re going to need all three of them to play at a high level through the course of what we’re hoping is 15 games. We’re going to talk about the first 12. We’re going to need them all to play at an extremely high level for 12 weeks. The regular season. Which will then hopefully transcend us into the postseason.”
More important to Alford than figuring out how to split the carries is keeping his players hungry for whatever opportunities happen to come their way. He may not have an answer right now about carries, but the good news for him is that he’s confident enough in the ability of his players that if they continue to work like have so far, any answer he chooses will be the correct choice.
“I can tell you with 100% certainty that we are going to need all three of them to play at an extremely high level, to practice at an extremely high level day in and day out, and show up every single day at a high level,” he said. “And there can’t be bad days. There can’t be days off. Can’t be. You’re not allowed to have a day off. You’re not allowed to have a bad day. We’re gonna need all three of them to do that.”