[This is the tenth in a series looking at each of Ohio State’s key departures and how the Buckeyes will look to replace them. Up next, running back Trey Sermon.]
Ohio State running back Trey Sermon only started two games last year — and in one of those two starts had just two yards rushing — but he is most certainly worthy of wondering how the Buckeyes are going to replace him in 2021.
Despite starting just twice, Sermon led the team in rushing with 870 yards on the ground, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. He also set the school record with 331 yards rushing in the Big Ten Championship Game. Sermon started the next game for the Buckeyes, which happened to be the semifinal game against Clemson, and rushed for 193 yards on 31 carries
In the national title game against Alabama he was injured on his first carry, ending his Buckeye career after just eight games in the Scarlet and Gray. Sermon’s time at Ohio State began slowly, with games of 48, 56, 68, and 60 yards rushing in his four games.
In his final four games, however, he rushed for 112 yards against Michigan State in just 10 carries (with an almost entirely new offensive line), then 331 yards against Northwestern and 193 against Clemson before the injury against Alabama.
Sermon averaged 124 yards rushing per game over the Buckeyes’ first seven contests, and while the bulk of that came in just three games, it’s still going to be a mark that will be difficult to cover over in 2021. The good news for Ohio State, however, is that they have last year’s starting running back returning as well as a number of other talented ball carriers.
Now headed into his fourth year as a Buckeye, Master Teague has rushed for 1,303 yards over the previous two seasons, averaging 5.5 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns scored. He started six games last season and has four 100-yard rushing games to his credit.
Behind him late in the season was true freshman Miyan Williams, who rushed for 64 yards on 10 carries. It wasn’t a lot, but Williams had a knack for finding ways beyond the line of scrimmage. Third-year player Marcus Crowley didn’t get his first carries of the year until the Alabama game as he recovered from an ACL tear the previous season. As a true freshman, however, he rushed for 237 yards on just 25 carries.
There were points early last season when redshirt freshman Steele Chambers looked like a difference maker. He finished with just nine carries, but flashed when given an opportunity.
The Buckeyes are also adding in a pair of very talented true freshmen, and both are already on campus. TreVeyon Henderson was the No. 1 running back in the 2021 class and Evan Pryor was ranked the No. 2 all-purpose back. Each of them will bring more explosion to the Ohio State running game and both could have roles in the offensive immediately.
There are six running backs looking for reps this spring and at the moment it looks like they will all be healthy enough to get good, long looks. It will be interesting to see how much Master Teague has improved being even further removed from his Achilles injury last year. He went into the 2020 season wanting to have improved his agility. That will no doubt be continuing as Teague gets ready for a very crowded competition this spring.
Similarly, Marcus Crowley is now further removed from his ACL tear and is no doubt better off physically than he was in December and January. You know head coach Ryan Day and running backs coach Tony Alford will want to get a decent look at the freshmen as well. Miyan Williams will enter spring competing for a starting spot and knowing that it’s not an unrealistic goal to shoot for. All of this depth may set in motion a position change for Steele Chambers, who was also an outstanding linebacker in high school. Or it may make him an even better running back.
Master Teague won the job last year so he’s the best bet to win it this year. Keeping the job will be just as difficult as it was a year ago, if not more so. The depth in the running back room is fantastic and the talent level continues to grow. This will be a versatile group of running backs and given how many of them could contribute in 2021, being the starter doesn’t necessarily guarantee the most carries. You could see a situation where the guy who performs the best over the first three quarters is the guy who gets the ball in the fourth quarter. Or, if there are a bunch of blowouts, the starter won’t see much of the second half, leaving the rest of the game for whomever. Teague is the best bet to start the season for the Buckeyes, but that doesn’t guarantee anything as the season moves forward.