The Ohio State running back room will look a bit different this year than it did a year, but there will still be plenty of familiarity returning.
Leading rusher TreVeyon Henderson (1,255 yards) is back for his true sophomore season and second-leading rusher Miyan Williams (507 yards) is back for his redshirt sophomore season. Gone are Master Teague (348 yards) and Marcus Crowley (103 yards), but redshirt freshman Evan Pryor (98 yards) is also back. True freshman Dallan Hayden arrives in the summer, but snaps for true freshmen aren’t always easy to come by.
Together, the returning Henderson, Williams, and Pryor are a young and exciting trio to build a running game around. Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford got a good look at his new RB room this spring and came away impressed.
“It’s a good group. I love being around them,” he said. “They’re good dudes, they’re good guys. They’re fun to be around. It’s fun to come to work with them every day. You know, you don’t have to worry about a bunch of foolishness going on. Guys take care of their business and they all come to play, obviously. So we’ve got to find a way to get them all touches and all on the field.”
As with most seasons, last year saw things get tougher for the Buckeyes as the calendar pages turned. In September, Ohio State averaged 6.7 yards per carry. That number fell to 5.3 yards per carry in October, and then just 4.7 yards in November. Only the 2012 and 2018 teams did worse in November.
The reasons for that go beyond just the running backs, but it has still created a hunger among the ball carriers to get back out on the field and re-establish their footing. And when asked if he was disappointed in the running backs down the stretch, Alford is pretty clear about his feelings.
“I think our room was really young. Evan Pryor and Trey Henderson were true freshmen. We had Miyan Williams, who again had the COVID year, but by all intent and purposes, he didn’t play a lot of football either. So we had a lot of young players,” he said. “And so to say that I was disappointed in how the season went, I wasn’t disappointed. I was disappointed that we didn’t win the whole damn thing. But to be disappointed or to say I’m disappointed in how my guys played, I’m not disappointed. Do we need to get better? We sure do. But to pin it as disappointment. No, that’s a stretch. Do we need to get better? Sure.”
The process of getting better is essentially never ending, and they certainly haven’t been taking it easy since last season ended. The work that has been put in — and will continue to be put in — has Alford very confident that his guys are going to be as productive and diverse as the Ohio State offense needs them to be this season.
“Another year in the program, another year of development with Coach Mick and his staff, all of those things combined,” he said. “Another year of just playing football and learning the offense and being in the daily grind of college football at our level, through 365 days a year. It’s not nothing and it’s not new to them anymore. So they’re gonna naturally mature and get better as time goes, or we’ve missed, right? And so yeah I’m pleased with where we’re going right now, we still have a lot of improvement to go. We’re not anywhere near where we need to be. But I’m pleased with the trajectory that we’re headed. And I’m pleased with the attitude of our players that are fully invested in buying into what we’re doing.”
Finding enough touches for all three invested tailbacks in individual games can be tough because the game itself dictates so much, as does a particular performance from one of the running backs. If somebody gets a hot hand, Alford will stick with him. You could also have situations where Henderson may play the first series and carry the ball six times in eight plays. Williams could then come in for the next series and also plays eight snaps, but the Buckeyes throw it on every down. They could get the same number of snaps, but the individual results are going to be much different. Over the course of the season, however, the intention is to get all three a significant number of touches.
“I think we have three really good players, really dynamic players in their own right that are all different,” he said. “And they can all pose different problems for defenses. They can all present different skill sets for our offense.”
Which, of course, makes things pretty exciting for a running backs coach.
“It does,” Alford admitted. “Because they all can do some different things. They all can do a lot of the same things really well. But then they all bring something a little different to the table as well. It does make it a good situation for us.”