Ohio State head coach once this season ryan day has admitted to being stubborn at times when training. That could apply to the Buckeyes’ current running back situation.
While Scarlet and Gray had two clear running backs coming into the season, both Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson have been struggling with injuries lately. When healthy, Williams and Henderson have proven to be one of the best rushing tandems in the country. However, since they’ve both dealt with injuries, neither has been nearly as effective.
The player who successfully carried the ball for Ohio State is Dallan Hayden. In his last two games, replacing Williams to Indiana and Henderson to Maryland, the freshman rushed for 248 total yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries. That included career-high carries (27), rushing yards (146), and rushing touchdowns (3) against Maryland last week.
Despite looking like the Buckeyes’ best option for running the ball lately, and a few other positive performances this year, Day was reluctant to allow Hayden as a running back unless forced to do so. Based on what he said, Hayden could have a fumble problem in practice, despite not fumbling in eight games and 100 carries.
With a rivalry game against Michigan on Saturday that will determine who will represent the Big Ten East in conference championship play, avoiding turnovers will be crucial.
“Seeing his rise last week has certainly been tremendous and encouraging as we enter this week of rivalry,” Day said of Hayden this week. “And it’s great to see him take care of football. That’s the most important thing we need. So he has to have a good week of training and I know he’s going to prepare hard for this game.”
In the first four games of the season, the Williams and Henderson duo worked well for the Scarlet and Gray. Ohio State’s running backs combined for more than 104 yards and nearly a touchdown per game in their opening contests this year. But then injuries started to hit and the Buckeyes have had both running backs available for essentially one game since then.
Aside from a stunning win over Toledo, where the running back had his first 100-yard game, Hayden was more of an afterthought as Scarlet and Gray’s third or fourth ball carrier. Only 11 of Hayden’s carries so far this season have come in the first half of games.
But in 11 games, Hayden has proven he’s as influential as the other Ohio State running backs. He’s averaging five yards per carry, compared to Williams’ 6.7 and Henderson’s 5.3, but that number jumps to 5.55 in games if he gets 10 or more carries. He has five rushing touchdowns, just one behind Henderson, and has found the end zone in every game he’s been asked to carry a heavier load.
The question many Buckeye fans asked last week was why it took until almost the second half a week ago – Hayden had a carry in the second quarter – before Day switched from a clearly not 100 percent Henderson to the freshman. The result of that switch was a 13-10 deficit with 28 rushing yards at halftime that turned into a 44-30 win with 160 yards on the ground.
So, no matter what condition Williams and Henderson are heading into the biggest game of the year against the Wolverines, is it worth contemplating a healthier Hayden?
“I think it’s definitely worth the conversation,” Day said. “I mean, I think when you put the film on, and the film speaks for itself, you have to make the decision of who’s the best at that moment to go onto the field.”
According to Day, Scarlet and Gray will assess the running back situation later in the week. After Williams missed the last game after a first-half dismount two weeks ago and Henderson caught just one snap in the second half on Saturday, Ohio State is hoping the team’s top two defensemen are available against Maize and Blue.
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“It’s not like it’s early in the season. These guys are experienced,” Day said of Williams and Henderson. “So I think at the beginning of the year you would say, ‘Well, if they hadn’t practiced all week, it’s going to be difficult for them to play in the game.’ We want them to practice and we plan on them practicing. But if they miss a bit here and there to get healthy to play in the game, then we will adjust accordingly. But these are experienced players who have played a lot of football.”
However, when Williams and Henderson can’t give the Buckeyes what they need, Day must not be stubborn and must turn to Hayden because he has proven he is more than capable.