Xavier Johnson Ohio State Buckeyes

Running Game Was Better, But Health And Short Yardage Still Concerns

Ohio State ran for a season-high 340 yards in Saturday’s 56-14 win over Indiana. It was their first game of over 300 yards rushing in conference play since the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game.

The Buckeyes have bounced back the last two weeks with the 340 yards yesterday and 207 yards rushing at Northwestern the previous week. Against Iowa and Penn State in the two games prior to Northwestern, the Buckeyes ran for just 66 and 98 yards, respectively.

Those two games obviously created plenty of concern about the OSU running game, but the bounce back the past two weeks have been welcome. Though despite the big day against the Hoosiers, there were still some issues picking up first downs in short-yardage situations.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day admitted that maybe some stubbornness on his part played into that, but that shouldn’t preclude the Buckeyes from gaining a single yard.

“Probably being stubborn there. Probably,” Day said. “But still, I still think we need to get better movement. We need to run harder. We need to get the first down. I think we had one third down that we split for I think it was a touchdown to Miyan [Williams], that was good. But still not good enough.”

Williams was one of two 100-yard rushers that the Buckeyes had on the day. He finished with 147 yards rushing on 15 carries, but had to leave the game with a foot injury. True freshman Dallan Hayden was the second back into the game for OSU and he went for 102 yards on the ground in 19 attempts.

The Buckeyes did this without usual starter TreVeyon Henderson, who has missed the last two games. They were also without junior Chip Trayanum, who they were hoping to get some playing time this week. There is a good chance that both will be back next week according to Day.

Losing Williams for an extended length of time would be bad news, but Day doesn’t think that will happen.

“I think that these are some things that we can overcome here in a short period of time,” he said. “Great to see our depth show up, obviously. But it didn’t look like, based on what we saw here in the locker room, it was going to be something that’s going to be really long term. So we’ll see how it feels overnight.”

Part of that depth showed up in the form of fifth-year senior receiver Xavier Johnson who took a hand-off out of the backfield and rambled from one side of the field to the other for a 71-yard touchdown run against a Hoosier defense that couldn’t quite track him down.

“Great to see Xavier get a run like that,” Day said. “You can see what a weapon he is. He’s made some big plays for us this year. Happy for him. And he’s very unselfish. We felt like maybe he’d have to play a little running back in this game. We spent a lot of time talking about protection and the run game. And because he’s been such a good special teams players, he has a lot of versatility, and you can see that this game.”

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But it was Hayden who took over the bulk of the carries once Williams went down, and he ended up having his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. He showed good vision on a 14-yard touchdown run in the first quarter when he cut a play back into the middle of the field and raced a pair of defenders into the end zone.

“I think Dallan had some really nice runs today,” Day said. “The No. 1 job of the running backs is to take care of football. The No. 1 job. And the rest of it takes care of itself. And I thought he got into a rhythm. He had a nice run early on. When he had the first touchdown run, he bounced that one, did a nice job with the vision on that, and overall ran hard. Even a couple of those runs there in the fourth quarter, I thought he finished the runs. If it was a three-yard run, he was finishing at six. I think he’s got good feet, good vision. He’s a really good young player.”

This has been a tumultuous season for the Buckeye running backs. Henderson and Williams have only played in three Big Ten games together this year. What started out as a 1a and 1b kind of attack has turned into a “well, let’s just see who can play on Saturday” situation.

But every week somebody has stepped up. Last week it was Miyan Williams and quarterback CJ Stroud. This week it was Dallan Hayden and Xavier Johnson. Next week it may be TreVeyon Henderson and Chip Trayanum.

The good news is that Ryan Day saw what he wanted to see from Hayden and Johnson, and the overall depth the running back room has shown this year is a positive heading into the games that truly matter.

“Yeah, I think both those guys showed that they can do a good job,” he said. “I think it’s pretty remarkable that we have that many guys who are capable. But whether it’s Tre, Miyan or Chip, and we’re hoping to get all these guys back here as soon as we can. It’s been frustrating, obviously, not having a full-strength room there. But I guess the positive spin on that is the depth we’ve shown and we’ve been able to keep that going.”

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