The Buckeyes will take the field this season with four running backs who have rushed for 100 yards in a game at least once. Fourth-year junior Miyan Williams has done it six times, junior TreVeyon Henderson has done it five times, sophomore Dallan Hayden surprisingly accomplished the feat three times last year as a true freshman, and senior Chip Trayanum did it against UCLA way back as a freshman at Arizona State in 2020.
If you change the number from 100 yards to 48 yards in a game, you can add sixth-year receiver Xavier Johnson, redshirt freshman walk-on TC Caffey, and third-year sophomore Evan Pryor, who missed last season with a season-ending knee injury.
Pryor carried the ball just 21 times as a true freshman, seeing action in four games so that he could redshirt and not lose a year of eligibility. Speaking to the depth of the Buckeye backfield, even with the experienced veterans on the roster, Pryor is still going to factor in somewhere this year.
Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford may have more options than he’s ever had before, but as he saw last year, those options are only as good as the injury report.
“The more the merrier, right?” Alford said of the depth in his room. “I mean, it’s like a kid at Christmas, the more presents you got, the better, right? But no, it is what it is. We needed every bit of depth that we could have last year. Hopefully that doesn’t repeat itself, but it’s always good to have depth, and competition makes everybody rise. So I think it’s a good situation to be in.”
The Buckeyes now have a room of experienced backs who have had to step up and fight through adversity. It is also a versatile group featuring players with different skill sets. Those skills will help keep the Ohio State offense nearer to its potential.
“It gives you a full array of your of your playbook,” Alford said. “Competition breeds success and lifts everybody up and makes everybody work that much harder and be that much better.”
In a deep room such as the one the Ohio State running backs exist in, there are always questions about keeping players happy. Both TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams have started at Ohio State, and would start many other places as well. They have lived the life of a workhorse, and watching from the sidelines may not be all that easy.
Dallan Hayden was a complete surprise for the Buckeyes last year, stepping up numerous times. Considering the bulk of his playing time last year was due to injuries to Henderson, Williams, and Evan Pryor, how does Alford prepare him for what may or may not happen this year?
Then you have the senior Chip Trayanum, and the third-year Pryor, both of whom have different reasons for wanting to show what they can do.
While Alford juggles the playing time and snaps, the one charge that remains at the forefront is simply to do what is best for the team. It will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that he welcomes.
“Absolutely going to do what’s best for the team, but at the same time we’ve got to try to do what’s best for the player too,” he said. “The challenge is just to get better every day for everybody. We talk about reps matter. Don’t be mistaken, a rep just doesn’t mean that you carry the ball. A rep might mean sitting in the meeting room and we ask a question, and you’re up. Did you answer the question correctly? Do you know what’s going on as far as the mental part of the game. And then when your number’s called, you make a play. So those are all reps. In practice, in the meeting room, in the games. So it is challenging, but it’s a challenge for all the players too. Everyone looks at that — you’re being challenged, that’s a hard thing — that’s a good thing. That’s a good situation.”
The Buckeyes are going to have five running backs this year who could all be starters at Ohio State. They will all want carries, but it will be up to each of them to earn those carries — and then do something with them.
A year ago, nobody expected Dallan Hayden to have 100 carries as a true freshman. They also didn’t expect Chip Trayanum to move from linebacker to running back. Nor did they expect to have to use Xavier Johnson out of the backfield.
All of those things happened, however, and every time Alford turned to the next man up, that player was ready for the challenge.
The goal this year will be the same. Get everybody ready because it could be anybody at any time.
“It speaks to when you’re recruiting young people, when you’re talking to the players, that your number could be up at any time,” Alford said. “I bet if you asked Dallan Hayden when he came in here in June, he probably didn’t think he was going to play very much, you know with the guys who were ahead of them. And lo and behold, there he is in critical situations playing in the game. But it’s just a testament to show that you have to be prepared at all times, and to get yourself ready to play and compete every single day.”