There’s an old saying that if you stay ready, you never have to get ready, and Ohio State sophomore running back Dallan Hayden continues to be proof of that for the Buckeyes.
On Saturday in West Lafayette, Hayden bailed his team out for the second time in his career. It took six games for him to finally get his first carry of the 2023 season, but if there was any rust, he didn’t show it in his 11 carries for 76 yards against the Boilers.
Hayden was thrust into action against Purdue because the Buckeyes were down their top three tailbacks. They were without starting running back TreVeyon Henderson and last year’s leading rusher Miyan Williams due to a pair of undisclosed injuries, and then Saturday’s starter Chip Trayanum left the field for good following a hit to the head early in the contest.
Led by Hayden, the Buckeyes rushed for a sack-adjusted 177 yards on 36 attempts. It was one of their best efforts of a season that has not been stellar on the ground to this point.
Ohio State’s rushing attack is currently in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten, which is new territory for the Buckeyes under Ryan Day. Over Day’s first four seasons as OSU’s head coach, Ohio State is the only Big Ten team to finish among the top four rushing teams in the conference each year.
The Buckeyes are still searching for answers with the running game. Injuries at running back, issues on the offensive line, and a new starting quarterback have all contributed to the problems, but Hayden’s performance on Saturday was a positive step.
The current plan in place is to redshirt Hayden, but part of that plan is the understanding that in case of an emergency, they will break glass and get him on the field. The injuries this week created just such an emergency and he was once again putting the Buckeyes on his shoulders.
A year ago as a true freshman, Hayden played in 10 games, and went for 100 yards rushing in three of those contests. The most notable was a 43-30 win at Maryland where the Buckeyes were without Williams and Trayanum, and Henderson was too banged up to give them much of anything.
Hayden carried the ball 26 times for 140 yards in the second half of a hard-fought win against the Terps. He didn’t need to carry as heavy a burden in West Lafayette this past weekend, but he still needed to be ready for whatever was asked of him.
And he was.
After the game, he credited OSU head coach Ryan Day and running backs coach Tony Alford.
“Coach Day and Coach Alford told me to stay ready because they don’t know if my number’s gonna get called,” he said. “And we go by competitive stamina at O-State, so it means if your number’s called, make a play. So that’s just how I live.”
“Stay ready” can be a difficult message for many to hear because it can sometimes be lost in translation and instead be heard as, “Go over there and wait your turn.”
But there is a very large difference between waiting and preparing.
One involves standing in a line, while the other involves standing in alignment with the goals of the entire team. Day and Alford have said since January that they were going to need all of their running backs this year, and on Saturday with their top three options out of the game, those words came to pass.
And it only took six games.
Everybody saw this happen last season as well, so when Hayden and his coaches had the conversation about redshirting this year, it was always marked with an asterisk that anything can happen. It was a message rooted in reality because Hayden lived it the year before as a true freshman.
Hayden carried the ball 111 times in 10 games last year, emerging much sooner than anyone could have expected. This year, he had to wait until the Buckeyes’ sixth game to get his first carry.
The ground game struggles didn’t disappear on Saturday, but Hayden’s performance certainly provided a bright spot for the Buckeyes. It also brought about a new question for the Ohio State coaches to consider — should he even be behind glass to begin with?
Those are questions for people other than Hayden to answer. For now, he is living the message of staying ready.
And whether more playing time happens sooner or later, the one thing you can always count on from Dallan Hayden is to be right on time.
After all, you never have to get ready if you stay ready.