Put this recent surge of quarterback throwzinis aside and Ohio State has always been a leading running back manufacturer nationally. From Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Maurice Clarett, Keith Byars, Chris Wells, Dan Herron to Robert Smith. Conversely, before he had his nameplate on the door to his Woody Hayes Athletic Center office, recruiting a “next level” running back was Urban Meyer’s glaring deficiency.
Meyer is such a charismatic recruiter that he could steal your girl if you gave him her cell phone number, Instagram page, her parent’s address and a few draconian restrictions.
Yet great running backs were ironically elusive. The schemes he installed didn’t help either. In a sudden twist of fate, elite backs are suddenly fungible goods for the Buckeyes and Ezekiel Elliott is the Hope Diamond.
To win his third natty, Meyer conjured his inner Jules Winnfield and rode Ezekiel #15 to three consecutive sudden death victories.
"The obstructed path of the righteous running back is beset on all sides by the inequities of the public's low opinion of their talent level and the tyranny of hulking defensive linemen with wretched intentions. Blessed is he who, in the name of the Buckeye shepherds the Big Ten’s frail reputation through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly the conference's saving grace, his pigskin's keeper and the finder of first downs. And he will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious power between the tackles those who attempt to destroy his scholarship brothers. And you will know he is the champ when he lays his vengeance upon you!"
The Ohio State’s bottomless quarterback depth chart has gotten more ink than J.R. Smith, but Elliott was given the media crush cold shoulder, mowed down defenses to the tune of nearly 1,182 yards via 186 carries and deposited 18 checks into the end zone because JT Barrett was tearing things up at a historic rate.
After Barrett crumpled into a heap against Michigan and returned with a dreaded walking boot, Elliott took control like Big Sean rushing for 696 yards on 76 carries, an average of 232 yards per game and nine per carry against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon.
Meyer’s shift in styles after migrating from Big Ten country from the Sunshine State is a shining example of his willingness to adjust. Unlike Saban, who also added the No.1 running back in the Class of 2015 to his workhorse back stable last week, Meyer’s never been known for his development of running backs. . Carlos Hyde, now with the 49ers, was the first Meyer back to ever rush for 1,000 yards in 2012 and 2013.
However, the best player in football for the last month wasn’t Marcus Mariota, Cardale Jones or Melvin Gordon. It was Elliott.
Jones’ pro prospects will be the talk of the town until the Jan. 15 deadline, but Elliott was the offensive MVP throughout the Buckeyes title carpet ride.
Meyer brought his SEC education to the Big Ten and merged the spread offense many said wouldn’t work when he arrived in Gainesville 10 years ago with a downhill, A-Gap rushing attack.
“I hear people say we’re a spread offense, but it’s a line-of-scrimmage league,” Meyer explained. “You win on the offensive line and defensive line. When we get on a plane first class, the quarterback doesn’t sit up there.”
Starting in the Big Ten Championship Game through the dagger against Alabama and continuing into the final offensive play of Ohio State’s season, Elliott has been the offense’s postseason maestro.
His 85-yard run to plant the dagger in Alabama’s heart was the longest play from scrimmage allowed by the Tide all season and was embalming fluid on Saban’s fifth national title campaign. It also interred the SEC speed myth that’s proliferated since Florida trampled Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
“All the great running backs that have come through Ohio State — Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Beanie Wells,” Elliott commented. “Just being able to accomplish something that all of them weren’t able to accomplish, it means the world to me, and I’m happy that I was able to carry on that lineage.”
Eddie George delivered the most effusive praise of Elliott yet, saying he believed Elliott has an opportunity to be the best tailback in Ohio State’s illustrious history, which may prove difficult given the two Heismans Archie Griffin dossier boasts.
Thirteen years into Meyer’s head coaching career, the Saint Louis, Missouri product is the second running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a Meyer offense. In five years at Florida, quarterbacks were relied upon to gain the bulk of their offensive yardage by air, ground or both in the case of Tim Tebow. The best campaigns for a Meyer runner at Florida would be Tebow’s 910 yards in 2009, Tebow reaching 895 yards in 2007 and receiver Percy Harvin’s 764 yards in 2007.
During his first season at Utah, senior Brandon Warfield rushed for 976 yards, but dual-threat Alex Smith was the offensive fulcrum. Previously at Bowling Green quarterback, Josh Harris was Meyer’s first spread quarterback Frankenstein. He also stole 312 carries and 1,400 yards away from senior Joe Alls over the course of two seasons. The best running back developed by a Meyer was Chris Rainey.
That no longer appears to be the case.
Although they’re deployed as hybrid receivers as Jalin Marshall flowed through defenses as a senior at Ohio’s Middletown High School for over 1,000 yards, was rated the state’s top 2013 prospect and the nation’s No. 1 athlete. He also reached deep into Brooklyn for Class of 2014 early enrollee Curtis Samuel.
Fellow sophomore Dontre Wilson, a Texan out of DeSoto High School graded out as Rivals’ fifth-best all-purpose prep back.
Wilson was sidelined by a broken foot in early November, but will be a key cog to Ohio State’s repeat bid in 2015.
Wilson signed a Letter of Intent after decommitting from Oregon and moves like a shifty Lamichael James type burner, but in the offseason was shifted from running back to the slot where he could wreak havoc in open space to make room for Elliott to bruise defenders.
Oregon Ducks running back coach Gary Campbell compensated for the Ducks’ uncharacteristically modest threads by busting out an ostentatious Pimp Named Slickback-inspired purple ensemble before Mondays title game, but Ohio State’s running backs coach Tim Drayton had to be doing The Whip afterwards.
Meyer’s relentless pursuit on the recruiting trail, analogous to Lawrence Taylor tracking Randall Cunningham outside the pocket is one of his countless natural gifts.
After winning his second national championship at Florida in 2008, Meyer didn’t rest on his laurels. Minutes after singing the team fight song with players, he barricaded himself in the coach’s locker room and began calling Class of 2009, 2010 and 2011 prospects.
While the 6-0, 225 pound Elliott was bulldozing Oregon’s hopes, printing tire tracks on Jerry Jones’ expensive turf and left defenders choking on the smoke from his tailpipe, the Ohio State Buckeyes received a commitment from Kareem Hunt, the top running back in the Class of 2016. It was the type of conspicuous symbolism that leaves observers salivating about what’s to come for the Buckeyes.
Elliott was only the 12th best back in the Class of 2013 according to Rivals behind Alabama's Derrick Henry, Tyren Jones, Altee Tenpenny and Oregon's Thomas Tyner.
Elliot’s 281 yards against Alabama’s No. 1 ranked run defense was a testament to Zeke’s vision in the Buckeyes zone blocking scheme and the offensive line clearing lanes as wide as door frames. The same starting five dug holes in the trenches all season and mashed Oregon’s D-Line into Duck sauce, but Elliott was still the one who had to identify and dart through those holes before they were sealed.
Suddenly, TIME Magazine is campaigning for Elliott to bust through a barrier tougher than Alabama’s front line and challenge the NFL’s draft rules and go pro at 19, just as Maurice Clarett did over a decade ago.
If Elliott were to protect his stock by sitting out or becoming persona on grata by challenging the NFL’s collectively bargained draft eligibility rules, the Buckeyes would do exactly what they did with Braxton Miller and JT Barrett.
Jim Tressel didn’t leave the cupboard at Ohio State empty when he was fired in 2011, but the professorial head coach’s final two recruiting classes were ranked 25th and 11th in the nation. Ohio State’s rapid fire recruiting in the last two years has produced some dramatic results.
Meyers did recon work across four different state borders for Elliott (Missouri), Wilson (Texas), Samuels (New York City) and Marshall.
The story of Meyer’s recruitment of Class of 2010 defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was the origin of a tall tale or Urban legend that enhanced Meyer’s already sterling portfolio.
After Meyer's post-SEC Championship Game collapse and diagnosis of a life-threatening medical condition, Floyd received a call from Meyer who laid down the smoothest line about a dream he’d had the night before since Martin Luther King stood on the Lincoln Memorial steps.
“If it’s my time to die, I’d rather die on the sidelines coaching you than anywhere else in the world.”
Floyd, the nation’s top defensive tackle told his head coach, he’d made a decision about where he was playing.
“Ohio State’s great and all, but Coach Meyer said he’d die for me.” Floyd declared.
The Story is a slight exaggeration of their exchange according to Floyd. Nonetheless, it helps that Meyer is now the one pilfering recruits for Ohio State and not from them.
Meyer has a knack for capturing emotion in a test tube and spinning it into silky verbiage that butters up blue chip prep football prospects. Hunt and Elliott was just the beginning.
Now that he doesn’t have to recruit against himself at Florida, Meyer is cleaning up on the recruiting trail for Ohio State.
Elliott leads a swarm of underclassmen including Wilson, Marshall, Bosa, Darron Lee, Raekwon McMillan, Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell. However, the grassroots of their run to the national title or any subsequent championships starts will begin with the ground game.
Ohio State will hit the ground running next season as the preseason No. 1 or No. 2 team (ESPN ranked TCU No. 1). Elliott will carry the baton. Now that the Buckeyes are setting the pace with a formidable ground game, good luck catching up.