Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Despite Departures, Ohio State Running Backs Will Be a Strength

The Ohio State running back room lost four players and a coach. Despite that, they could end up as the best unit of the Ryan Day era
Ohio State running back

For the longest time, the Ohio State running back position was manned by future NFL players. The Buckeyes went from Carlos Hyde to Ezekiel Elliott to J.K. Dobbins nearly back-to-back-to-back during the Urban Meyer era. Thus far in the Ryan Day era, there have been a few players who could stand out. However, inconsistencies on the offensive line and with backs constantly battling injuries have hampered the careers of the room.

The 2024 Ohio State running backs have the opportunity to be the best unit that Day has had. With an expected elite one-two punch at the top and impressive incoming freshmen, even the outbound transfers and graduation of last year’s room can’t keep the team down.

The Ohio State Running Backs Set to Impress in 2024

Lost Depth

Over the last few months, in the wake of the Cotton Bowl loss, the Buckeyes lost four members of the 2023 running back room. Two former backs elected to transfer while one decided to make the jump to the NFL.

Miyan Williams was perhaps the biggest loss as he is vying to hear his name called at this year’s NFL Draft. While he was never truly given the opportunity to carry the load, Williams was often a solid change of pace. Across four years, Williams ran the ball 258 times for 1,555 yards and 20 touchdowns. His loss will be felt as the year winds down and the two feature backs get a little wear and tear.

Chip Trayanum also left but this time, it was via the Transfer Portal. He ended up landing just a few hours south at Kentucky. While he was not one of the feature backs for the Buckeyes last year, he was the one who capped off that game-winning drive as time expired against Notre Dame. As will Williams, he was never a feature and would often spell the starter for a play or two.

The expected next man-up was Dallan Hayden. In his limited time, he showed that he could lead the offense, he was just buried. He was a legitimate contributor in 2022 as he was the third head of a three-headed attack with over 100 carries. He even started the Michigan game as a true freshman.

Finally, Evan Pryor also elected to jump into the transfer portal, this time landing in Cincinnati. Of the three, this loss will not affect the program as much in 2024. His impact was more geared toward the future. Pryor was buried on the depth chart as he only appeared in eight games over the last three years. He did miss the 2022 season due to a torn patellar right before the season kicked off.

A Coach Turning to the Dark Side

One of the things you cannot do when it comes to Ohio State is leave for one particular school. Former Ohio State running back coach Tony Alford did just that as he elected to defect north to Michigan.

There have been plenty of “oh, well he wasn’t even that good” types of takes to surface. And, in reality, they aren’t truly right or wrong.

Alford was with the Buckeyes from 2015 through 2023 and while he did not recruit at a clip comparable to Brian Hartline or Tim Walton, he got himself some players. Dobbins, Mike Weber, and TreVeyon Henderson were all his. Plus, he coached Elliott for a season.

In all reality, it was probably time for the two to part ways. Alford is likely looking to continue rising up the ranks of college football, as most assistants are. With the hire of Chip Kelly — who seemingly is more than content just calling plays — and the fact that Alford’s contract was not renewed past this season, it looked like Alford had hit his ceiling at Ohio State. While the move to Michigan looks like a lateral move, he has a new contract and who knows what the future holds for that program. Alford could be an offensive coordinator in a short time.

The Incumbent

The Buckeyes’ roster has no shortage of talent up and down the roster. The wide receivers are continually loaded and the secondary looks like it’s keeping up with the “Best In America” moniker it boasts. Additionally, the top two Ohio State running backs could make up the best duo in the country.

Henderson is the incumbent and elected to return instead of testing out the NFL waters. He’s been the top running back in the room ever since his breakout in the first game of the 2021 season. Unfortunately, his career to this point has been a big “what if.” What if Henderson had stayed healthy?

Ohio State saw glimpses of what a fully healthy veteran Henderson could be last year. He’s still quick, elusive, and a weapon out of the backfield. If he had not been hampered by injuries, his totals would be much greater than the 2,745 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground he’s amassed to this point.

A Dynamic One-Two Punch

Perhaps the best part of the Ohio State running back could be the addition of Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss. While Henderson, if healthy, could be a bellcow back and run the ball 250 times if asked, Judkins will make his job significantly easier.

At Ole Miss, Judkins ran for 2,725 yards and 31 touchdowns in just two years. Now, Ohio State has a total of 5,470 yards and 63 touchdowns on the ground between its top two backs. Plus, the pair combined for 850 yards and eight scores receiving.

Both backs have what it takes to carry an offense. With both, they can maximize the carries and keep both fresher than they would be otherwise. Henderson has a career average of 6.2 yards per carry while Judkins sits at an even 5.0. With a shared workload, look for them to improve on those already impressive marks.

Next Men Up

With the four departures, there has been a concern about depth. Considering behind Henderson and Judkins lies two true freshmen and a walk-on, it only makes sense. It’s a popular sentiment to want Ohio State to go out and get a transfer running back. They were even linked to former UMass transfer, Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams, but there has been a lot of steam regarding the running back heading north to Michigan State.

Even if Ohio State misses out on Lynch-Adams, the running back room is in a good spot. Or, it could be if handled correctly.

Walk-on TC Caffey has played sparingly, and that’s generous. He has a total of two appearances in 2022 with 10 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown. The bulk of his playtime was in the blowout win over Toledo.

As for the two freshmen, they’re raw and neither looks like they will have a Henderson or Dobbins-like breakout right away. Even then, both looked promising in the Spring Game. Of course, the mandatory caveat is that it was the Spring Game and they were facing off against the third and fourth-string.

James Peoples flashed with his vision and elusiveness and accounted for 40 yards and a touchdown off of 10 carries. Sam Williams-Dixon, on the other hand, also flashed. He led the way in the game with 11 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown. Both freshmen looked like they could come off the bench and be productive with a little development.

It’s a New Day

With Day finally actually relinquishing playcalling duties to a proven commodity, he can take more of a general manager role. While the offense is still his and he will have input, Kelly will be calling the plays. The good news for the Ohio State running backs is that Kelly has gotten the most out of his backs in his time.

If the Spring Game is any indication — and often, it’s not — Ohio State’s rushing attack should be stronger in 2024. In an homage to Woody Hayes, the Buckeyes came out on the first play in a T formation. Interestingly enough, Judkins was the first running back to run with the starters, so he could be RB1 come August.

The thing that will dictate the success of this room will be maximizing the top two while getting the depth and the kind of run they need. As much fun as it would be to see both Judkins and Henderson put up 20 carries for 200+ yards and two touchdowns each against the early-season MAC foes, they must be smart. If Day’s handling of Hayden is any indication, he’s going to have Peoples and Williams-Dixon on pitch counts to preserve one or both redshirts.

If the season goes as it should, the top two backs should be out there for the first half against the lesser foes like Akron, Western Michigan, Marshall, and even Michigan State. The freshmen and Caffey should be out there for the second half. That way, Henderson and Judkins are as fresh as possible for those matchups with Oregon, Iowa, and so forth.

This year’s Ohio State running back room has the potential to be the best it has been in the Day era.


Ohio State running back
Photo courtesy: Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK


More Posts

Send Us A Message