Say what you will about the quarterback situation at Ohio State, and how well the coaching staff handled it from the start of the season, but one of the biggest reasons Ohio State’s offense made a difference in the first College Football Playoff was the play of running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott rushed for over 200 yards in three games this season. It just so happened those three games each came in the postseason. Elliott rushed for 220 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game as Ohio State crushed Wisconsin. He followed that up with 230 rushing yards against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and finished the year off with 246 rushing yards and four touchdowns in Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship win against Oregon.
In the month of January, Elliott rushed for 476 yards. That is two fewer rushing yards than Washington State’s entire 2014 rushing production (478 yards) and three fewer yards than Wake Forest’s 2014 rushing total (479 yards). Elliott also scored more rushing touchdowns in January (6) than Washington State (5) and Wake Forest (4) each had in 2014. Elliott’s rushing touchdowns in January also matched the 2014 rushing touchdown total of Kent State.
One of the popular questions asked this season, especially as Ohio State was running wild in the postseason, was how did the Buckeyes lose to Virginia Tech. Elliott was far from becoming the reliable running back he proved to be over the course of the season in week two of the season. Elliott carried the football eight times for just 32 yards against the Hokies, the only setback for Ohio State during the 2014 season. Elliott was the starting running back but in week two of the season Ohio State was still trying to figure things out on offense with young players filling big shoes. Virginia Tech’s defense is good, but I would wager dollars to donuts Elliott would improve on that rushing total if the Buckeyes and Hokies lined up today. As is the case in college football and any sport, how you finish is always the most important factor in a season.
Elliott is only 19 years of age, and he has two more years left of eligibility. He should move into the 2015 season among the preseason Heisman Trophy favorites in what could be a huge season for running backs in the Heisman race (LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Georgia’s Nick Chubb also in that conversation). Big Ten defenses will have to bulk up and be ready to find a way to bring Elliott down, otherwise he could be Ohio State’s first Big Ten leading rusher since Eddie George led the Big Ten in 1995.