COLUMBUS – Ezekiel Elliott has come a long way in Ohio State’s last two games. Exactly 450 yards, to be precise.
OSU’s sophomore tailback was known close to home as a 1,000-yard rusher through the Buckeyes’ first 12 games. But, with back-to-back rushing games of more than 200 in the last two games, the attention and respect he is getting have both increased around the country.
Elliott has rushed for a career-best 230 yards on 20 carries in Ohio State’s 42-35 win over Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. His 85-yard touchdown run with 3:24 to play put the game out of Alabama’s reach.
In the Big Ten championship, he ran for 220 yards on 20 carries and had an 81-yard touchdown run in a 59-0 beat down of Wisconsin.
His 1,632 yards rushing puts him fourth on the all-time single season list at Ohio State behind Eddie George (1,927), Keith Byars (1,764) and Archie Griffin (1,695).
Not bad for a guy who couldn’t crack the honorable mention list on the coaches All-Big Ten team last month and had his name spelled wrong on a name card at a Sugar Bowl interview session and again in a press release.
Not to mention former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith saying on Twitter that people would see two great backs in the Sugar Bowl and both were from Alabama.
After the game, Smith did backtrack and tweet, “Ezekiel Elliott is a legit football player. Very impressive!!”
OSU coach Urban Meyer said, “He’s an extremely valuable member of our team and he’s a great back. I don’t know if he’s gotten the recognition because of whatever. He’s a 1,500-yard back and he’s real valuable.”
Elliott’s emergence has coincided with Ohio State having to turn to its third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, after injuries knocked Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett out for the season.
That is probably no accident. OSU wanted to make Jones comfortable and keep him out of situations where he might turn the ball over under pressure. A robust running game can do that.
After the win over Alabama, Jones said, “It’s almost like there’s no pressure with the guys around me – the front five, my wideouts and Zeke. It’s no pressure.”
Some people questioned why Ohio State didn’t run Elliott more often against Alabama. Jones said the original game plan was not heavy on running the ball.
“We didn’t come into this game saying we wanted to run the ball a lot because they had an unbelievable front seven,” he said.
Elliott gained ground consistently throughout the game. But the 85-yard touchdown run was the center piece of his night.
“That run, I really don’t know what happened. I can’t remember,” Elliott said. “Coach Drayton (running backs coach Stan Drayton) always says, ‘Run through the smoke, run through the smoke. Trust the play.’
“I didn’t see much there but the line did what they do best. They moved everybody out of the way and I just had to break one arm tackle and I was in the clear,” he said.
In the clear and out where everyone could see what he is capable of doing.