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Running out of options: Buckeyes lose Miyan Williams to injury. What's next? | Rob Oller

Nov 12, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Miyan Williams (3) is walked off following an injury in the second quarter of their NCAA Division I football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brooke LaValley-The Columbus Dispatch
Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State’s high-flying trapeze act has been working with a safety net. Good thing, too, because the alternative is messy. Lots of cleanup.

But now? We’re about to see how the Buckeyes do when the net is removed. Some advice? Don’t look down. 

Nov 12, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  After leaving the game for injury, Ohio State Buckeyes running back Miyan Williams, middle, sits with fellow running backs, from left, Chip Trayanum, Evan Pryor, TreVeyon Henderson and Dallan Hayden during the second half of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

To reset, the Buckeyes’ offense has run smoothly without wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who is out indefinitely with a janky hamstring. (Maada Smith-Njigba told The Dispatch last week the soonest his son would return is the Michigan game.) 

No worries. Marvin Harrison Jr. has turned into Smith-Njigba 2.0, only bigger, and the combination of Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and tight end Cade Stover have been more than enough to keep the high-flying show safe and going strong.

Final: Ohio State 56, Indiana 14. That’s strong.

Closer to the ground, well, can you win a national championship without a running back? 

Tailback Miyan “Pork Chop” Williams had been 1a to oft-injured TreVeyon Henderson in the OSU backfield, until 2:17 remained in the first half against the Hoosiers, when Williams went MIA with a foot injury that saw him leave the field on a medical cart. He returned from the locker room in the third quarter on crutches, wearing a walking boot. 

Nov 12, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson walks onto the field in a boot prior to the NCAA football game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

Suddenly, the Buckeyes’ offense was operating at its own peril, as true freshman tailback Dallan Hayden was forced to sub for Williams. Nothing against Hayden, who showed some flash, but furrows form in Buckeye Nation’s forehead when the most optimistic thing it can say about a tailback is “Only 54 total carries? At least he’s fresh.” 

Fortunately for Ohio State, the Hoosiers’ run defense wouldn’t even be able to stop the anemic Blue Jackets power play – cheap shot cross-reference! – much less the Buckeyes' running game. Williams ran for 147 yards on 15 carries before injuring his right foot, and Hayden added 102 on 19 attempts. Wide receiver Xavier Johnson took a turn in the backfield, scoring on a 71-yard criss-cross run. Even quarterback C.J. Stroud got into the act, tucking and running four times for a whopping 8 yards. Huzzah.  

Yet here we are, with Williams hobbled for who-knows-how-long. Ditto Henderson, who missed his second consecutive game, and third overall, also with a foot injury. It’s never a good look when your two best tailbacks are both watching from the sideline, outfitted in walking boots.

What about Chip Trayanum, the Buckeyes’ only other scholarship running back who has a carry this season? Don’t ask. Trayanum, who like Hayden mostly is meant for emergency use, was injured Thursday in practice. Scholarship tailback Evan Pryor and walk-on TC Caffey have been out with season-ending injuries.

For those scoring at home, that’s three injured running backs and a fourth who last fall was playing high school football in Memphis. Who is left? Johnson can switch from wide receiver, and non-scholarship sophomore Cayden Saunders. And, yes, I had to look up his name.  

May I suggest the Buckeyes give Brutus a tryout? The mascot has consistently shown some jets during a weekly between-quarters sprinting contest against fans.

But would Brutus be enough to win a national title? Discuss.

Scanning the college football horizon, Ohio State remains dangerous even with its two preseason Heisman Trophy candidates – Smith-Njigba and Henderson – out with injuries.

But how dangerous? Enough to defeat Michigan, which for all intents and purposes is the first “playoff” game? The Wolverines own the No. 2 defense in FBS. Georgia, with its No. 5-ranked defense? 

Here’s what we know: facing Iowa’s top-five defense on Oct. 22, Henderson rushed for 38 yards and Williams for 19. The Hawkeyes presented the only suffocating defense Ohio State has seen. Michigan will be the second. 

Let’s turn it over to Ryan Day for his thoughts on the situation.

“Hopefully, these are things we can overcome in a short period of time,” the Ohio State coach, referencing the running back injuries. “Great to see our depth show up. It didn’t look like, based on what we saw in the locker room, that (Williams’ injury) is going to be something that is really long term, but we’ll see how he feels overnight, then we’ll hope to get Trey back next week.”

If not, Day is confident the Buckeyes will be fine with the combo of Hayden and Johnson. We shall see.

“They showed they can do a good job,” Day said. “I think it’s pretty remarkable we have that many guys who are capable.”

Again, is capable enough, when taking the field against Michigan? 

“It’s been frustrating not having a full (running backs) room, but the positive is we’ve shown we can keep that going,” Day said.

If there is a bright side, beyond the Buckeyes depth at running back, it is the position tends to be more plug-and-play than others. Some tailbacks are better than others, of course, but it is easier to switch out a running back than, say, a center or linebacker. 

Nov 12, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Dallan Hayden (5) runs in a touchdown in the second quarter of their NCAA Division I football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brooke LaValley-The Columbus Dispatch

And, anyway, the main duty of a running back is to hold onto the ball. At least that’s how Day sees it.

“The No. 1 job of a running back is to take care of the football. The No. 1 job. And the rest of it takes care of itself,” he said.

Fair point. But just in case, tell Brutus to loosen up the hamstrings.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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