Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.
Throughout the month of August, LGHL writers will be attempting to answer some of the most important questions about Ohio State’s 2021 football season. To catch up on all editions of LGHL Asks, click HERE.
Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
Today’s Question: What will the running back rotation look like in 2021?
When 2020 Ohio State standout Trey Sermon was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, one of the big questions around the 2021 season has been who will start at running back for the Buckeyes.
While the debate around the starting job makes sense, the conversation wouldn’t be so up in the air if OSU hadn’t decided to wealth-hoard its running backs (I am not angry about it in the slightest, but the wealth hoarding does make it hard to predict how the rotation will play out).
Seriously — let’s talk about this. If the Buckeyes had even a fraction of their RB options, they’d be in good shape. We can certainly expect to see several guys contribute to the RB position this year. We’ve got Master Teague returning fully healthy. Miyan Williams, who showed great promise in only a few games last season, is coming off a strong spring, as is Marcus Crowley. Steele Chambers could be in the mix for a few carries. And none of this gets into the incoming freshmen of the matter.
With both TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor joining the Buckeyes as freshmen this fall, the OSU run game should excel this season. Henderson was the No. 1-ranked running back in the 2021 recruiting class (and the No. 22-ranked player overall) and Pryor was the No. 2-ranked all-purpose back in the class and remained in the top 100 despite having his senior season canceled due to the pandemic.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Master Teague get the starting job on Day 1. Though Teague took a back seat to Trey Sermon late last season, he was a steady force for the Buckeyes for most of the year. He comes into this season fully recovered from his Achilles injury and he brings consistency to the field. Last season he ran for 514 yards and 8 touchdowns, and he averaged 4.9 yards a carry.
Ultimately though, I don’t think Teague will keep the starting job. For all of his talent and productivity, he’s missing that “It” factor, that intangible magical quality that sets the great players apart from the really, really good ones. And when you have so many options to choose from, the “It” Factor isn’t optional.
This is where I think Henderson differentiates himself from Teague and possibly even Williams. Though Williams only saw 10 carries in four games in 2020, his power and smart ball-carrying make him a great addition to the Buckeye offense. But in spite of their skill, both Teague and Williams are more complementary backs. I think we’ll see a good amount of carries for both of them throughout the season, but neither will be the star of the show.
Henderson, on the other hand, certainly isn’t lacking the “It” factor (and for what it’s worth, neither is Pryor in my opinion). I wouldn’t be surprised if Henderson has a breakout season right away. Pryor, on the other hand, might be more of a slow burn.
I think the most likely scenario is one in which Teague gives way to Henderson as the starter. Teague will complement Henderson and still see a decent amount of carries. Williams and Crowley will slot in behind Teague in terms of carries, with Pryor getting to test the waters in a few games before being a real factor next season.
But no matter who gets the starting job or how many running backs play a role in this season, there is no debating that OSU’s run game should be dominant right out of the gate and will only get stronger as the season goes on.
Friends, this is going to be difficult for me to type, and perhaps even harder for you — the readers who have gotten so used to me dominating my dear friend Jami in these weekly debates — to read, but… I think she’s mostly right.
I’ve been saying since the spring game that Master Teague very well might start the season as RB1, but that in all reality, he was “at best — the third best running back on the roster.” I still believe that, and I think third is actually being fairly generous.
But like Jami said, that doesn’t necessarily mean that should Teague end up getting a substantive amount of carries that it spells doom for the OSU offense. He is more than a competent back, as we’ve seen from his two All-Big seasons. But, one of the things that hampered the latter part of the Urban Meyer tenure was his allegiance to the players and coaches that he was most familiar with, rather than doing what a true leader should and getting the best people in the best positions to succeed.
So, I am optimistic that Ryan Day will learn from his predecessor’s mistakes and keep Teague in the rotation until the others prove that they deserve, and then use the lone, true veteran in the room in very specific instances. On last week’s “Hangout in the Holy Land” podcast, I predicted that Henderson would lead the way in number of carries and that Teague would finish third or worse. I stick by that, but want to flesh it out here a little bit.
While I do believe that Teague will get the first snap against Minnesota in exactly four weeks and 90 minutes from publication time, I think he will certainly be sharing the load throughout the game. The Gophers are bringing back one of the worst rush defenses in the country — giving up the fourth most yards per carry at 6.30 in 2020.
So I think that Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Warren will spread the wealth — to borrow the parlance of Jami’s take. But when it comes to Oregon nine days later, I think we will start to see Henderson take the lead. While the Ducks are coming off of an unimpressive pandemic-ravaged season, I think most observers believe that Mario Cristobal will have his team tighter by their trip to Columbus.
Only a heavy rotation and a potential blowout will prevent Henderson from having a breakout game in Minneapolis; that will not be the case in his first game in The Shoe where I think that Day and company will want to put their best foot forward against their first marquee opponent of the season, and that means Henderson carrying the ball.
From there on out in the 2021 season, the true freshman will be the primary back (again, whether he gets the first carry or not), but I believe that with more opportunities, through his play on the field Miyan “Chop” Williams will continue to rise in the rotation, as will Marcus Crowley who looked like the second best back on the team in 2019 behind J.K. Dobbins, but has since be hampered by injuries. If healthy, he could be an exciting factor as well.
However, I do agree with Jami that Evan Pryor might have to wait a year to have his shot at meaningful playing time, but in all honestly, he very well might be the second most talented back of the bunch. And with Steele Chambers looking more and more like he’s moving to linebacker, there might be a few stray carries coming his way this fall.
If I were a betting man — and I am — here is what I think the final distribution of running back carries will be on the season: