Ohio State football: Backfield deep, talented

Jordan Hall answers call, but capable youngsters ready to play

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Mike Munden | For the DISPATCH
Sophomore Bri’onte Dunn is expected to be one of the first running backs off the bench.

Running back Jordan Hall is healthy again, and the timing couldn’t be better for him and No. 2 Ohio State.

The senior will start on Saturday against Buffalo, stepping up after two other experienced running backs were suspended and leading the way for a pack of four youngsters.

Hall will get the nod over senior Carlos Hyde, who gained 970 yards last season but is out at least three games for an offseason incident, and junior Rod Smith, out one game for a violation of team rules in February. And coach Urban Meyer said Hall won’t necessarily get pushed aside when the other two return.

“Jordan Hall is the best running back on our team right now,” Meyer said. “So he’ll have to lose that spot. I’m talking next week, the week after, whatever. Jordan, he’s a tailback at Ohio State, he’s earned that right.”

Meyer was singing a similar refrain coming out of spring practice in 2012, before Hall suffered a cut foot in the summer. While Ohio State was going 12-0 last season, Hall came and went in three games, starting late because of the foot and ending early because of a knee injury.

“I thought in the middle of year when he got hurt, I thought this will be great to have veteran leadership in that backfield back,” Meyer said, referring to Hall being awarded a fifth season for medical hardship by the NCAA. “I’m seeing it right now.”

Sophomore Bri’onte Dunn, redshirt freshman Warren Ball and true freshmen Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott are expected to play in the opener.

“Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball are the next two in, and we want to get Ezekiel in to see how he responds in that kind of environment,” Meyer said. “I’m not sure how early, but he certainly will be carrying a ball on Saturday, and he’s earned that right. Same with Dontre Wilson. ... It’s really neat to have that many spots, have those choices.”

It’s also a blessing to have Hall at the front of the pack, Meyer said. From Jeannette, Pa., Hall has had a star-crossed college career that has included suspensions and injuries. When he has been healthy and available, he has been good, like when he was 16th in the nation in 2010 as a kick returner.

He caught Meyer’s eye in spring 2012 as a player who could play H-back, the hybrid running back/receiver position in Meyer’s spread offense. Then came the summer, and it all came apart.

“He’s only started six games here, and he’s a better player than that,” Meyer said. “I love Jordan. I think he’s a hard worker. His practice this last week and a half has been as good as I’ve ever seen.”

As Hall said earlier in camp, “I’m just trying to keep getting better on into the season. And I feel if the whole offense and defense does that, we’ll reach our goals that we have.”

He’s being counted on to start and to lead. By midseason, he might also be playing some at H-back. That’s fine with him.

“They told me in the offseason that I would be cross-trained at running back and H,” Hall said. “So I was just being prepared to play both. Anywhere they put me, I’ll be ready.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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