Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is just about as good as good gets.
It's common parlance these days that running backs aren't, on their own, all that valuable. They run behind offensive lines that are either good or bad, accompanied by passing offenses that are either effective or not, and they're products of circumstance. Elliott indeed has a meaty offensive line and mega-talented passing attack surrounding him, but don't lose sight of the basics here: Elliott is a world-beating powerhouse and maybe the most dangerous player Maryland will face all season.
What does Maryland do about him?
"Tackle him," defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said Wedneday. "Obviously, he's a tremendous player. You watch the tape, you've got big runs everywhere. Tremendous talent, runs hard, always gets positive yards, keeps his feet moving, he's got the open-field speed, got the in-the-box quickness. He's a really good player. Each week, it's kind of the same. It's always repetition. We're going to have to fit the gaps the right way."
Last weekend at Indiana, Ohio State was mediocre. The Buckeyes only beat the Hoosiers by a touchdown. They trailed for a lot of the game and could have lost, except Elliott ripped off second-half touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards. He's the first running back in 10 years to have three 50-plus yard scores in a half, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Land-Grant Holy Land
That only begins to depict how brutally dominant a running back Elliott is. Last January, he knifed through Alabama for 230 yards on 20 carries (an 11.5-yard average, if you're scoring at home) and scored twice. In the postseason's next and final round, he calmed down to run for 6.8 per carry en route to 246 yards and four scores against Oregon. His rushing average was 6.9 yards last year, and it's gone up to 7.3 so far this year. (Granted, Big Ten play will likely push it down.)
Elliott is a stud. Just ask Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson:
If Elliott runs wild on Saturday, forget an upset. Since the start of last season, Elliott has been held to a 4-yard average or lower just twice, one instance being Ohio State's lone loss preceding a current 18-game winning streak. Otherwise, he's been doing between 5 and 12 yards per rush, and Ohio State's blown out almost everybody.
Ohio State's offense has looked weakest this year against Northern Illinois and Indiana. Linebacker Jermaine Carter said Maryland could borrow from those teams in approaching the Buckeyes.
"They loaded the box against Ohio State," Carter said. "It was a main focus of stopping them. Don't let Ezekiel Elliott run the ball. I think we can try to duplicate that."
Linebacker Jalen Brooks said, too, that such an approach could work.
"Definitely, because if they don't have anywhere to go and our numbers outnumber then, and everybody understands that and everybody's focused in or honed in on that before the ball is snapped," Brooks said, "then everything's going to be OK."
Elliott is a beautiful mix of agility and power, but that's only a secondary problem for Maryland's defense. The first is getting between Elliott and an offensive line with at least three serious NFL prospects: left tackle Taylor Decker and guards Pat Elflein and Billy Price. Still, the line's results this year haven't been overwhelming: On the whole, Ohio State's No. 28 rushing S&P is a little low, and the Buckeyes only really stand out in rushing explosiveness (IsoPPP), owing to Elliott's ability to gash defenses on any given snap.
|Rushing Success Rate||44.1%||56||31.6%||13||41.8%|
|Adj. Line Yards||101.4||74||87.9||104||100.0|
|Power Success Rate||73.3%||41||52.6%||27||68.2%|
Tackle Azubuike Ukandu, who makes his first start for Maryland on Saturday, said Maryland would try to match that line physically.
"They're a pretty good offensive line. They know they have a good back behind them. A back can't do anything without a good line," Ukandu said. "We're going to have to match the physicality of them, or go over the top."
Elliott is a massive challenge, and so is beating Ohio State in Ohio Stadium, or anywhere. But the Terps seem excited about it, and why shouldn't they?
"The higher the risk, the higher the reward," Brooks said. "That stadium goes hand in hand with this opportunity that we have. If we go in there focused and come out victorious, that payout's going to be ridiculous, and that's something that we're all dreaming about, we're all working toward."