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Buckeyes have plenty of options at running back

Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton is already having enough of a challenge keeping everyone at his position happy with so few carries to go around.

Just wait until the backfield returns to full strength.

Senior Jordan Hall rushed 21 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-20 win over Buffalo in the opener. And while Drayton had hoped for a better distribution of the workload, the Buckeyes were reluctant to trust the reserves after finding themselves in a tighter tussle than expected.

Plus, what the offense was doing with Hall was working.

“I’m always a firm believer if a running back gets the hot foot and gets in the rhythm during the course of the game, then it does that back an injustice for me to take him out at that time,” Drayton said.

“He ripped off a couple of explosive runs, and I felt real comfortable with him. That was not the initial game plan for me going in with those backs.”

True freshman Dontre Wilson had three carries and classmate Ezekiel Elliott one. Redshirt freshman Warren Ball had the only other rushing attempt.

Bri’onte Dunn, a sophomore from Canton, never left the bench, and his prospects for future playing time seem dim.

Junior Rod Smith, a key contributor a year ago, returns from a one-game suspension this week. Senior Carlos Hyde, an All-Big Ten second-team pick last season, will be back from a three-game suspension Sept. 21.

“That group is very, very competitive, no doubt about it. You have to keep them encouraged. You have to keep them on the grind,” Drayton said.

“They have to just put their head down and earn what it is they want, and that is a message delivered to them from the moment they walk through this door. I mean, this is Ohio State. We pride ourselves on loading up our positional groups with the best talent in the country.”

But while Drayton would rather have too many capable ball carriers than too few, it means he sometimes isn’t able to reward worthy players.

Asked about Dunn being the only idle back in the opener, Drayton said: “He’s a young man who works his butt off every single day. Those are the tough decisions I have to make as a positional coach at times, and it doesn’t feel good when you sit there on a daily basis and you watch a kid like Bri’onte work his tail off.”

The 5-foot-7, 190-pound Hall seems more suited to be a hybrid back and also is an asset in the return game. He’s an ideal complement to the bruising running styles of the 6-3, 232-pound Smith and 6-0, 235-pound Hyde.

Smith will have to earn his way back into the mix in practice this week, but he could provide the Buckeyes with an asset they lacked against Buffalo — someone to pound out tough yardage between the tackles.

“Last spring, I had the intention of making Jordan Hall more of an H (hybrid back), but an H that could motion inside,” coach Urban Meyer said. “That’s when he can cause issues for defenses.

“We’ll see how (Smith) practices. I hope he does earn the right to carry the ball because that will free up Jordan Hall to maybe help us in some other areas as well.”

Meyer has a policy that players first have to earn spots on special teams before seeing action at their full-time positions, and he wants them to volunteer for those spots like kindergarteners raising their hands when juice boxes are being passed out.

Smith has proven what he can do as a runner, but the coaches want to see a commitment from him in the kicking game.

“Rod Smith is an energy provider, and like anyone else, he has to show his value on special teams rather early this week in practice,” Drayton said. “But Rod Smith brings the power component. He’s a guy who plays on contact. He plays through contact.

“He gives you a nice match-up against bigger linebackers coming through the line of scrimmage, and sometimes those backs are forced to block on defensive ends. He’s a big body type and (equipped) for all phases. Rod is a commodity to this football team, and having him back is definitely a plus for us.”

National polls: The Buckeyes fell one spot to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25, getting overtaken by Oregon, but they held their position at No. 2 in the coaches poll this week.

Clemson, which beat Georgia in its opener, made the biggest move among the top 10. The Tigers were eighth in the preseason polls but climbed to fourth and fifth, respectively, in the AP and coaches ratings.

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