The new dawn for Jordan Hall actually began well before dawn.
“I was trying to keep myself calm, but I couldn’t sleep at all last night,” the Ohio State tailback said Saturday. “I was up every hour of the night and finally I just stayed up for good at 5:30. I started watching TV, but I didn’t even feel like getting up to get the remote to change channels. I don’t even know what was on. I was just thinking about the game. I ain’t played with my team in a long time.”
Hall was supposed to be the starting tailback last season, but his campaign got off on a wrong — and bloody — foot when he accidentally stepped on broken glass in his yard and the gash was serious enough that he needed surgery. That sidelined him the first two games, then he returned to the lineup and played well for two games before partially tearing the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee against Michigan State in game five.
That injury ended his season.
Although he was granted a medical redshirt and allowed to return this year, his fifth season at OSU, bruising Carlos Hyde had taken over the tailback job and Rod Smith was now the backup.
Hall was switched to a slotback position and tried to learn that role in the spring although he was hampered by a pulled hamstring.
“My heart was breaking for him through all this,” said Travia Hall, Jordan’s mother. “I felt his pain and I just kept telling him, ‘Keep your head up. You never know what’s coming your way.’ ”
Mom was right.
Hyde was suspended by coach Urban Meyer for the first three games this season, Smith was suspended for Saturday’s season opener against Buffalo and suddenly Hall was the starting tailback again.
He had his new chance and that’s when an old problem surfaced from his prep days in Jeannette, Pa.
“Before his high school games he couldn’t sleep and I knew it would be the same now,” Travia said. “I told my other son, ‘I know Jordan’s gonna be sleepless before this one. He gets all nervous the night before he plays.’ ”
And Hall knew he was going to play a lot Saturday, he said: “Coach Herman told me he was gonna give the ball a little bit today and I just wanted to do everything I could out there.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
Near the end of the first quarter, thanks in part to a hole opened by left guard Andrew Norwell, Hall brought the crowd of 103,980 to its feet as he ran 49 yards for a touchdown. The next quarter he did it again, this time scampering 37 yards untouched for another score
By game’s end — a 40-20 victory for the No. 2 Buckeyes — he had 21 carries for a career-high 159 yards and his two touchdowns. He’d also caught three passes and returned a kickoff 17 yards.
Hall shrugged off his step-up performance: “Hey, it’s Ohio State, it’s always the next person up.”
That worked in a couple of other cases as well. When quarterback Braxton Miller went down twice with cramps, Kenny Guiton — who Meyer calls the best backup in America — came in for a few snaps and played superbly, just as he often did last season. This time he threw a 21-yard TD pass to Chris Fields.
On the flip side sophomore cornerback Armani Reeves, filling in for suspended Bradley Roby, struggled and Taylor Decker, the sophomore tackle from Vandalia Butler who was making his first start, had more than he could handle at times with Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, who will be one of the best defenders OSU faces all season and will almost certainly be a first-round pick in the next NFL draft.
Yet, as good as Mack was, he nor any other Bull could lay a hand on Hall on those two TD bursts.
“On the first one I was just like, ‘Wow,’ ” Hall said. “I didn’t know if they messed up or our O-line just did what they do, but I saw it all open up and I took everything I could get.”
Up in Section 21A, behind the team bench, Travia said she celebrated her son’s every stride: “I was up there dancing and screaming. Jordan’s grandma up there, too, and so was his brother and his brother’s friend. We were all celebrating.
“This is finally going to be Jordan’s year to shine.”
You get the feeling that may be the motto of this whole Bucks team this season.
Although this wasn’t quite the coming out party they had hoped for Saturday, OSU was missing a few key people — safety C. J. Barnett was sidelined with a sprained ankle, linebacker Ryan Shazier left with cramps — and you saw glimmers of good things to come from a few young players including sophomore defensive end Noah Spence and speedy freshman Dontre Wilson, who made up for an early fumble on a play from scrimmage with a 51-yard kick return that had everyone in the Horseshoe roaring with anticipation.
“We aren’t satisfied with this win,” Hall said. “We’ve got to get better and we will.”
When Hyde and Smith return, Hall — unless he can’t be unseated at tailback — will move to the slotback where Meyer hopes he will shine in the spread offense similar to the way Percy Harvin did for him at Florida.
“Look, we’re all brothers on this team so whatever we got to do to get a win that’s what I’ll do,” Hall said.
After he did that Saturday, Travia had an admission of her own: “Truthfully I didn’t sleep much either. I was so nervous, so I just prayed and prayed and God answered my prayers. My boy had a good game.
“He’ll sleep tonight. He’ll sleep just fine.”