COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The number five and Ezekiel Elliott are linked like scarlet and gray are associated with Ohio State.
Wearing No. 15, the junior running back had touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards against Indiana last Saturday to help the top-ranked Buckeyes to a 34-27 win and a 5-0 record. He also reignited talk of Ohio State’s unique streak of Heisman Trophy winners.
Beginning in 1955 with Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, an OSU running back has won the Heisman every 20 years. Archie Griffin was voted his unprecedented second award in 1975 and Eddie George followed in 1995, among the seven total winners for the school.
“(Elliott’s) much different than Eddie, a little more dynamic than even Eddie was,” said Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, an OSU teammate of George from 1992-95. “The combination of speed and power, the ability to get to the second level and not be tackled, the ability to drop his pads – he’s different.”
What Elliott and George have in common are listings in the OSU record book.
Elliott’s 274 yards vs. the Hoosiers tied Keith Byars’ 1974 mark for the second-most rushing yards in a game behind the 314 for George in 1995.
Of Elliott’s total, 243 yards came in the second half to better Byars’ single-half mark by 48 yards. Elliott’s 11.9 yards per carry was also a school record.
“I think coming into this game we kind of wanted to get some stuff like that going,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “We’re used to having those big hits and big plays, and we hadn’t really done a lot this year.”
Elliott has 10 consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards to rank third on the Ohio State list behind Griffin’s 31 and 12 by George.
But there are yards gained in a 40-point blowout that are quickly forgotten and those remembered, as in Elliott’s performance against the underdog Hoosiers.
The 55-yard TD by Elliott came on a third-and-2 to give the Buckeyes their first lead, 13-10, with 8:57 left in the third quarter. His second score from 65 yards was late in the third on a fourth-and-1 from the OSU 35-yard line to put the Buckeyes ahead 20-17.
“It was a great call and a great scheme by the offense,” Elliott said. “The O-line blocked it perfectly and I really didn’t have to do much but outrun the (defensive backs).”
His last touchdown increased the margin to 34-20 with 10 minutes left in the game.
“He does have that next gear when the game’s on the line,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Elliott’s ability to find the gaps and then burst through the line sets him up for big gainers, such as the 80-yard TD run on his first carry of the season against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 and an 85-yarder vs. Alabama in last season’s College Football Playoff semifinal.
“He’s got that look in his eye when it’s time to start feeding the beast,” Meyer said.
A Missouri high school state champion in sprints and hurdles, the 6-0, 225-pound Elliott has perfected the “Zeke Leap” in which he goes airborne over would-be tacklers aiming low.
“I’m tired of taking those shots to the legs, those thigh bruises, so I decided to go up top a couple of times,” he said.
Elliott’s also moved back into the Heisman conversation after a relatively slow start. He averaged 114 yards a game and 5.9 yards a carry prior to the Indiana game.
Now he leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally with 145.8 yards per game and he’s upped his per carry average to 7.3. He’s also rushed for eight touchdowns.
His long runs against Indiana have helped the confidence of a struggling offense going into Saturday’s games against Maryland.
“It boosts our morale,” left guard Billy Price said. “Everybody’s been kind of dogging the offensive line the first (four) games. It shows the representation of what our unit is all about.”