January 1, 2015 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans: Alabama cut the Buckeyes lead in the Sugar Bowl to 34-28 late in the third quarter and Ohio State was clinging to that lead late in the game. After the Crimson Tide downed a punt on the 5-yard line, the Buckeyes picked up a first down on three short runs to set up 1st and 10 from Ohio State's own 15-yard line.
Cardale Jones handed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott on a read-option and Elliott ripped off one of the most memorable plays in program history.
On a national stage, there went Elliott sprinting through the hole and scoring on what became the longest play in College Football Playoff history. On that play, I think Elliott cemented himself as the greatest running back in the history of Buckeye football.
In the Buckeyes’ first appearance in the CFP, Elliott basically ran his team to a National Championship.
Consider his stats in the final three games of 2014, on the biggest stage of his career: 696 yards and eight touchdowns as he led Ohio State to the Big Ten championship, an “upset” win over No. 1 ranked Alabama and a decisive win over Oregon in the National Title game. Elliott’s 246 rushing yards against the Ducks is a single-game record in the CFP’s 7-year history and a mark that may never be broken. It also set an OSU bowl-game record.
Here’s how Zeke finished his Ohio State career:
Ezekiel Elliott Career Statistics and School Ranking
|Statistic||Amount (Program History Ranking)|
Yards Per Carry
6.7 yards (No. 1)
200-Yard Rushing Performances
5 (No. 1)
100-Yard Rushing Performances
22 (No. 2)
3,961 yards (No. 2)
44 (No. 4)
Did I mention he did it all in just 35 games played?
The Buckeyes have been fortunate to have several outstanding running backs run through The Shoe. Of course, there’s Archie Griffin, Eddie George and J.K. Dobbins. But none of them are better than Elliott.
Best Single-Season Rushing Performances in Ohio State History
|Ranking||Player (Year)||Yards (Rushing Attempts)|
J.K. Dobbins (2019)
Eddie George (1995)
Ezekiel Elliott (2014)
Ezekiel Elliott (2015)
Keith Byars (1984)
Archie Griffin (1974)
Chris Wells (2007)
Archie Griffin (1973)
Think about this.
During Elliott’s junior season (273 carries), he ran for 6.9 yards per carry. With the extra 31 carries that Dobbins had, Elliott would’ve amassed a total of 2,071 rushing yards. That would have topped Dobbins’ OSU record by 68 yards.
Although Dobbins was Ohio State’s first-ever 2,000-yard rusher, Elliott holds the advantage in yards per carry and rushing touchdowns.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. J.K. Dobbins Career Comparison
|Player||Yards Per Carry||Rushing TD's||Rushing Attempts||Snaps Played||Receiving Yards|
Elliott wasn’t quite the pass-catching back Dobbins was, but he also didn’t have the same number of opportunities. Dobbins has the leg up in receiving yards, but played in 146 more snaps during his Buckeye career.
Griffin and George make good cases too, but not good enough to convince me that they’re better than Elliott.
Yes, Griffin is one of Columbus’ own. He was born in the Buckeye capital and is still the only two-time Heisman winner in the history of the award.
In four years at OSU, George received more carries than Elliott, but nearly rushed for a yard less per attempt. Sure, they played in different eras, but Griffin was non-existent in the passing game with only 30 total catches in his career.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Archie Griffin Career Comparison
|Player||Yards Per Carry||Rushing TD's||Rushing Attempts||Receptions|
Furthermore, Griffin had one specific luxury during his playing campaign that Elliott didn’t. Griffin played in an era (1972-75) that valued running backs - to say he carried the football frequently doesn't do it justice. Griffin's 924 carries is 241 more than the next closest player. Meanwhile, Elliott recorded his statistics while spread/air-raid offenses with running quarterbacks have been the focal point of college football.
Plus, as dominant as Griffin was, he only scored 26 touchdowns — not even one per game. Elliott had 43 in his career.
I think the case against Eddie George is even stronger. Yes, George has more single season rushing yards, but he also did it with significantly more rushing attempts; Zeke ran for just 49 yards less in 2014 and 106 yards less in 2015 (see table two above).
George had dominant junior and senior seasons and is certainly in the conversation for greatest back in school history. But in Elliott’s final two years, he still rushed for 330 more yards and five more scores than George - and he did it on 42 fewer carries.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Eddie George in Final Two Seasons at OSU
|Player||Carries||Rushing Yards||Rushing TD's|
Nothing will beat Elliott’s three-game campaign during the 2014 season, but his performance the following year was simply ridiculous.
In a barn-burner matchup that Ohio State nearly lost against Indiana, Elliott dashed for 243 yards in ONE HALF. That went down as the most rushing yards in a half in OSU history. It only took him 23 carries for that record.
During the 2015 season, Elliott rushed for 100 yards or more 12 times — that’s also a school record. His impact on the Buckeyes led him to become the highest running back drafted from the Big Ten since 1995 (Bengals drafted Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter No. 1 overall).
Since then, all Elliott has done is carry that same mindset with him into the NFL. He's earned two rushing titles, two All-Pro selections and three Pro Bowls with Dallas. Before the 2019 season, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones rewarded Elliott with a 6-year, $90 million contract to make him the highest-paid running back in NFL history.
The only question that remains for Elliott is: What’s next?
All statistics and rankings from this story were provided courtesy of the Ohio State football media guide and College Football Reference.