With a Big Ten road game in late November and the Buckeyes’ undefeated record at stake in College Park, Ohio State put the ball in the hands of a true freshman. Again and again.
And Dallan Hayden delivered. Again and again.
Miyan Williams was out with an injury. TreVeyon Henderson left the race in a hiking boot. Hayden went all out to run back to Ohio State in the second half of a game he trailed at halftime, and the freshman Buckeye helped his team to a come-from-behind victory, 43-30, with 146 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. All but one attempt came in the last 30 minutes.
The Buckeyes struggled mightily to run the ball early, but Hayden’s second score gave Ohio State the lead back in the third quarter, and it didn’t relinquish it after that. Maryland cut the Buckeye advantage to three points in the final frame, but Hayden rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone to keep the Terps at bay.
‘I mean, he sees it. He sees it, and I think when you see him hit, he runs through contact. I mean, you can just feel it.”– Ryan Dag on Dallan Hayden
Hayden’s performance wasn’t just a nice addition to Buckeye’s victory. It was indispensable.
“We didn’t quite get the running game going there in the first half, and then made the switch to Dallan, and he really got us into a rhythm,” said Ryan Day after the game. “I thought he hit the holes hard. Right after the blocked kick there, two good hard runs, and that was good. And from then on I thought he almost broke a few. I mean, he almost did. But for a young player who has so much at stake here today, to play like this – first of all, to take care of the football, that’s the most important thing. When you give someone football, you put the whole team in their hands. And that’s something we talk about a lot. And so we trusted Dallan to do that.
“He’s had a few spots this year, but this was big. And for him to get this game under his belt, I think it will build some confidence for him.
Hayden didn’t start the game by running back. In fact, he didn’t even take a carry until the last four minutes of the first half. It was Henderson, who missed the past two games with an injury, who served as a workhorse for Ohio State early on. Only there wasn’t much work to do. Ohio State finished the first half with only 28 rushing yards on 13 carries. Henderson took 11 of those tries, getting to just 19 yards.
During an extended play to right field that saw the Buckeyes threaten to score early in the second quarter, Henderson was boxed by multiple Maryland defensemen for a 1-yard loss. The sophomore running back wasn’t happy about it.
Already his fourth rush with no gain or negative yardage in the first half, Henderson repeatedly stomped his foot on the turf in anger. That play, coupled with the reaction, summed up Henderson’s night in a nutshell. He barely looked healthy in his first game since Penn State, and Henderson finished the game with a walking boot on his left foot.
Here is TreVeyon Henderson in a hiking boot on his left leg. pic.twitter.com/x72akXtG7z
— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) November 20, 2022
Day said that Henderson had a “great week of training” leading up to the game, but was eventually withdrawn in the second half due to injury. Henderson saw the field briefly in the third quarter, but was denied a carry after halftime.
“We kept Tre (off due to injury) there at one point. It got to the point where we just decided we weren’t going to use him again,” Day said.
Even with Henderson visibly limping after the game’s opening drive, Ohio State hesitated to hand the reins over to Dallan Hayden on the running back. But when they did, the real freshman brought an adrenaline rush to the Buckeye ground game.
In the third quarter alone, Hayden ran the ball 13 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns. The first of these gave Ohio State back the lead after trailing Maryland by three points at halftime. The second score gave the Buckeyes a two-touchdown lead for their biggest lead of the game at the time.
Dallan Hayden is good. Like, really good. pic.twitter.com/HY0AfRa05e
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 19, 2022
Dallan Hayden is (and will be) special. pic.twitter.com/nMtfvMSjl7
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 19, 2022
‘I mean, he sees it. He sees it, and I think when you see him hit, he runs through contact. I mean, you can just feel him,” Day said. “He has really good feet, so some guys missed. Even at the end there when it was the four minute drill… there were some guys in the hole that were extra guys that he missed. He kept those things moving and kept the chains moving and got us on track, and I thought it was well done.
There was a big difference in the productivity of the run game before and after Hayden took over as the best option. While the Buckeyes would no doubt prefer a more experienced rusher to take on most of the backfield duties during a potential College Football Playoff run, they don’t seem to have one sane enough to make that happen. Not on Saturday anyway.
As the jury rules on Henderson, Day said Williams — who was carted off the field in the second quarter of Indiana’s win — is expected to be healthy enough to play against Michigan.
“Yes, that’s the hope,” Day said. “And it was trending that way.”
But when he was called up to fill the role of RB1 for the Buckeyes, Hayden left little to be desired. The Memphis native has now rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns in the past two weeks alone, with 100-yard back-to-back efforts. Hayden rushed for 5.4 yards per carry in both games, and his ability to go north and south was a difference maker in the run game.
“I feel like I’ve always naturally been able to just hit the hole and go downhill and get vertical. I’ve never really been the dancing type,” Hayden said. “So yeah, I feel like it’s natural.”
Michigan may turn out to be a different animal. The Wolverines choked the Buckeyes to the ground last season, even with TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams both healthy. Michigan’s defense entered this weekend with the No. 1 defense in the nation.
But Hayden’s recent excellence may inspire confidence that Ohio State still has a dangerous backfield weapon, even as its top two backs are hampered by injury late in the season.
“It just feels like it means I can show my coaches that they can trust them to place me, and if they need me I can be there for them,” said Hayden.