COLUMBUS — Even though Ryan Day says injuries come with the territory when you’re playing Big Ten football in November, he might never have expected to be talking about the possibility of freshman Dallan Hayden and former walk-on Xavier Johnson being big factors in the Buckeyes’ running game in their next-to-last regular season game at Maryland on Saturday.
OSU’s depth chart at running back before the season began was TreVeyon Henderson as the No. 1 back, Miyan Williams at No. 2 and Evan Pryor as a solid third option.
Pryor suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason practice. Henderson has missed the last two games with an unspecified injury and Williams left last week’s 56-14 win over Indiana because of a leg injury.
Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum, who was converted to linebacker from running back and later returned to the offensive backfield to provide depth, also was held out of the Indiana game because of an injury.
Hayden rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries and had a 14-yard touchdown run. Johnson made probably half of Indiana’s defense miss tackles on a 71-yard touchdown run on his only carry.
Day likes what he has seen from Hayden and Johnson. But he obviously hopes to get some of the injured running backs on the field again soon.
“Dallan, first of all, has taken care of the ball when he has gotten on to the field, which is the No. 1 job for a running back. From there he has been able to go play and not let the moment be too big for him,” Day said.
“When you watch him run he runs with good vision, he has good quickness, good feet, he accelerates through the hole. When I watch him, I think the best thing is he is doing is just trusting his instincts and going out and playing. If he can keep building on that and growing on that, he has a bright future ahead of him.”
He said Johnson made himself into a versatile player who can fill in at running back or wide receiver by working his way up from being a special teams player.
“He spent his first couple years at running back, so you can see his running skills. He jumped right in. We always kind of felt he was more of a running back but then he blossomed as a receiver. Him being able to provide depth there has been huge and he has done really good things when the ball has been in his hands,” Day said.
“We had a lot of guys who played who were hurting. You don’t really hear that because there was a handful of guys who were pushing through bumps and bruises and things like that because it’s November in the Big Ten and that’s how it goes. We’re working on healing up to get healthy. I think you can see from the way we played on Saturday that our guys are strong and we’re persevering through it.”
Some other thoughts from Day:
• Babb’s future uncertain: Day said how much Kamryn Babb plays the rest of the season after coming back from four ACL surgeries to catch his first career touchdown pass last week against Indiana depends on how well his body holds up.
“We’ll see what he will be able to do physically on a regular basis. And if he can take on more, then absolutely we’ll give it to him. We’ll just have to see how much his body can take on. We’ll see how much he can take on moving forward. I hope it will be a lot but I just don’t know,” he said.
• Johnson’s maturity: Commenting on offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. receiving the Armed Forces Merit Award because of a foundation he established helping veterans in need, Day said, “I think it’s the balance he found growing up. His mom, Monica, certainly had a big part in all of that in making sure he understood football is something that he does, it’s not who he is.
“That balance has become more important than ever before with the exposure our players get and everything that comes with it. That balance is very, very important because at some point football does end and when it does and you have to find that balance in your life. I think he found it at a young age.”
• Hamilton steps up: Defensive lineman Ty Hamilton has started the last two games and made a good impression.
An injury to Michael Hall, who leads the team in sacks, opened the door for Hamilton and he ran right through it.
“I think he is playing his best football by far. He graded out a champion (against Indiana). I think you’re seeing versatility there. You’re seeing strong against the run, powerful against the run but also transitioning into the pass rush and pushing the pocket. Ty has gotten better every day. We think he is playing at a starter level,” Day said.
• Impressive debut: Offensive tackle Josh Fryar got his first career start last week against Indiana when starting right tackle Dawand Jones wasn’t able to play.
“Josh graded out as a champion. He played well. When you play a full game you get a real good feel for where you’re at. The good thing for him is he was getting in games at times in our bison package. I thought we took a step in the right direction on Saturday with the offensive line,” Day said.
• No overlooking Maryland: Day said the reminders to the players not to look ahead to the big match-up with Michigan next week began a while ago.
“Competitive excellence is something we talked about early on, so when you get to a moment like this you don’t just walk into a Tuesday meeting and say, ‘Guys, we really have to focus on this week.’ We’ve been saying it all along.
“March Madness starts the first week of the season around here. You just have to embrace that and understand what it means to bring it every single week. We’re working on the game at the end of the year every day out of the year so that’s not something that’s out of the ordinary to know that it is always in the back of our minds. But that’s like that every week. Our focus right now is on Maryland and going down there at 3:30 (Saturday) and playing really good football and then going from there,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.