Health in focus as prep for Ohio State last road game of season begins

COLUMBUS -- With two weeks to go in the regular season, Ohio State football has no losses.

The second-ranked Buckeyes (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) also have almost no healthy running backs.

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Head coach Ryan Day said after a 54-14 win over Indiana he was optimistic that will change soon, but it remains to be seen who will be available for a trip to Maryland on Saturday — or the season finale against Michigan a week later.

On the plus side, true freshman Dallan Hayden was up to the task to finish the game against the Hoosiers.

The Memphis Christian Brothers High School product ran for 102 yards on 19 carries and scored his second touchdown of the season.

It marked the second time he was leaned upon in the second half of a game this season because of injuries to TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. The first time came in Week 3 against Toledo when Hayden finished with 108 yards on 17 carries.

“The No. 1 job of the running backs is to take care of football — the No. 1 job — and the rest of it takes care of itself,” Day said. “I thought he got into a rhythm. He had a nice run early on. We gave him the first touchdown run. He bounced that one, did a nice job with the vision on that, and overall ran hard. Even a couple of those runs there in the fourth quarter, I thought he finished the runs. If it was a 3-yard run, he was finishing at 6. I think he’s got good feet, good vision. He’s a really good young player.”

Hayden signed with Ohio State last winter as the 24th-ranked running back in 247Sports national composite rankings and the eighth-best prospect in the state of Tennessee.

He arrived not looking like he would be needed much this season, but redshirt freshman Evan Pryor went down with a knee injury in the preseason and Henderson and Williams have both been in and out of the lineup all season.

Ohio State moved linebacker Chip Trayanum to running back about a month ago to provide more depth, but he was also out Saturday with an unidentified injury.

“Great to see our depth show up,” Day said. “We’ll have to see, but it didn’t look like based on what we saw in the locker room it was going to be something real long term (for Williams). So we’ll see how he feels overnight, and we’re hoping to get Tre back next week.”

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With Xavier Johnson, Hayden formed a one-two punch at running back no one would have foreseen during the summer.

Johnson, a former walk-on from Cincinnati Summit Country Day, joined the rotation at receiver for the first time this season and caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the season-opening win over Notre Dame, but his history at running back helped him transition back there when it became apparent might be needed.

He came through with a 71-yard touchdown run Day said began with precision blocking and ended with Johnson doing the rest as he zig-zagged down the field.

“You can see what a weapon he is,” Day said. “He’s made some big plays for us this year. So happy for him. And he’s very unselfish. We felt like maybe he’d have to play a little running back in this game so we spent a lot of time talking about protection and the run tracks. And because he’s been such a good special teams players, he has a lot of versatility, and you can see that this game.”

Running back was an position depth was a big concern heading into the season.

So was cornerback, but that could be on the rise.

While Denzel Burke did not play for unspecified reasons (he has been dealing with a surgically repaired finger he said was still causing him pain earlier in the month) against the Hoosiers, senior Cam Brown returned and made a couple of notable pass breakups down the field.

Sophomore Jordan Hancock, a spring standout who dealt with a significant hamstring injury in August and the first half of the season, got his first start, and true freshman Jyaire Brown also saw an uptick in snaps after redshirt freshman JK Johnson appeared to be involved in multiple big plays by the opponent for the second straight week.

Day expressed optimism everyone who was not available — including Burke and starting right tackle Dawand Jones along with the running backs — would be back soon.

Of course, the desire to be fully healthy for Michigan’s visit on Nov. 26 could impact decisions on who plays this week at Maryland.

The Terrapins are tumbling, having lost two in a row after starting 6-2.

“Give credit to Penn State,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said after the Nittany Lions beat his team 30-0 on Saturday. “Obviously today we did not play in any phase up to the standard that we have for ourselves. I told our team now isn’t the time to panic, but it is time that we — starting with myself — take a deep look at everything we’re doing on offense, on defense, on special teams, and find a way to get us back on the right track.

“I have no problem with the way that we prepared. I do have a problem with the way we executed. And again, we got to take a hard look and it starts with me inside.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Ohio State at Maryland, 3:30 p.m., ABC, 1410

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