COLUMBUS — Jordan Hall took the handoff, dashed through a line parted wide enough for a van — not to mention a 5-foot-9, 191-pound man — and saw nothing but open turf.
A glimpse up at the Ohio Stadium videoboard would have revealed no defender within 10 yards.
“It’s a feeling you can’t explain,” Hall said. “The crowd gets loud, and you’ve just got to get to the end zone.”
For the Ohio State senior, the straight-line touchdown run on a career-high day in Saturday’s opener was a long time coming in his twisting college journey.
It also raised the question: Could Hall be more than a placeholder at running back?
Hall is expected to eventually shift to H-back — the hybrid run-catch position coaches feel best exploits his skills. But coach Urban Meyer last week called him the best running back on the team — suspended returning starter Carlos Hyde included — and Hall did nothing to temper the praise.
Hall ran for for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in a 40-20 win against Buffalo, leading some to wonder if he could remain a top option at tailback even as those expected to get the bulk of the carries return from suspensions. Hall said he does not care, as long as he is contributing.
Once known as the other recruit from Terrelle Pryor’s Pittsburgh-area high school, Hall was behind Brandon Saine and Daniel Herron as a freshman and backed up Herron in 2010 and 2011. Last year looked to be his chance — until he tore a tendon in his foot, injured his knee, and took a medical redshirt. As a fifth-year senior, next year — the beacon that always seemed distant — is finally here.
“I thought it was going to come,” Hall said of his breakout game. “I just had to be prepared for when it came, and it came.”
His future role remains uncertain. Junior Rod Smith’s return from a one-game suspension should free OSU to at times move Hall to H-back on Saturday against San Diego State.
But Hall remained listed as the starting running back in the Buckeyes’ depth chart released Tuesday, and he may be the only back coaches fully trust. In the opener, besides Hall and Miller, freshmen Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott combined for four carries while redshirt freshman Warren Ball had two. Top backup Bri’onte Dunn did not touch the ball.
Hyde’s return from a three-game suspension presents a different situation. The 6-foot, 235-pound senior — a bruising complement to the shiftier Hall — is a proven option after rushing for 970 yards and 16 TDs in 10 games.
“Carlos, he earned his right last year,” Hall said. “I know that he was going to be the running back before he got in trouble, and I was going to play a different position.”
For both Smith and Hyde, nothing will be given to them.
“What they do is they have to come in and earn their position back,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said.
“It starts with special teams. We have a philosophy that if you want to play your respective position, you have to provide some value to this team on special teams, and that is truly our philosophy here. So if Carlos Hyde gets reinstated, and he can add some value to our special teams, then great.”
ROBY WATCH: Meyer said All-American cornerback Bradley Roby will also have to earn back his old job in practice this week.
“He is competing for a spot,” he said. "He will not just be named a starter.”
OSU coaches are high on Roby’s stand-in for the opener. Sophomore Armani Reeves will remain a starter on kick coverage teams.
WELCOME BACK: Browns fans will see a familiar face on the visiting sideline Saturday.
Brian Sipe, the architect of Cleveland’s treasured “Kardiac Kids,” is the quarterbacks coach at San Diego State. A star under famed Aztecs coach Don Coryell, Sipe went on to a 10-year career with the Browns and won the NFL’s MVP award in a storybook 1980 season marked by weekly comebacks and ultimately heartbreak (See: Red Right 88).
“I remember going and watching them play in the old stadium,” Meyer said. “I loved it.”
Now 63, Sipe is in his fifth season coaching at his alma mater.