THE Ohio State football team will have an embarrassment of riches on both offense and defense. There is a plethora of future first-round draft picks that will play huge roles this year. Guys like Shaun Wade, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Zach Harrison, Wyatt Davis, and Justin Fields will garner most if not all the headlines, but like most championship-caliber teams there is an unsung hero that plays an invaluable role. Insert running back Trey Sermon.
Before Sermon departed Norman, Oklahoma to head to Columbus, Ohio, there were several questions about the running back position. While there are still some concerns about who can spell Sermon when he needs a breather, Sermon gives Ohio State a security blanket that they did not have.
2019 was one of the best years in school history with rushing the ball. J.K. Dobbins eclipsed 2,000 yards in one season. That says something given that Archie Griffin, Keith Byars, Robert Smith, Eddie George, Maurice Clarett, Beanie Wells, Carlos Hyde, Ezekiel Elliott, and many more elite running backs walked through the doors of the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex. Along with Dobbins’ insane season, backup running back Master Teague had over 700 yards and garnered All-Big Ten honors.
Teague is coming back from injury and it is uncertain if he will be back for the 2020 season and Dobbins was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Its understatement saying that Sermon must fill a gaping hole in the backfield. Although it is a tough task, Sermon is more than capable of doing just that. While playing for the Oklahoma Sooners, Sermon tallied over 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. Those numbers pale in comparison to Dobbins’ career numbers, but when you dive closer into the numbers and optics, Sermon is just as valuable if not more.
If you look at the Sermon’s numbers–specifically carries, his output is like Dobbins’ historic run in 2019. Last year Dobbins had 301 carries, 2,003 yards, and 21 touchdowns with a 6.7 ypc average. For Sermon’s career at Oklahoma, he carried the ball 339 times for 2,076 yards, 21 touchdowns with a 6.1 ypc.
When healthy, Sermon is easily one of the best backs in the country and for the first time in his career, he will be running behind an elite offensive line. According to PFF, in 2018 he had a 90.8 grade that ranked him fifth at his position in the country above Dobbins that was ranked as the No. 45 ranked running back. Sermon was also third in the country with 0.35 broken tackles forced per attempt, which was also superior to Dobbins.
His ability to make people miss in space is a huge asset given his size and speed. As seen in Oklahoma (when healthy), he is a threat to score from anywhere on the field when he makes a defender miss. While Sermon is a proven commodity running the ball, he is a solid wide receiver as well, but more importantly, his ability to play a key role as a blocker is huge for Ohio State.
With Justin Fields, the Buckeyes will sling the ball often and with no proven backup quarterback, Fields must be protected at all cost. With Sermon being a key blocker in Oklahoma’s offense, he will assume that role with the Buckeyes as well. While there will not be a lot of quarterback runs as what was seen with Lincoln Riley and Jalen Hurts, but Sermon’s ability to block can improve the Buckeyes title chances.
The impact of pass protection is often overlooked, but since the departure of Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes have suffered mightily in that area. While running backs Mike Weber, Jr. and Dobbins were All-Everything running the ball, they were minimal at best in pass protection.
While it was expected for Sermon to take the next step as one the best backs in college football, 2019 was a nightmare, to say the least. He tore his ACL, and due to the crowded running back room in Oklahoma, he decided to transfer. Although he did not play a full season due to injuries, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry with only 54 carries along with four touchdowns. In a shared role, he ended up being the team’s third-leading rusher behind Jalen Hurts and Kennedy Brooks, but in Columbus, the table is set for him to show the world that he is back to form.
As the season is underway, it is a great unknown of what Sermon can be in Ryan Day’s offense. Given the number of weapons that the Buckeyes have in all personnel packages, it will allow Sermon to carve up defenses at will. Like Dobbins, Sermon is a one-cut runner that has elusiveness that is second to none. If he is healthy, expect a huge year from him. It is unknown how many games Ohio State will play due to the uncertainty looming because of Covid-19, but if he can finally surpass 200 carries in a season–look out.
If the Buckeyes are celebrating at Club Liv in Miami on January 11, 2021 it will have a lot to do with how Sermon plays in his lone season as a Buckeye.