Each of our Big Ten writers was asked to pick a Big Ten football "person of the year" for the 2015 season. Today on the Big Ten blog, each writer will lay out the case for his choice.
Ezekiel Elliott's last season at Ohio State is almost certainly going to be remembered by many for just one thing.
For a guy who could do just about everything on the football field, that’s an absolute shame.
But even if the focus is on a dreadful November evening in the rain and seven minutes of emotion spilling out into a microphone when it was over, the easy punchlines or outrageous calls for Elliott to be suspended for speaking his mind still miss the bigger picture with the star tailback.
Often lost in the shuffle of his newsy press conference was Elliott revealing that he had been in the hospital with a leg infection that left him unable to walk, let alone practice, early in the week ahead of the huge clash with Michigan State. Elliott played anyway and scored one of the game’s few touchdowns in the miserable conditions.
Overlooked in the aftermath of Elliott’s criticism of the play calling was that there was a serious problem for the Buckeyes that may have needed a leader to bring attention to it. The next week, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner was upstairs calling plays and Ohio State destroyed rival Michigan with perhaps its best performance of the season.
Maybe the timing or the venue wasn’t ideal, and Elliott’s Heisman Trophy campaign realistically didn’t stand a chance after posting his worst statistical outing of the season in his team’s most important game. But if the spotlight stays fixed on the Michigan State game, one of the most fascinating, productive and versatile seasons Ohio State has ever had will be criminally undervalued.
Elliott’s contributions for the 12-win, Fiesta Bowl-champion Buckeyes went well beyond his individual numbers, but even those alone are enough to prove how invaluable he was in the backfield with a rare combination of top-end speed and physical rushing style. He finished the year with 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns for Ohio State, giving him two of the three-best rushing seasons in school history on the ground and wrapping up his three-year run behind only Archie Griffin in career yardage.
That’s heady company given the program’s rich tradition, but almost unanimously Elliott was praised more for what he did without the football in his hands as a devastating blocker who never took a play off when he was on the field.
“That doesn’t show up on the stats sheet, so when you start talking about how valuable is he to your football team, he’s valuable in so many other ways aside from just handing him the football,” Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said after walking ESPN.com through a highlight reel of everything Elliott can do from his tailback spot. “I’m biased to this one now, but I would be even if I wasn’t coaching here.
“If somebody showed me this, I’d be like, ‘Wow.’ That’s different. He’s different.”
Elliott proved it even on his worst night. But instead of ripping him for an off game or speaking honestly instead of spouting off cliches, celebrate him for what he was -- the one person in the Big Ten who was not to be missed all season long.