COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Yardage might not be his primary focus, but Ezekiel Elliott has proven to be pretty aware of exactly where he stands and where he wants to go.
Before the season, the Ohio State running back rattled off the school’s all-time rushing record and who holds it without batting an eye.
During a game, sometimes his up-to-the-second total is unavoidable on the huge video boards at the Horseshoe. At other times he can just sense that he hasn’t crossed the 100-yard barrier that has become his trademark baseline of consistency.
And while the Heisman Trophy candidate might not be motivated by individual statistics, he confessed that his knowledge of his numbers might have played a part in his push to stay on the field in the second half of a blowout at Rutgers last week. And with his place in history on the line, Elliott again capitalized on his chance to make it.
“Sometimes you know,” Elliott said. “It’s not really like a priority of mine to see how many yards I have during the game. But that was just one where I knew I didn’t have 100, and it was something I just was trying to get before they pulled me.
“Basically, it was me begging Coach [Urban] Meyer to let me go back in for another possession.”
All Elliott actually needed was one more carry to extend the nation’s longest active streak of 100-yard games to 13, exploding on a 55-yard burst that helped him easily clear the bar, gave him yet another touchdown and then allowed him to comfortably take off the rest of the fourth quarter.
It also strengthened a Heisman Trophy campaign that at times has seemingly been overlooked because it hasn’t included some of the flash or newness that has come from other candidates, though that’s one area where Elliott is definitely not paying attention. Heading into top-ranked Ohio State’s off-date, Elliott said after practice Wednesday that his top priority was “hanging out with his puppy” and he showed little interest in watching other games or checking out the rest of the contenders for the nation’s most coveted individual award.
But there was little doubt there was one guy who was in his sights before his junior season even started. And when he quickly identified Eddie George and recited his 1,927-yard total back in August, it was clear Elliott had some goals in mind that would carve out his place in Ohio State’s storied history, even if it’s not his focus at the moment.
“I mean, you definitely hear about it and it’s an honor to be compared to the great backs here,” said Elliott, who has 1,130 rushing yards for the Buckeyes (8-0). “I’m just going to continue to do what I can to continue that lineage.
“But It’s not really something I pay attention to. I’m more worried about getting back to the Big Ten championship.”
The Buckeyes are right on track to return there heading into the final month of the regular season, and the rushing game is again fueling the high-scoring offense.
But with all the attention opponents have been devoting to stopping Elliott lately, he certainly can’t get them there alone. In fact, at halftime in the rout of Rutgers, Elliott had just 15 yards rushing, finding little room to operate -- but he kept enough potential tacklers occupied to leave clear lanes for quarterback J.T. Barrett as both a rusher and a passer.
Barrett is starting to return the favor by shoring up an inconsistent passing attack down the field, making teams pay for loading up the box and putting Elliott back in favorable situations to show off his fast, physical and sometimes even high-flying rushing style. And when that starts happening within a game, even Meyer conceded on his radio show Thursday that he’ll check in for an update on Elliott’s numbers on occasion.
“Teams know to stop Zeke,” Meyer said. “[Rutgers] did a good job and they were loading the box, so you have to take shots down the field. I should rephrase that: We have to complete shots down the field. Now we’re completing them. There’s some conflict on the defense; you want take away Zeke, then you are going to see some guys singled up.
“Then there are certain times in a game where I’ll check if he’s got 100 yards.”
After the game, though, there hasn’t been any doubt that Elliott would be there for quite a while.