Freshman running back Jordan Hall was a forgotten commodity coming into the 2009 season. Not only were the Buckeyes returning veteran running backs Boom Herron and Brandon Saine, but they also had two assumed better recruits in Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde. It was neither Hyde (Fork Union Military Academy) nor Berry (injuries) that made the biggest statement in fall practice though, it was Hall. After every open practice and scrimmage the media raved over the play making ability of Hall out of the backfield. Still though, Saine and Herron stood in the way of Hall gaining much playing time.
He would not see his first game action until he got some garbage playing time at the end of the Toledo game. Even though he was running against a tired Rocket's defense, Hall looked sharp running for 44 yards on 7 carries. He saw playing time in the following two games against Illinois and Indiana, but neither performance was really that impressive. No doubt this had a part to play in him sitting against Wisconsin and Purdue. Injuries to Herron and Saine opened the door for Hall to once again to make a statement though. After coming in and scoring a nice 13 yard touchdown against Minnesota, Hall would rush for 90 yards on 10 carries this last week against New Mexico State (231 yards, 1 TD on season). Those two performances combined with a struggling Buckeye backfield have fans wondering if Hall could be the best pure running back available. So, is he? Let's take an honest look...
1) Hall has great vision, which he combines with shifty moves. Herron and Saine have both struggled finding holes this season (no help from the offensive line), and when they have, they have not been great about making the first guy miss. This especially is the case between the tackles, where Herron and Saine have been gobbled up at times. Herron has honestly looked awful in the more traditional running sets, and anyone who watches Saine knows he is most valuable running out of a shotgun set. Hall's size makes it hard for him to probably be a consistent runner inside, but he at least has the vision and moves to do so.
2) Hall hits the hole faster than Saine and Herron. No doubt Saine would win if they ran a 100 meter dash, but it is Hall who looks the quickest in pads with the ball in his hands. The Buckeyes have missed a spark like this. Herron runs like a power runner in a 5-10 195 pound body, and Saine has ran with authority this season but has not shown the ability to be a quick, decisive runner. This is where Hall really shines on film. He makes quicks decisions (because of his vision), and then hits the hole fast. Regardless of size, quick and decisive runners always have success.
Gaining perspective on Hall:
1) Hall has played a lot of garbage time. Not only did Hall not play in the Buckeyes' three toughest games, but outside of NMSU all of his carries have been late in games. There will be a big difference for Hall when he steps up to play higher quality defenses, or even ones that are fresh. Saine and Herron have been the guys who have had to do that behind a beat up offensive line all year long, so don't go throwing them under the bus just yet.
2) Hall is healthy and has fresh legs right now. Sure Saine and Herron haven't looked as solid in recent weeks, but both of them are feeling the effects of a Big Ten season. Hall hasn't had to deal with that same battle, which makes him look much better in comparison at the moment. With his body, I have a hard time believing he could have carried the ball 15-20 times a game and still looked this solid now. Don't get me wrong, Hall has some great things to offer, but he needs to bulk up in the offseason to be a consistent game in and game out runner for the Buckeyes.
What I believe:
I think the staff has to give Hall more playing time in the next three games. Not only has he shown himself to be a playmaker, but the Buckeyes need fresh legs in the backfield. Am I ready to declare him the starter or the best running back on the roster? Not yet. I really believe each of the top three runners for the Buckeyes (Saine, Herron, and Hall), all bring something different to the table. It would be nice for Tressel to be consistent in rotating them in to help utilize their strengths. Sean Payton is doing this down in New Orleans with Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, and Reggie Bush, and they are running the ball as well as they have in years. Sure it would be nice if the Buckeyes had Beanie Wells or Eddie George on the roster to handle 30 carries a game while taking the pounding of playing in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes don't have one of those guys, so they need to be strategic in how they play the guys they have. It's ridiculous to put Herron, Saine, or Hall out there and ask them to take the team on their shoulders, but combined all three guys can handle that load.