ANN ARBOR, Mich. – If last Saturday’s postgame comments after Ohio State’s 17-14 loss to Michigan State served as junior running back Ezekiel Elliott burning the program to the ground, his effort in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was him resurrecting the ashes, perhaps to build it to new heights.
Elliott backed up his harsh words toward the Buckeyes’ play-calling in a big way against No. 10 Michigan, carrying the ball 30 times for a whopping 214 yards — just 192 more than his output against the Spartans.
The St. Louis native’s performance might have done the talking for his pleas to be more involved, but he was still remorseful of the way his message materialized.
“First thing’s first, I just want to apologize for everything I said postgame last week,” he said following the win. “I really let my emotions get the most of me and I regret everything I said. I want to be the ultimate team player, that’s what I strive to be. If you turn on the film, I hope you can see that.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer said the word “sorry” was a common sound out of Elliott’s mouth throughout the week.
“I hate to disappoint everybody, but (our relationship) has never been anything but perfect,” Meyer said. “Whatever was said last week, I think he apologized 37 or 38 times, I lost track. I told him he doesn’t need to apologize, he’s got banked investment from the Meyer family, the coaches, the team.”
Elliott cashed in on that banked investment, as he clearly was the focal point of the offensive scheme on Saturday after being largely missing in action last week. Meyer said it was purposeful to do so, but even he didn’t necessarily expect 30 touches for Elliott.
It became clear from early on that Elliott had brought his A-game to Michigan Stadium.
On the second drive of the game, he exploded to the left for a 66-yard run, which brought the Buckeyes down to the Michigan 10-yard line. Two plays later, the road team had an early 7-0 advantage.
That score, set up by the long run, set the tone for the rest of the afternoon, as the Buckeyes scored on their next five drives following the first score, with the exception of a short possession at the end of the first half.
Elliott consistently churned in positive runs, re-emerging as the go-to option for the offense. One such positive gain might not be filling highlight reels on its own, except for the fact it vaulted Elliott past Eddie George for second place all-time in career rushing yards at OSU.
“It’s kind of a dream come true, coming out and being a dominant collegiate athlete,” Elliott said.
Elliott, however, downplayed his role in the accomplishment.
“I’ve got to give all thanks to God and then after that, the O-line,” he said. “They’ve just been so good during my time here. It all starts there, that chemistry we have there, like I said we play for each other and this is an honor to continue this running pedigree at Ohio State. But it all starts with them.”
One of the members of that offensive line, redshirt junior right guard Pat Elflein, said that recognition is true to Elliott’s selfless nature, which is why the team never turned its back on him after his post-Michigan State words.
“Zeke’s the ultimate team guy, we love Zeke. Yeah, he was upset, so maybe he said some things, but that’s not who he is at all,” Elflein said. “We love Zeke. Zeke’s the ultimate team player.”
Elliott showed why Elflein calls him such, expressing that it was not his amount of carries against Michigan State or getting embarrassed on national TV that bothered him; it was knowing in his heart that more could have been done for the good of the team by granting him a larger role.
“It was tough, just kind of the backlash,” Elliott said. “It was hard on me, people questioning my love for the university, questioning my love for my brothers and this team. People questioning me about if I was even going to come out here today and play hard.
“That’s not the person I am. I am not selfish. I am selfless, and I would do anything for my brothers, every day I play my a– off for a bigger purpose, and that is this team.”