In a somber postgame interview room after No. 3 Ohio State’s 17-14 loss to No. 9 Michigan State, a frustrated Ezekiel Elliott did not hold back his feelings after only receiving 12 carries in the upset.
The junior running back put the coaching staff on blast about the play-calling and disclosed he spent time in the hospital during the week, while also announcing Saturday was his final game at Ohio Stadium before leaving for the NFL.
“It’s very disappointing,” Elliott said. “In the one drive that we had where we kind of had some momentum, when we scored after the strip-sack, the plays we ran, we ran a lot of gap schemes, and we were gassing them.
“You saw that on that drive, and we had a lot of momentum, and honestly, we didn’t see those plays at all for the rest of the game. Those plays weren’t called anymore. I asked for those plays to be called and they weren’t, and it hurts, it hurts a lot, because of how we lost. I feel like we weren’t put in the right opportunity to win this game, we weren’t put in the right situation to win this game.”
Elliott said his battle with the coaching staff to receive more carries was an ongoing struggle throughout the game, and he blamed the mismanagement for the loss.
A slow first half has not been out of the ordinary for Elliott this season, such as against Indiana, but he has typically put up flashy numbers as the game wears on. In Saturday’s contest, however, he only received two handoffs in the second half after rushing 10 times for 30 yards in the first.
“It’s kind of been something we’ve seen all season, honestly,” he said. “We’ll have some momentum, we’ll have some plays that work, and then we’ll try to get away from it, try to get cute and run some other stuff.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game that the Spartans dominated the line of scrimmage and loaded up the box to make sure the run game was contained. Even so, Elliott thought he deserved more than his 12 carries — which is his lowest total since the season opener against Virginia Tech when he had 11 carries but 122 yards.
Elliott said he was lobbying Meyer all game for more touches but to no avail.
“I think I do deserve more than (12) carries,” the St. Louis native said. “I think I really do. I mean, honestly, I can’t speak for the play calling, I don’t know what was going on, I don’t know what they were seeing, but honestly it didn’t work out. It wasn’t working.”
Speaking to his frustrations, Elliott said he was never able to receive an explanation for his sudden lack of usage.
For Elliott, what made the evening really sting was the journey he took throughout the week to be able to step inside the lines.
The junior said he was hospitalized from Monday through Wednesday after a cyst on his right leg became infected. Elliott said at one point he had a 103-degree fever and could not walk because of the pain from the infection.
“I didn’t think I was going to play,” he said. “I was depressed in the hospital, crying like a baby, but things turned around, and I was able to go out and practice, no difficulty.”
Elliott, who sported a black, protective pad on his right shin during the game, downplayed the infection, saying he was “100 percent.”
Meyer echoed that.
“He was fine,” the coach said. “He practiced Thursday. And he’s a warrior.”
Meyer said the line of scrimmage was so clogged up that it hurt the ground game. Nevertheless, Elliott said he believed the offense would have churned out more than the 132 yards it did had he had an increased volume of carries.
To add further insult to injury, the running back said his grandfather had flown in from Finland to watch him play, only to see his lowest rushing total since the Virginia Tech loss in 2014.
“It kind of hurts that he has to see me go out like this,” Elliott said. “I just wish I was given an opportunity to do more.”
By “go out,” Elliott was alluding to more than this season’s home finale. There is one more schedule game against Michigan, as well as a bowl game, but neither of those tilts will be in Ohio’s capital city. After that, Elliott’s collegiate years will be through, even with a year of eligibility remaining.
“Honestly, this is my last game at the ‘Shoe,” Elliott said. “There’s no chance of me coming back next year.”
Even with the usual motivation of a game against the Buckeyes’ archrival in the Wolverines, Elliott said he expects to see a side of himself and his teammates not present all season.
“We’re hungry. I’m personally not going to let anyone slack off,” Elliott said. “This game means the world to us and everyone in Ohio, and we represent everyone in Ohio. We’re going to come out, and we’re going to play a hell of a ballgame, you’ll see. It’s going to look like a new team.”
No matter what happens on the turf in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday, Elliott said the scars from the loss to the Spartans will be hard for him to put in the rearview mirror.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the play calling, I’m disappointed in the situations we were put in, and I wish it all played out differently.”