MADISON, Wis. — TreVeyon Henderson entered his postgame news conference and sat down next to Marvin Harrison Jr.
The two had just helped carry Ohio State’s offense to a 24-10 win over Wisconsin. They combined for 330 of Ohio State’s 407 total yards and accounted for all three touchdowns.
Unlike Harrison, Henderson’s performance was a bit of a surprise. Not because of a lack of talent but because he had been out for a month before Saturday’s game.
He didn’t go into too much detail about the injury, just claiming he took a “cheap shot” at the beginning of the Notre Dame game that held him out. But he had no rust on the field, and his return was a major boost for the Buckeyes. It made it obvious that Ohio State, which had relied on Harrison for much of its offensive production amid a few major injuries, had another playmaker it could rely on.
A player who can help carry a slow-starting offense. A player Harrison called “the best running back in football.”
“He’s the most explosive back in the country,” Harrison said. “He puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Henderson had a bible verse on his face on Saturday: 2 Corinthians 5-7.
“I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see,” is how Henderson translated it.
It was a symbol of what Henderson had been through in the last month and what he had learned going back to last year’s injury frustrations.
Last season, Henderson played on a fractured foot for much of the season. Instead of sitting out for extended time, he rehabbed during the week, didn’t practice and played on Saturdays. This year was different.
After being injured against Notre Dame, he rested until he was 100 percent. It was a moment of growth for the Virginia native who said his faith in God helped him.
“It’s been rough not being able to be out there for my teammates,” he said. “God just had me look back to last year, what happened when I went my own way. Keep going with dealing with the injury and go out there. I just put my trust in him even though I couldn’t see where he was leading me. I knew it was going to be somewhere special. Today it showed.”
Henderson looked every bit as healthy as he did when the season began against Indiana. There was the same explosiveness — he averaged 6.8 yards per carry and had an angry feeling when he ran the ball.
He wasn’t dancing in the backfield often. Instead, he hit the holes hard and looked to make a player miss once he got between his blockers. That’s what helped Ohio State stay on schedule even when it wasn’t turning drives into points.
There’s no coincidence behind Ohio State’s rushing success on Saturday and early in the year, compared to its performance when Henderson was out. In the first four games of the season, Ohio State averaged 5.05 yards per carry. In the three games he missed, Ohio State averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
On Saturday, Ohio State averaged 6.02 yards per carry on running back runs, with Henderson tallying 162 yards and a touchdown.
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If you’re a person who just looks at season statistics, it might be hard to put together why there’s so much love and hype around Henderson. He’s not at the top of the country in major statistical categories, but the impact he makes when he’s on the field is obvious.
On Saturday, he impacted the game in more than just rushing. He caught four passes for 45 yards and was targeted a fifth time but just missed a touchdown catch on a well-run wheel route against a linebacker. Henderson finished with 28 touches.
Coach Ryan Day said the coaches didn’t put a number on how much they’d give Henderson after the injury but said he was winded toward the end of the game.
“He hadn’t played in a few weeks, and even at the end, he was toughing out because he was winded there,” Day said. “He hadn’t had that many carries in a while, and he had receptions and routes.”
It was an all-around sound game from Henderson, the kind Ohio State needs going forward. Since Henderson got hurt, the injury bug has bit Ohio State hard. Wide receiver Emeka Egbuka has missed three games, although Day expects him to play next week against Rutgers.
Ohio State played against Purdue with three injured running backs. During that time, Ohio State had to lean on the best player in the country, Harrison.
Harrison had 554 yards and five touchdowns in the previous four games. Tight end Cade Stover was a big help too, tallying 189 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games, but he did not record a reception against Wisconsin.
But the return of Henderson adds another dynamic playmaker for the Buckeyes. It makes it so teams can’t take a player out of the box and put extra people in the way of Harrison (although that hasn’t worked anyway). Day, loves having Henderson back, and it was obvious in his play calling.
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“You can see the difference he makes when he’s out there, the explosiveness, the speed,” Day said. “I thought he ran hard, and he’s a weapon out of the backfield. … You can see the impact he has on our offense.”
Day used him in as many ways as possible, with Henderson even helping on Harrison’s first touchdown catch, a 16-yard crossing route.
Ohio State ran Harrison, who was on the right side of the field, on a crosser to the left. Henderson, who was lined up to the left of quarterback Kyle McCord, ran a vertical route to clear out the left side of the field. The defenders had to account for him, leaving Harrison, who beat his man off the line, with nothing but green in front of him for a touchdown. Henderson held his block, and Ohio State went up 10-0.
“When you have a dynamic back like (Henderson), you have to account for him, so you can’t really not load the box with numbers,” Harrison said.
Ohio State’s offense still has some issues it needs to work out. There were too many turnovers on Saturday. and the slow starts have to be addressed, but the one thing that Ohio State has been able to lean on is having arguably the best skill position group in the country.
With the return of Henderson, that core group has gotten even stronger.
(Top photo: John Fisher / Getty Images)