Shades of Zeke: Trey Sermon's incredible postseason is reminiscent of Ezekiel Elliott's 3-game run in 2014
There’s been some serious déjà vu happening in Columbus over the last two weeks. Watching Trey Sermon eviscerate the defenses of Northwestern in the B1G Championship Game and Clemson in the Sugar Bowl brings back memories from six years ago.
It’s almost like we’ve hopped inside the DeLorean with Marty McFly and Doc Brown and are being transported back to the end of the 2014 season, when Ezekiel Elliott became a household name after one of the most spectacular three-game stretches we’ve seen in the sport. Ohio State’s insistence to “feed Zeke” was a major factor in the Buckeyes claiming a national championship in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff.
Six years later, donning the same scarlet-and-gray uniform, Sermon is having a similar impact. Two monster performances this postseason — the best of his short time at Ohio State — has landed the No. 3 Buckeyes in the national title game, where they’ll face top-ranked Alabama with the ultimate prize at stake.
Every long run, every broken tackle, every hurdle and every touchdown has helped Ohio State get to this point. Almost exactly how Elliott helped the team get to this stage in the first College Football Playoff.
Sermon’s role changed in the second half of the B1G Championship Game on Dec. 19. Trailing Northwestern 10-6 through the first two quarters of the contest in Indianapolis and Justin Fields struggling more than he had his entire career, Ryan Day decided put the game in the hands of his running back, with a fourth-straight conference title and a berth in the College Football Playoff hanging in the balance.
Sermon slashed Northwestern’s defense for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final 30 minutes at Lucas Oil Stadium, enough to lead Ohio State to a 22-10 victory and secure one of the four spots in the race for a national championship. He finished with a program-best 331 yards that afternoon, breaking Eddie George’s school record as he ran his way into Buckeye lore.
In one game, Sermon nearly matched his rushing total for the previous six games (344) and surpassed his touchdown total on the year (1). The only thought on most of our minds while watching the Buckeye back bulldoze Northwestern defenders was, “Where did this come from?”
Friday night, we learned that maybe Sermon is a little, or a lot, better than what we saw from him during the regular season.
He didn’t hit the 300-yard mark again and wasn’t the game’s Most Valuable Player, but Sermon wrecked Clemson’s vaunted run defense in New Orleans on New Year’s Day. He racked up 193 yards and scored another touchdown on 31 carries in Ohio State’s 49-28 victory. At times, he raced past the Tigers’ defense. Other moments, he was fighting off tacklers to gain a few extra yards.
For a lot of us, Sermon’s first two games of the postseason feel eerily similar to what we saw from Elliott during that 2014 run. Appropriately enough, Sermon’s success came in the B1G Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl, which are the two games that put Elliott on the map six years ago.
Admittedly, Elliott’s rise to stardom wasn’t quite as surprising as Sermon’s. Zeke had been a 1,000-yard rusher during the regular season and had racked up 8 touchdowns before the Buckeyes made their College Football Playoff push. But with J.T. Barrett having suffered a season-ending injury against Michigan to close out the regular season and third-string quarterback Cardale Jones being thrown into the fire, Elliott was going to need to carry a heavy load for Ohio State to win it all.
Elliott rushed for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries as Ohio State cruised to a 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the B1G title game. A few weeks later, playing against No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the sophomore piled up 230 yards and 2 more touchdowns on 20 touches, running “through the heart of the South,” as the Buckeyes upset the Crimson Tide 42-35 to advance to the championship game.
Through two games, Elliott was responsible for 450 yards, 4 touchdowns and averaged better than 11 yards per carry. Sermon, in his last two games, has racked up 524 yards, a program record in back-to-back games, and has hit the end zone 3 times on 60 carries.
What awaited Elliott in the title game was the best performance of that three-game stretch. The running back torched Oregon’s defense for 246 yards and 4 touchdowns on 36 carries in a 42-20 victory to claim the national title.
Is Sermon capable of capping this remarkable two-game stretch in similar fashion?
Six years ago, Elliott was asked to step up as Ohio State’s passing attack was in serious question. Two weeks ago, the same challenge was thrust upon Sermon. Both answered the bell, putting the Buckeyes in position to win a championship.
So far, Sermon’s postseason run has been every bit as good as Elliott’s memorable stretch, if not better. We’ll have to wait a week to see if Sermon can crush Alabama’s spirit the same way Elliott did at the end of the 2014 season.