COLUMBUS, Ohio — For Urban Meyer, the question of whether or not he’ll be increasing the role of freshman running back Demario McCall isn’t a matter of “if” but rather “by how much?”
After The Dontre Wilson Experience on punt returns appeared to come to an end with the senior H-back muffing his lone return attempt in Ohio State’s 62-3 win over Nebraska on Saturday night, Meyer turned to McCall, who returned a punt 15 yards early in the third quarter. Following the game, the Buckeyes head coach seemed to declare McCall his team’s starting punt returner moving forward.
“He’s probably going to be our punt returner,” Meyer said of McCall. “I’m going to evaluate that over this next few days, but I thought he was very good.”
That’s not all he saw from the former 4-star prospect against the Cornhuskers.
With the Buckeyes entering the fourth quarter of the game with its outcome already out of question, McCall received his most extensive playing time — and actual game action — in more than a month.
It doesn’t take more than a glance at the Buckeyes’ box score to see he made the most of his opportunity. In 1½ quarters, the 5-foot-9, 182-pounder tallied 73 yards on 16 carries — both team highs for Ohio State on Saturday.
Even in such limited action, that was enough for Meyer to admit there could be a more ample role than mop-up duty in McCall’s immediate future.
“He might now,” Meyer said when presented with the premise of increased playing time for the class of 2016’s second-ranked all-purpose back.
Anybody who saw McCall in action on Saturday — or earlier in the year, for that matter — knows there’s more to his game than what shows up in a state sheet. With a burst that epitomizes what Meyer searches for year-round on the recruiting trail, the North Ridgeville, Ohio, native has already shown flashes of being one of the most dynamic players on the Ohio State roster.
Currently, available touches in the Buckeyes offense are few and far between. But with the flexibility of hybrid receiver-running back Curtis Samuel, McCall could serve as yet another puzzle piece for Meyer and his staff to move around in the final three weeks of the regular season and beyond.
“You saw it, he gets through the hole quick,” said Buckeyes quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck. “He has the ability to take one to the house at any time.”
This OSU staff has seen this sort of early potential in a player before.
“He’s probably similar to a young Curtis Samuel,” said Beck. “Curtis was a little bit like that when he was a freshman, feeling his way through. He did some really nice things tonight.”
As a freshman in 2014, Samuel served as the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott at running back, tallying 383 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 58 carries. Nine games into his own freshman campaign, McCall likely won’t match those type of numbers by year’s end. But with Samuel fully entrenched as the Buckeyes’ H-back, carries as a change of pace back behind Mike Weber could soon be coming his way.
Regardless of what his role — outside of punt returner — turns into down the stretch, McCall’s future in Columbus is a bright one.
It also might be here sooner than anyone — including Meyer — anticipated it would be.