ANN ARBOR, Mich.: Ezekiel Elliott quieted the firestorm the best way he knew how, by turning in one of the best performances of his career when Ohio State needed it most.
A week ago, the junior running back shocked reporters after a stunning three-point home loss to Michigan State by criticizing the OSU coaching staff’s play-calling. The Buckeye bell cow touched the ball just twice in the second half and finished with 33 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
On Monday, Elliott posted a long apology on Twitter. He was widely criticized, with many calling for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to suspend him. Meyer dismissed that and elected to start Elliott on Saturday against rival Michigan at Michigan Stadium.
There were questions about how the controversy would affect Elliott mentally. Those were answered by the end of the first quarter as the No. 8 Buckeyes routed the No. 10 Wolverines 42-13, OSU’s largest margin of victory in Ann Arbor since a 50-20 triumph in 1961.
Elliott rushed for the fifth 200-yard game of his career and recorded his 12th career carry of at least 50 yards with a 66-yard gain in the first quarter. He totaled 214 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns.
It was reminiscent of his effort in the final three games of 2014 as the Buckeyes captured the national title. Against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, Elliott racked up 698 rushing yards, averaged 9.2 yards per carry and ran for eight touchdowns.
The 214-yard performance against a Wolverines’ defense ranked second in the nation gave Elliott 3,812 career yards. He pushed past 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George (3,768) and into second place on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list.
“It’s an honor to continue that running back pedigree at Ohio State. I’ve got to thank my O-line for everything,” Elliott said.
Elliott trails only Archie Griffin’s 5,589 yards from 1972-75.
“He passed Eddie? Who’s that? Eddie George?” Meyer joked afterward. “He didn’t get the two-timer?”
Elliott was as heartfelt in his postgame apology as he was in his statement on Twitter.
“I really let my emotions get the most of me and I regret everything I said,” Elliott said. “I want to be the ultimate team player. If you turn on the film and watch me play, I hope you can see that. I would never want to do anything to hurt this university or distract this team from what our goal was.”
Elliott admitted it was a tough week because of the backlash. During his MSU postgame comments, Elliott also announced he was leaving for the NFL after this season.
“It was hard on me. People questioned my love for the university, people questioned my love for my brothers on this team. People questioning if I was going to come out here today and play hard,” Elliott said. “That’s not the person I am. I’m not selfish, I’m selfless. I would do anything for my brothers, I’d play every down for them.”
Despite the outburst, Meyer said he spent Thanksgiving with Elliott for the third consecutive year.
“Hope we get four, but it doesn’t look good,” Meyer said. “Maybe a bye week.”
Asked how their relationship survived, Meyer said, “It’s never been anything other than perfect. 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 a banked investment with the Meyer family and the coaches and (offensive coordinator Ed) Warinner and the team.”
Warinner, who called the plays from the press box Saturday for the first time this season, said he didn’t take Elliott’s comments personally.
“Zeke’s a great player. He was disappointed and upset about what happened,” Warinner said. “He and I have a great relationship, so there was nothing other than, ‘Let’s figure this out and move forward.’?”
Meyer said Elliott deserves to be among those invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Dec. 12.
“I don’t lobby or maybe I do, he should be in New York. He’s one of the best players in America, he should be a Heisman guy. I don’t know if he should win it, I don’t know the other players,” Meyer said.
“He’s on a team that’s 11-1 and he’s one of the best players I’ve ever been around.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com.