On Saturday, Ohio broke its program record for total yards in a game.
Led by a redshirt senior running back, his name wasn’t A.J. Ouellette.
It was Maleek Irons, who wanted to carry the ball any chance he could, finishing with two touchdowns and his first ever 100-yard game. Ohio defeated UMass 58-42 at Peden Stadium. It was the first time this season the running back seemed back to normal on the field after sitting out last season due to a suspension.
“It’s just what we needed, it feels good,” he said. “Nothing is better than a hun (hundred).”
Sitting next to Nathan Rourke and A.J. Ouellette in the postgame press conference, Irons seemed at peace. He was given the reassurance from two teammates and captains that his play had helped Ohio win the game.
Ouellette made a point to mention that he and Irons are the same type of running backs, and that the two can run down a defense effectively.
When coach Frank Solich was asked if Saturday was Irons’ best game of the season, the 74-year old perked up.
He said yes, it was the redshirt senior’s best game of the season. He was breaking tackles and running the ball down the field well, which is what Solich likes. Along with the two touchdowns, Irons rushed for a career-high 140 yards on 13 carries.
“Just from watching from the sideline, it looked like it,” Solich said. “He hit the hole quick, looked like a big guy running down the field, which I like. It was a really good game by him."
Irons has been the storyline this season that nobody seems able to interpret. Arrested in 2016 for resisting arrest, obstructing official business and driving under the influence, he redshirted last season due to a suspension.
He spent the season practicing with the scout team, making the defense better every day. He didn’t travel for road games — the trip to Nashville earlier this season was his first since the 2016 Dollar General Bowl — and wasn’t always in the running backs room watching film with his teammates.
Yes, he was part of the team, but he says that it felt more like a removal than a suspension. He takes first responsibility and he doesn’t blame anyone except himself, however, it’s in the past.
His biggest emphasis this offseason was regaining the trust of the team and the running backs room, which he has.
Irons seemed to have everyone’s trust back on the Ohio sideline Saturday.
“When I come out and he goes in, I know he’s going to wear out the safeties and linebackers,” Ouellette said. “I mean, look at his legs, I wouldn’t want to tackle that dude.”
With Ohio leading 42-35 and 9:50 left in the third quarter, Irons carried the ball one year on second and 4.
On third and 2, Irons took the handoff again — this time bursting through a huge gap in the middle of the line — broke a tackle and hurdled over a defender. He even dragged his eventual tackler for 5 yards.
For a player who hasn’t been able to have too many signature moments throughout his career, Saturday was one, highlighted by that 41-yard run.
“I say it’s a lot more comfortable out there, I feel good,” he said with a smile.