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Ohio running back Sieh Bangura (22) spins off a defender during the 41-38 victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 at Peden Stadium.

Football: How Sieh Bangura became Ohio's starting running back

He may not have gotten as much attention as Kurtis Rourke and James Bostic on Saturday. Still, Sieh Bangura was one of Ohio's most important players in its season-opening win over Florida Atlantic.

He did not score, but Bangura still played a big part on offense, rushing for 116 yards on 23 carries. His consistent threat on the ground allowed Ohio to open things up in the passing game. 

But how did the Bobcats get to the point where a redshirt freshman with 12 career carries was given the ball 23 times during Saturday's essential win? To answer that, it helps to first look back on the 2021 season.

O'Shaan Allison, who led Ohio's running backs in rushing yards back in 2019, was set to step into the starting role after the departure of former starter De'montre Tuggle. But, he was ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury just five days before Ohio's first game.

With Allison out, only one running back on the roster had any carries last season: Bangura. He had 12 carries for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2021, making him the most experienced back on the roster over the last two seasons.

Bangura was named the starter on Aug. 28, and Saturday, he promptly doubled his career total for yards and almost tripled his career carries. He may not have made any huge plays — his longest run was just 16 yards — but he was exactly the type of workhorse back that Ohio needed to unleash its passing game.

"It was really not surprising," head coach Tim Albin said. "Behind the scenes, I was very comfortable with what he was going to do from what we saw last year and the kind of offseason he had."

Bangura did not have long to adapt to being named a starter, but fortunately for Ohio, he didn't need it. Bangura felt he was ready to go and proved it in Saturday's win.

"(Being named a starter) wasn't too crazy," Bangura said. "I have a lot of experience coming off of last year. I feel like I've been ready, I've been practicing."

Allison seemed to be the player whose injury would be the most detrimental for the Bobcats, but they didn't miss a beat with Bangura in the lineup.

That may be partly due to Brian Smith, who is in his first season as Ohio's running backs coach and passing game coordinator after spending time at Washington State. Smith already has the trust of his starting running back, and there's a good reason.

"Being a running backs coach is easy to him, he knows a lot," Bangura said. "He talks about coverages (and) who to block. He explains to us more than we need to know sometimes. He's a great coach."

Bangura may have been the only running back with significant carries on Saturday, but he knows that Ohio has depth at running back. Despite their youth in that position, they are prepared to help each other step up in Allison's absence.

"When we get in there and mess up, we go back and tell everybody what we messed up on," Bangura said. "It's just each back helping each other out."

Ohio's next two games against Penn State and Iowa State will be tough tests for Bangura, but no matter what happens over the next two weeks, Ohio is safe in Bangura's hands.


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