Ezekiel Elliott has been running on will all season. He suffered a broken left wrist early in preseason camp and had surgery to have a screw twisted into the break. He didn't miss a game, even though he has had to wear a pad and brace for protection.

Two days ago, the anticipation of Ohio State meeting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was weighing on Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott.

"January 1st can't come soon enough," the sophomore tweeted, followed by a smiley face.

Just days earlier, he had put the gist of the challenge in perspective to reporters.

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"It's going to (come down to) pure will, so whichever team is toughest mentally and physically will win the game," Elliott said.

Elliott has been running on will all season. He suffered a broken left wrist early in preseason camp and had surgery to have a screw twisted into the break. He didn't miss a game, even though he has had to wear a pad and brace for protection. That's not to say it doesn't affect his play.

"It definitely does," Elliott said. "I can't carry the ball in my left hand. I'm probably going to end up getting surgery again after this season."

But that won't be before the Sugar Bowl or possibly the national championship game on Jan. 12 against Oregon or Florida State in Arlington, Texas.

Despite the break, Elliott got on a roll, especially late, capping his rise by setting a Big Ten championship game record with 220 yards rushing in a 59-0 romp over Wisconsin. He put the blowout in high gear with an 81-yard run up the middle for the second touchdown of the game.

Elliott has the 11th-best rushing season in Ohio State history at 1,402 yards , with at least one game to play.

"It means a lot, with all the great running backs who have come through here - the running back pedigree is just ridiculous," Elliott said. "It's kind of crazy to think about it, but I have no one to thank but my O-line. They've paved the way."

ESPN analyst and former Ohio State running back Robert Smith said Elliott is just hitting his stride. Early in the season, Elliott gave off the usual vibe of a young running back being "tentative, like he didn't want to fumble," Smith said. "What you saw towards the end of the year is his confidence has grown so much, and his attitude kind of comes out now."

Elliott said he felt the same progression.

"Definitely more fluid just with more game experience, just more chemistry, things clicking more with the O-line, things hitting right with timing and everything," Elliott said.

Elliott - also a tenacious and at times ferocious blocker - was playing, in essence, with one arm tied behind his back. He will be better, he said, once he has two stout wrists.

"I think there will be a lot of things that will improve, like breaking tackles and things," Elliott said. "I've left a lot of yards on the field this year just because of my wrist. I can't carry the ball in my left hand, and I can't really use my stiff arm. I can't really use my hand to post on the ground (to keep from falling). So I've left a lot of yards on the field, something we're going to improve on next year."

But asked whether he feels good about the production, Elliott said, "I do," then he burst out laughing.

His 81-yard run against Wisconsin and a 44-yard touchdown run the week before against Michigan had one thing in common: Elliott hit the hole as if shot out of a cannon.

"He kind of reminds me of a quicker version of Raymont (Harris, an Ohio State back in the early 1990s)," Smith said. "Elliott is ferocious, but he has better lateral agility, and he has that great field awareness, that sense of where the end zone is, 'Who I have to run over to get there.'

"He always seems to make the right decision, up or down, through - that's what it looks like to me. And that's something that as he plays more you really start to develop, just kind of a sense for how bodies move without having to focus on any one body. Things can happen so much more naturally for you."

Elliott likely will need to draw on that and other skills as he and Ohio State take on Alabama and its stop-the-run-first defense.

"It definitely will be a challenge … their line and linebackers are big guys," Elliott said. "It's going to be our will vs. their will."

And as his tweet indicated, anticipation is high.

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

Gaining ground

Top rushing seasons at Ohio State:

Yards Player Year 1,927 Eddie George 1995 1,764 Keith Byars 1984 1,695 Archie Griffin 1974 1,609 Chris Wells 2007 1,577 Archie Griffin 1973 1,538 Tim Spencer 1982 1,521 Carlos Hyde 2013 1,484 Pepe Pearson 1996 1,450 Archie Griffin 1975 1,442 Eddie George 1994 1,402 Ezekiel Elliott 2014 1,344 Raymont Harris 1993