Big Ten: OSU 0813

Buckeyes must push on without Beanie

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
9:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State's defense better be on its game. Same goes for quarterback Todd Boeckman.

A Buckeyes win against top-ranked USC on Saturday night (ABC, 8 p.m.) officially qualifies as an upset after coach Jim Tressel ruled running back Chris "Beanie" Wells out for the game with a right big toe injury. Ohio State must beat a talent-stocked Trojans team that never loses at home without its best player, a Heisman Trophy candidate. Get ready for Daniel Herron and a heavy dose of Terrelle Pryor.

This obviously has major implications for Wells, Tressel and the Buckeyes. A Heisman run seems out of the question for Wells, a big-game back who could have showcased himself against the Trojans. Tressel's decision to keep Wells in the Youngstown State game after halftime will be scrutinized even more, though I still think it wasn't misguided.

And what about this scenario: Ohio State pushes USC to the wire and falls by a point or two without Wells. Then the Buckeyes dominate the rest of the season. The general feeling is Ohio State needs to win Saturday to keep its national title hopes alive, but with a built-in excuse, things could change. It would be an early season loss, after all.

The players and coaches obviously can't think like that. They need to focus on beating USC, which just got a whole lot tougher.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As most of you know, I spent part of this week with Ohio State down in C-Bus, and Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller has been hanging out with USC in L.A. As the big game approaches Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), we decided to touch base and get a sense of the buzz in both camps.

Ted Miller: Folks over here in beautiful Southern California are feeling pretty confident -- read: really confident -- about their Trojans' chances to not only beat but whip Ohio State. What's the feeling over there in the Midwest?

Adam Rittenberg: The feeling here in flyover country is a little more tense. Something to do with a big toe. But they're confident that "Little Animal," AKA James Laurinaitis, and the Buckeyes defense will give Mark Sanchez some trouble on Saturday night. You sounded pretty pumped up the other day after actually getting to watch USC practice. What stood out during the Trojans' workouts?

Ted Miller: What stood out? How good the Trojans look. These guys pass the sight test. Of course, Ohio State would too ... if Jim Tressel let you Big Ten folks into the super-secret football sanctum. Anyway. What caught my eye was 1) Mark Sanchez; 2) Joe McKnight. Sorry to stick with the fancy guys, but Sanchez was sharp this week and he's obviously fired up about leading the Trojans. As for McKnight, he's got the sort of speed and elusiveness that he stands out among a team loaded with fast, elusive guys. So let me ask ... Is Beanie going to play? All the USC folks say yes.

Adam Rittenberg: My sense is he'll play, but probably not much, 5-10 carries. The fact he was still so sore from taking 20 "carries" with no contact in Wednesday night's practice suggests there's still plenty to risk by leaving him out there too long. He obviously gives that offense a ton of confidence and let's be honest, Ohio State needs to win this one to get back to the national title game. But this guy, despite his size, can be labeled injury prone at this point, and Jim Tressel might not want to gamble again. Speaking of injuries, what's the latest on the USC front? Cushing? Hazelton?

Ted Miller: USC has notable bumps and bruises but it appears that nothing will keep guys from playing -- at least initially. WR Vidal Hazelton practiced yesterday and looked OK -- Pete Carroll said he was "behind" in terms of the game plan. LB Brian Cushing has a bum wrist and hip -- he gets nicked a lot -- but he should be a go. LB Rey Maualuga is wearing protection on his hand and briefly sat out with a hyperextended elbow Thursday but he returned to practice. This is a healthy team. So, let's say Wells is limited: Does that mean the game is in Todd Boeckman's hands and the Buckeyes will have to throw to win? And is Boeckman ready to post that signature performance?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Boeckman needs a huge performance in what will be the defining game of his career to this point. He admitted the timing was off with his top wide receivers, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, last week against Ohio. That simply can't happen for Ohio State to keep up with USC. Boeckman doesn't exude a ton of personality, which might be good or bad. He could be a steadying force for an offense going through adversity or a guy lacking in leadership skills. Then again, we could see a ton of Terrelle Pryor on Saturday, especially with Wells limited. How about the other quarterback in this game, Mark Sanchez? Great numbers in the first game, but c'mon, it's Virginia. Is he ready for an elite defense like the Buckeyes?
 
Ted Miller: That's a good question. Sanchez got some playing experience last year when John David Booty was hurt -- most notably at Oregon -- but he has not faced an elite defense, other than every day in practice. Still, he hasn't faced anything like the pressure and soundness the Buckeyes will bring when the lights are on. My sense is the guy can't wait to show the world what he can do -- he's a very confident, charismatic guy. It's fun to watch him charm and work reporters. Moreover, the WRs, who underachieved last year, seem to have found their rhythm. If so, it's a talented, deep group. Let's talk speed. That's all we heard during the Buckeyes twin BCS title game face plants vs. the SEC. "Ohio State is slow." What's the feeling on that in Columbus? Exaggerated or true?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Man, it must be nice to be talking to players with personality. Why can't we all cover the Pac-10? OK, rant over. The speed thing is exaggerated, in my opinion. The NFL scouts who list Malcolm Jenkins as the top cornerback on their draft boards don't see a slow player. Same goes for Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and many others. A bigger problem for Ohio State has been discipline, sticking to its assignments rather than trying to make the extraordinary play. The Buckeyes have lost their composure in the national title games, either with personal-foul penalties or blown assignments. I think the defense steps up for a while and makes it closer than some anticipate, but I can't see Ohio State winning this one on the road. I'll stick with my pick, 31-24 Trojans. You get the last word. What happens Saturday night?
 
Ted Miller: I had thought all summer I was going to pick Ohio State. Most people don't realize that the Buckeyes contending for a national title in 2007 was gravy. 2008 was supposed to be the year. The Buckeyes are seasoned and talented. But, I just can't pull the trigger. I'm sticking with my projection this week of 28-17 Trojans. I'm rooting -- hard -- for a good game. And I'd think we'd both salute these programs for showing the courage to play each other. Some so-called elite teams hide from showcase nonconference games like this.

Buckeyes need to get creative now

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
2:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Jim Tressel might have seen this coming.

When asked about the health of running back Chris "Beanie" Wells during the last two weeks, the ever-cautious Tressel made sure to emphasize that Wells' response to practicing on the injured toe would ultimately determine his availability for USC. Even Tuesday, when he confirmed that Wells would play against the Trojans, Tressel said much would depend on how Wells felt after Wednesday's practice. Well, he practiced and didn't feel good today.

The extent of Wells' next-day soreness might have surprised his coaches, who listed him at 75 percent after Wednesday's workout. But they had to be planning for this outcome.

And that plan had better be creative. It needs to be better than the vanilla offense we saw last Saturday against Ohio U.

Implications of the Wells injury:

  • Terrelle Pryor needs to play more than perhaps originally envisioned. Whether he's ready or not, he brings an explosive element to the Ohio State running game that they might not have with Daniel Herron, Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine. USC hasn't seen much of Pryor, and his size and speed are tough to plan for.
  • An offense often comes together around something like this and performs better than expected. Quarterback Todd Boeckman and wideouts Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie admitted their timing was off last week. My guess is they'll be on the same page Saturday, especially if Chris Wells can't play. The offensive line also knows it needs a better effort without Wells.
  • Saine needs to play more against the Trojans. He was limited during the preseason and had only five carries against Ohio, but the sophomore brings speed and versatility to the offense. Herron will get the first shot if Chris Wells doesn't play, but Saine should play a much greater role.

ESPN's Robert Smith offers his take on the Wells injury situation.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells participated in a full practice Wednesday for the first time since injuring his right big toe in the season opener against Youngstown State. Buckeyes coaches said Wells is making progress but likely won't be 100 percent for Saturday's matchup against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

Wells' personal prediction of 45 carries against the Trojans won't happen, but depending on his soreness the next few days and his response to contact, he'll still play a major role in the game. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Wells had about 20 carries in Wednesday's workout. I'd expect about the same for him on Saturday night.

The debate over Pryor's playing time

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
5:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
 How big of a role will Terrelle Pryor play against USC?

I'm back home after my second trip to Columbus in a five-day span. All you Buckeyes out there will be glad to know I can drive I-670 in my sleep and finally learned the correct pronunciation for Olentangy (OH lehn TANGE ee).

One topic surfaced quite a bit among the reporters covering Ohio State, and no, it wasn't whether Pete Carroll owns a sweater vest.

Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor remains somewhat of a mystery man entering Saturday's matchup at top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I've gone back and forth on how much Pryor will play, and maybe that's coach Jim Tressel's intent with all of this.

After the Ohio game, I was fairly convinced that Pryor wouldn't play as big a role as many envisioned against USC. He only took eight snaps in the game. Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman had a fairly revealing exchange during the Ohio game, where, according to Tressel, Bollman expressed reservations about putting Pryor in a pressure situation.

My thought was, if he isn't ready for the heat against Ohio U. in The Shoe, how could he possibly stand it against USC at the L.A. Coliseum? There's no doubt Pryor would take the field against the Trojans, but the fact he barely played against Ohio suggested that in crunch time, he would be holding a clipboard.

But two factors now lead me to believe Pryor could play a slightly more significant role Saturday night.

1. Tressel loves the kid

Like many coaches of his generation and background, Tressel favors experience and lauds his seniors. He's in no rush to play freshmen if there's an older player just as capable of getting the job done. But from talking to folks in C-Bus, Pryor is different. Tressel sees a readiness that goes beyond the obvious physical gifts. The coach even seems a bit surprised by that readiness. Here's what he said Tuesday:

"The only thing that holds back a freshman from playing, in my mind, is if they don't understand what we're doing and, therefore, their physical abilities can't take over, and the thing I've been impressed with with Terrelle is he understands what we're doing."

Plus, it was Tressel who pushed to get Pryor in Saturday's game, asking Bollman, "When would you like his first pressure to be?" I doubt Tressel will be asking questions on Saturday. He'll be demanding Pryor play at certain points.

2. Offense looking shaky

Starting quarterback Todd Boeckman and several of his teammates admitted the offense has yet to hit its stride, which is surprising given all the experience Ohio State returns. Saturday could be the turning point for the unit, but if Boeckman's timing with wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline continues to be a problem, you could see a change.

Nothing against Boeckman, who is a solid quarterback who can beat defenses down the field. But I just don't get the best vibe about him heading into this game. I asked Robiskie if Boeckman had said anything to the offense after the Ohio game to make sure the results are different against USC.

"He didn't really come out and say anything. A lot of us know what we have to do. We all watched the film and we weren't happy with it. Everybody that had a chance to play Saturday and break down the film, they know what they have to do."

That's true with veteran players, but it always helps to have the leader of the offense speak up. It's hard to see the Buckeyes going away from Boeckman with the game on the line, but they have to try everything and everyone they can to throw off USC's defense, especially if Chris Wells is limited by a toe injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nothing about Saturday's game at the L.A. Coliseum screams ordinary. Not the teams, not the players, not the coaches, not the fans, not the rankings, not the implications for both the winner and loser.

But after falling short in several showcase opportunities, Ohio State's defense is focused on keeping it simple.

"You make the plays that come to you," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said Tuesday night. "One of our coaches said it best. He said, 'Don't try to do something extraordinary. Just do the things that are ordinary great.' ... You don't have to try to force plays."

When Jenkins watched film of Ohio State's losses in the last two BCS title games, he saw defenders caught up in the hype, trying to make plays outside of their job descriptions and, as a result, whiffing on their assignments. By the time the Buckeyes settled down in the second half of both those games, it was far too late.

Jenkins and fellow co-captain James Laurinaitis have repeated the same three words all week: Do your job.

"Especially against teams like SC, Florida, LSU, these are teams that bank on you making mistakes," Jenkins said. "They'll take advantage of every single one of them. You can get away with it with lesser-talented teams, but in huge games like this, every little mistake counts. One guy misses a gap here or is not in his deep third there, that could result in some big plays."

Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel on Tuesday downplayed the personal foul penalties his team drew against LSU in January, but Laurinaitis is making a point to ensure that his teammates don't lose their composure.

"You've just got to relax and think, 'This is the same stuff at practice,' which, realistically, it's not," Laurinaitis said. "There's a ton of fans out there, a lot of pressure. ... When you know what you're doing and you're comfortable with what you're doing, it allows you to be aggressive."

 
 AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
 The Buckeyes expect Chris "Beanie" Wells to be in action Saturday against USC.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Chris "Beanie" Wells watched from the sideline last Saturday, his value to Ohio State's offense rose with every stalled drive and stuffed rushing attempt.

Wells undoubtedly would have provided a lift for the Buckeyes against Ohio. Ultimately, they didn't need him to win the game.

Saturday's matchup against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) is a different deal. Wells adds credibility to the Buckeyes' offense whenever he steps on the field, but his worth in big games is especially noteworthy.

Wells finished the 2007 season by playing his best at the most critical points. After Michigan State rallied to make things interesting last year in Columbus, Wells took over in the second half and finished with 221 yards. He had three second-half rushing touchdowns as Ohio State rallied against Wisconsin, and he saved his top performance for archrival Michigan, racking up a career-high 222 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

"He's a fierce competitor," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "Whenever the competition goes up, his game plan goes up. He's somebody who's not going to let his team fall down or give up."

The BCS national championship wasn't a shining moment for many Ohio State players, but Wells still finished with 146 rushing yards, including a 65-yard touchdown scamper, against an LSU defense that ranked ninth nationally against the run.

"He's such a great player," Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "He can do so many things for you. He's got speed, he's powerful, he's strong, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. It just helps us out so much."

Wells will play Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum. His effectiveness remains a question after a right foot/toe injury, but his big-game track record heightens hopes for the Buckeyes.

"He's a great leader," tackle Bryant Browning said. "When he thinks the offense is down, he gets after us. ... Him playing is going to be a real big help. He's a great player, as everybody knows. He makes big plays. Just having him around really helps the team."

But what if Wells can only help in a limited role? Unlike USC, famous and feared for its annual stable of running backs, Ohio State drops off a bit after Wells.

Redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron likely will get the first shot behind Wells on Saturday after taking the bulk of the carries against Ohio. Senior Maurice Wells is the most experienced reserve but hasn't shown the ability to take over. Expect a greater role for sophomore Brandon Saine, who had only five carries last week and missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury.

"I don't think you can diminish the effect of missing 20-plus practices in the preseason that has slowed Brandon a little bit," head coach Jim Tressel said. "That was good to get him back in there, plus the practice time, he picked up this past week and this particular week."

Chris Wells told Tressel on Monday that he wanted 45 carries against the Trojans. That's wishful thinking coming off an injury, and Ohio State has faith in its other runners.

"Danny Herron is an extremely tough kid," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "We have other guys that can carry the load."

Lou Holtz and Mark May debate who is stronger at quarterback: Todd Boeckman or Mark Sanchez.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sorry for the posting lull this afternoon. I'm finally settling in after Jim Tressel's weekly news conference and interviews with defensive end Lawrence Wilson, right tackle Bryant Browning and wide receiver Brian Hartline.

Much of the focus was on Buckeyes running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, who coach Jim Tressel confirmed will play Saturday against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Wells will do individual drills for the second straight practice tonight before fully participating in Wednesday's workout.

He's going to play. How much or how well are the big questions. But given Wells' big-game production and how poor Ohio State looked on offense against Ohio, the Buckeyes will take as much from Wells as they can possibly get.

"I talked to him, he said he was running at full speed, he feels good," Browning said. "Today will be another day for him to get better and get ready for the game."

Other highlights:

  • Despite playing sparingly last week against Ohio, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor could have an enhanced role against the Trojans. Buckeyes coaches have expressed some reservations about putting Pryor under pressure, which Saturday's game certainly will bring, but Tressel said there will be opportunities for the 6-6, 235-pound freshman.
"Maybe wouldn't put him in on our own [3-yard line]," Tressel said. "You try to script for success and at least the best chance for it, but, no, I think he's proven, with his knowledge of what we're doing -- the only thing that holds back a freshman from playing in my mind is if they don't understand what we're doing and, therefore, their physical abilities can't take over, and the thing I've been impressed with with Terrelle is he understands what we're doing."
  • Cornerback Donald Washington and safety Jamario O'Neal return to the field this weekend after serving a two-game suspension for violating team rules. Whether Washington regains his starting job remains to be seen. He and sophomore Chimdi Chekwa are listed as co-starters on this week's depth chart. Jermale Hines likely will remain Ohio State's nickel back.
Chekwa started in Washington's place the first two games.
"Tune in," Tressel said when asked how he would use the two cornerbacks.
Washington has started the last two seasons, recording 70 tackles and an interception.
"It's killing him," Wilson said of the wait. "He's a competitor, he wants to play. I can see it in his face. ... He's a two-year starter, he's a good player. It's big for him to return."
  • Tressel had high praise for USC starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, who Ohio State recruited heavily along with offensive lineman Jeff Byers. Though Sanchez isn't much of a threat to scramble, his mobility in the pocket to keep plays alive could give Ohio State trouble.
"A good bit of what he did was on the move and threw so accurate on the move and had a great presence about him," Tressel said. "I know he came out here in the summer before his senior year and his dad was with him and just great people. You could just tell the look in his eyes, he's a leader and a competitor."
Tressel was asked how close Ohio State came to landing Sanchez.
"The problem with recruiting is if you're second, you're 100th, so I don't know," he said. "I think he enjoyed Ohio State."
  • Tressel emphasized that he, his coaches and, to some extent, the players are not overly exposed to the outside world and the mostly negative sentiment about Ohio State. The Buckeyes' lackluster performance against Ohio only fueled the belief that the Buckeyes will fall Saturday night, but Tressel doesn't concern himself with those views.
"What people think is not that important to me," he said. "Now, the guys in the locker room, what they're thinking is what's key, and so how did not playing as well [against Ohio] affect how we're thinking is more of a concern of mine than what people said."
  • Here's Tressel on what would happen if he and USC coach Pete Carroll switched jobs.
"What he expects is not dissimilar to what we teach and expect and what Earle [Bruce] did or John [Cooper] did or whoever it happens to be. So I would think there wouldn't be much difference if you switched places, which I don't think that's going to happen. That's quite a hypothetical."

Beanie limited in Monday's practice

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
8:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State's co-captains said star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells did individual work on Monday but didn't participate in team drills at practice. Wells missed a Week 2 matchup against Ohio but is expected back for Saturday's showdown at top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

He sustained an injury to his right big toe in the season opener against Youngstown State.

"I saw him on the side a little bit running," linebacker James Laurinaitis said on a conference call with reporters Monday night. "He looked good, kind of doing drills, testing it out. From what I could tell he looked really great, but who really knows but him?"

Wells wasn't in a walking boot and seemed to be moving well as he watched the Ohio game from the sidelines.

"He's doing a lot on his own right now," wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. "I'm hearing that he's doing pretty good and everything with him is just day-to-day right now. If he gets the OK and they tell him he's ready in go, there's no doubt in my mind he's going to play."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Relief isn't usually the sentiment that surfaces when a team studies the USC offense.

 
 Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRE
 USC's Mark Sanchez isn't likely to beat the Buckeyes with his feet.

But when Ohio State begins learning the names and numbers of the Trojans' seemingly endless list of rushing threats, defenders can take some comfort in knowing quarterback Mark Sanchez isn't among them.

Loaded with talent around him and a bionic right arm, Sanchez can pick apart opposing defenses in many ways, but running the ball is rarely his method of choice. He has only 23 career rushing yards on 19 carries, an average of 1.2 yards per rush.

Sanchez still moves around decently in the pocket, but he doesn't fall under the label of mobile quarterback, and that could be a good thing for No. 5 Ohio State heading into this week's matchup at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Several mobile quarterbacks have caused problems for the Buckeyes' otherwise sound defense, which led the nation in fewest points and fewest yards allowed last season.

Trace back to the 2007 BCS national championship, when Florida freshman Tim Tebow did his thing against Ohio State, rushing for a touchdown and setting up others with his feet.

Illinois' Juice Williams flustered Ohio State last November at Ohio Stadium, rushing for 70 yards and throwing four touchdown passes in a 28-21 upset. Williams' running ability particularly stung in the fourth quarter, as he converted a fourth-and-1 and two third downs of seven yards or longer as Illinois drained the final 8:09.

The Buckeyes also struggled to contain Ohio backup quarterback Boo Jackson in Saturday's underwhelming 26-14 victory. Jackson had 55 rushing yards on just seven carries in the game.

On third-and-13 early in the second quarter, he evaded the rush and found Taylor Price for a 30-yard completion. Three plays later, Jackson converted a third-and-7 by scrambling for 10 yards. Jackson later scrambled for 20 yards on third-and-10.

"Those little mistakes we made today, versus USC, we may not win the game," Ohio State defensive end Lawrence Wilson said. "So we have to work on the little things, show some discipline."

Added linebacker James Laurinaitis: "We have somebody in our grasp, we've got to bring him down. If you're containing, you've got to keep containing."

The less-mobile Sanchez provides a new challenge this week.

"Completely different offenses," Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman said, "but at the same time, football is football. You've got to tackle. That's something we didn't do well [Saturday] and we're going to need to improve on for [this] week."

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