Wells, Pryor cause headaches for defenses

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When Ohio State guard Jim Cordle discusses the team's new-look offense, he finds himself posing several rhetorical questions.

Cordle is happy he's not the one who needs to find the answers.

One of the questions came to Cordle in the second quarter of last Saturday's game against Minnesota. He had sealed off his man and caught a glimpse of Buckeyes running back Chris "Beanie" Wells hurdling Gophers safety Kyle Theret.

"He obviously can push off that foot now," Cordle said of Wells. "And what are [defenders] going to do? Are they going to go high and he'll run 'em over or go low and he'll hurdle 'em? We obviously think he's the best running back in college football."

Ohio State's offensive linemen also think highly of their new leader, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who leads the team in rushing (292 yards) and averages 6.2 yards a carry. The backfield of Wells and Pryor allows the Buckeyes to go traditional with the power run game or look to the future with the spread and the read option.

With both players on the field at the same time, opposing defenses have to prepare for either scheme.

"Beanie in there is the key because we can do so many different things," Cordle said. "A defense can't key on the spread necessarily, especially with the zone read now. Who are you going to key on, the quarterback or the running back? And then you still have to be prepared for a downhill running attack from Beanie Wells."

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren has the daunting task of preparing for both Wells and Pryor when the 14th-ranked Buckeyes visit Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). The 18th-ranked Badgers boast a veteran defensive front seven led by end Matt Shaughnessy and linebackers DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, but like many teams, they have struggled at times against spread offenses, most recently in the second half of last Saturday's loss to Michigan.

Until recent weeks, Saturday's matchup appeared to be a showcase for Big Ten football tradition: two teams led by big backs (Wells and Wisconsin's P.J. Hill) that advocate the power run game and strapping line play. Many of those elements will show up on the field, but Pryor's rapid rise to a starting job and Wells' return from a toe injury change the game's complexion.

"It just scares the daylights out of you as a defensive football team," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "You've got to do a great job of keeping Terrelle in the corral. You've got to keep lanes covered. He's a threat on every snap to take it the distance, and so is Wells."

When asked this week about seeing Pryor and Wells in the same backfield, Brewster started off by saying it presented a dilemma for Ohio State to feature both players' strengths. But the Buckeyes' ability to quickly switch from traditional to progressive causes the real headaches for opposing coaches.

"They're a power team when they're in the I," Brewster said. "They run the power play and they're a very physical football team. And then they spread the field and they become more of a finesse team, create lanes for the quarterback. They present a lot of problems."

Ohio State entered the season with Todd Boeckman as its established quarterback, but Cordle said the offense began practicing elements of the spread in spring ball, preparing for Pryor's arrival and possible ascension. The offseason familiarity has helped the linemen with the in-season transition, but the biggest boost has come from Wells.

Cordle and his line mates felt pretty good about their performance last Saturday (279 rush yards) before sitting down to watch the game film.

"We didn't play as well as we could," Cordle said. "We had those yards because as long as you get Beanie to the line of scrimmage, he's going to run over guys, make guys miss, hurdle guys. He's the heart and soul of our team. When you get a guy like that out on the field with us, we play that much harder."

After acknowledging their lack of fire in three games without Wells, particularly in a blowout loss to USC, the Buckeyes are eager to show they're a different team with a different backfield.

"We're on [TV] at prime time at night," Cordle said, "and it gives you a chance to see, with a healthy Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor on top of his game, how good this team is."