Friday, January 1, 2010
Ohio State runners work in lockstep
By Adam Rittenberg
LOS ANGELES -- Ohio State's greatest teams this decade are usually remembered for having a featured back.
In 2002, Maurice Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns as Ohio State went on to a national championship.
Brandon Saine and Dan Herron have accounted for about 53 percent of the Buckeyes' rushing attempts this season.
In 2005 and 2006, Antonio Pittman carried the load for the Buckeyes, combining for 2,564 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
Pittman turned things over to Chris Wells in 2007 and 2008, and "Beanie" combined for 2,806 rush yards and 23 scores.
Those ball carriers had support, whether it was another running back like Lydell Ross or Wells (for Pittman) or a quarterback like Troy Smith (for Pittman) or Terrelle Pryor (for Wells). But Ohio State usually boasts a clear-cut bell cow in its backfield.
The 2009 Buckeyes won't be remembered for a featured back, but they could be remembered for a tandem that helped to end the school's BCS bowl slump.
Junior Brandon Saine and sophomore Dan Herron shared the rushing load this fall along with Pryor, who leads Ohio State with 142 attempts and 707 yards. Pryor accounts for 27.7 percent of Ohio State's rushing attempts, while both Saine (131 attempts, 25.6 percent) and Herron (139 percent (27.1 percent) have similar pieces of the carries pie.
Saine and Herron played huge roles in Ohio State's November surge to the Big Ten title. They combined for 200 rush yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State's 27-24 overtime win against Iowa, which clinched the league championship. One week later, the two backs combined for 180 rush yards and a score against Michigan.
"As the season went on, we got better together," Saine said. "We know we have a huge role in these games, so we really work together."
Herron played a more prominent role last year after Wells missed three games with a toe injury, and he started the first four games of this season. Saine, who battled injuries throughout his first two seasons, took on a lead role after Herron had ankle problems early in Big Ten play.
But throughout the fall, the two backs kept the communication lines open and helped each other prepare for a critical November push.
"It's helped me just to have a guy who's out there just like you are, who sees things when he's not in and I'm in," Herron said. "We fed off each other, telling what we can get better, picking up blocks, whatever it is. At the beginning of the season we had a little slow start. We both had a couple injuries we went through.
"The last couple games, things really picked up for us."
Though Saine is bigger (6-foot-1, 217), he's more of a big-play threat on the edges, as he showed with touchdown runs of 49 and 29 yards against Iowa and Michigan, respectively. He has the nickname "Zoom" for his breakaway speed.
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound Herron is a hard-charging, low-to-the-ground, between-the-tackles runner, and goes by the childhood nickname "Boom" for obvious reasons.
"He's got a quick first step and a burst," Saine said of Herron. "That works well for him. He can get through the hole before the defenders are ready."
Herron never senses any jealousy between him and Saine, and when one back succeeds on the field, he motivates the other to do the same.
"To have a good team, you need to have a couple good guys ready to carry the mail, and those are two good ones," head coach Jim Tressel said. "They don't care how many carries they get, they don't care who gets called upon when, they just want to do what they can to help the team, and we're fortunate to have two kids like that."