NCF Nation: Chris 'Beanie' Wells

It's game day at Ohio Stadium

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
11:04
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They say The Game has lost its flavor this year, with Michigan slipping to historic lows and Ohio State getting closer to another Big Ten title. But to the folks who make an annual pilgrimage to see college football's greatest rivalry, it still means plenty.

  

The parking lots were packed this morning, and tailgating was in full swing around The Shoe, despite frigid temperatures. My flight from Chicago was full of Ohio State fans, and there were a decent amount of Michigan fans in my hotel and around the stadium. That's dedication. Some interesting T-shirts around here. One Ohio State tailgate displayed the shirt "Michigan Still Sucks" like a flag. And I saw several fans wearing the less subtle version of the "Muck Fichigan" shirts I've seen before.

Ohio State enters its 105th meeting against Michigan with a 9-2 record and ranked 10th in the BCS standings. The Buckeyes can clinch a share of the Big Ten title with a victory, and they'll head to the Rose Bowl with a win and a Penn State loss to Michigan State. After a drama-filled September, Ohio State finally seems to have found its identity, particularly on the offensive side with Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells. Michigan's top priority today will be containing Wells, who is flat-out dominant in cold-weather games.

Michigan sustained its school-record eighth loss last week and will end its season with The Game for the first time since 1974. It has been a struggle in every sense for first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, who didn't help himself with some comments earlier this week. The Wolverines are 20.5-point underdogs today, the largest spread in the history of The Game. To have any chance, they'll need to avoid any turnovers on offense and find a way to stop Pryor and Wells. Sophomore Nick Sheridan makes his third consecutive start at quarterback.

It won't be easy for Rodriguez to watch Pryor, who picked Ohio State over Michigan despite a chance to start right away for the Wolverines. Michigan's defense is decent against the run, but it will need to be more than decent today.

The weather calls for temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s, light winds and no snow. They won't be so lucky in State College.

As always, I'll be tracking the other Big Ten games today, particularly No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). We also will have coverage from that game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Chris "Beanie" Wells spent the afternoon in sneakers and sweats, but he still found a way to help his Ohio State teammates.

Unable to contribute with his feet, Wells used his mouth. After a sluggish first half from the Buckeyes' offense, the normally subdued Wells tried to spark his teammates.

"He was actually pretty intense there a little bit," quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "Just getting after us, yelling at us, just trying to cheer us up a little bit."

Buckeyes redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron and the other backs filling in for Wells had him in their ears all game. His message was clear.

"Just keep on running," Herron remembers hearing. "Something's going to open up."

It took the better part of three quarters, but Herron and teammates Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine finally saw some daylight in a 26-14 win against Ohio. The three reserves combined for 113 yards on 26 carries.

Both Herron and Saine found the end zone, and Maurice Wells finished with the best yards-per-carry average (5.3), but it took time for all three to get going. Ohio State finished with just six rushing yards in the first quarter. Then after a Malcolm Jenkins interception put the offense in scoring position, Wells was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the Ohio 29-yard line.

Between-the-tackles runs were a struggle most of the game, and the Buckeyes seemed to have more success on the edges.

"We probably performed maybe B-minus-wise," Maurice Wells said. "We ran the ball well and we protected well when our chances came, but as far as the running backs, it's not really so much what you do. It's the whole offense. The O-line has to block well, we have to run well and hit creases and break tackles. We did well, but not as well as we could have."

Would Chris Wells have made a difference?

"We just didn't execute," center Jim Cordle said. "I don't think having him in there would have made that big of a difference."

Herron expects Chris Wells to be "very good" next week against USC, but if the junior is limited by a toe injury, the Buckeyes' reserves are ready to step in.

"He's a very important part of our offense," Herron said, "but you can't just say that we're done [if he doesn't play]. We have a ton of great athletes on our team and in our offense. Beanie is a big part, but we have a team."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- USC has got to be loving this.

Relaxing in Cali after a dominant performance in Week 1, the top-ranked Trojans are watching No. 3 Ohio State stumble in what looked like a tune-up before next Saturday's showdown at the L.A. Coliseum. Ohio's first trip to Ohio Stadium since 1999 has been a great one so far.

It's hardly panic time yet, and the Buckeyes should come back to win this game, especially if their defense continues to force turnovers. But so far, Ohio State is wasting a critical opportunity to evaluate its entire personnel on offense, namely freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

This was a chance to see if reserve running backs Maurice Wells, Dan Herron and Brandon Saine could carry the load in the case Chris "Beanie" Wells doesn't recover well from a right foot/toe injury. This was a chance to assess Pryor against improved competition before the freshman enters an inferno next week at the L.A. Coliseum. This was a chance to show some creativity in play calling.

So far, the Buckeyes are failing in all areas.

Despite two takeaways by the defense and good field position on several instances, the offense has done next to nothing. The offensive line has struggled to protect Boeckman or open holes for Wells and Herron. Ohio State has 50 rushing yards on 15 carries without Chris Wells after running over Youngstown State last week with him. The close score has prevented coach Jim Tressel from using Pryor, who misfired two pass attempts late in the first quarter. And the play calling has been ultra-conservative so far.

Boeckman seems out of sync, as do his top receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Robiskie can't break free from Bobcats defensive backs and Hartline has dropped several passes, including one in the end zone. Junior wideout Ray Small (4 receptions, 25 yards) is the only Buckeyes skill player who has graded well.

The defense remains solid; end Lawrence Wilson has been dominant and the two takeaways are an excellent sign. But a mobile quarterback is once again giving Ohio State a bit of trouble. Bobcats backup Boo Jackson got off to a shaky start, throwing an interception on his second pass attempt, but the junior has settled down nicely. He avoided several seemingly sure-fire sacks and either scrambled for good gains or found open receivers. Jackson somehow got free of Wilson on third-and-14 and launched a pass downfield to Taylor Price for a 30-yard gain. The backfield escape set up the Bobcats' go-ahead touchdown. According to ESPN Research, the last time any team from the Buckeye State beat the Buckeyes was Oberlin in 1921. The score was 7-6.

Ohio holds a 127-117 edge in total yards and has converted 5 of 9 third-down attempts. Bobcats starting quarterback Theo Scott will not return after suffering a shoulder injury in the first quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

 
 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
 Mark Sanchez and USC rolled to a victory in Week 1.

I'm used to sticking out like an Ohio State fan in the Big House. So it came as no surprise that among all of the folks at ESPN who weigh in on this, I was the lone person to put Mark Sanchez at the top of my Heisman list.

And I'm OK with that.

The one I would question, though, is a first-place vote for running back Beanie Wells. Yes, he had an incredible performance before he hurt his foot, but how do you favor a player wearing a protective boot when you don't know how long he'll be out?

We'll see if Sanchez is still leading the list after USC plays the Buckeyes, but for now that's my pick and I'm sticking to it.

Even if I'm sticking out.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- USC coach Pete Carroll has been reluctant to talk too much about Ohio State's visit to the Coliseum on Sept. 13, and he had some more fun toying with reporters about it again on Saturday.

"We play them two weeks from now, right?" he asked.

After a bit more prodding, Carroll acknowledged the fact their staff will begin preparing for the Buckeyes "a week from now."

"I'm thrilled to be coming back to the Coliseum and getting a home game," he said. "It's going to be exciting for everybody. There's a ton of hype about it and all that. We'll get to work on that a week from now. It's a terrific chance for us to get a great challenge again. ... Ohio State is a great program, they are a great program. We'll try to get ourselves ready to play them."

His players are ready to start preparing.

"When we get back to school we definitely have to start watching film," receiver Vidal Hazelton said. "I'm sure they're going to bring it just like we are. They're a real good team. We just have to continue to watch film and prepare."

One reporter asked Carroll if he knew Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells got hurt.

"He did?" Carroll asked, raising his eyebrows.

"You weren't aware he got hurt?" the reporter asked.

"Yeah, somebody told me," he said with a wry smile. "They stuck it on my chair when I came in."

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