Saine, Buckeyes Puzzled By Struggles

The last three weeks have not been the most productive for senior Ohio State running back Brandon Saine. After a hot start to the season, the team captain has not been able to get untracked in recent games. As he looks back on the first month of the season, Saine is as puzzled by his struggles as the next guy.

Brandon Saine himself had no clear answer for the question.

The reasons why might be clouded, but it is clear to anyone who has watched Ohio State this season that Saine and the team's rushing attack has not packed the same punch displayed in a season-opening, Sept. 2 blowout victory against Marshall. In that contest, the Buckeyes put up 280 rushing yards thanks to a nine-carry, 103-yard performance by Saine.

But since then, the senior captain has found decidedly tougher sledding. In victories against Miami (Fla.), Ohio and Eastern Michigan, Saine has amassed 66 yards on 27 carries – good for an average of 2.4 yards per pop.

Saine and his coaches have said that he has been healthy. Although he suffered a turf burn while practicing for EMU, the running back said it did not affect him in the game. Tuesday, head coach Jim Tressel said Saine's long runs against Marshall (a 45-yard score and 40-yard run) were the credit of the offensive line opening creases for him.

Asked if he has seen anything different in Saine since the first game of the season, Tressel said, "No, nothing different from him. There wasn't that nice hole that opened up that he could run (45 yards) through. Believe me, the next time there's one of those, he'll run through it. But, no, gosh, Brandon Saine is going to do everything you ask him to do."

"I think there have been opportunities," Saine said on the same topic. "I've probably made mistakes myself. I think that the O-line has been doing a great job. They have a lot on their plate always and you can never knock them. Looking forward, the running game is going to do pretty well."

Adding a slight sense of urgency is the play of Saine's reserves. His 169 total rushing yards rank fourth on the team and third among running backs, with quarterback Terrelle Pryor leading the way with 269 yards. Junior Dan Herron is second with 192 yards while splitting carries with Saine during crunch time and redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry popped a 67-yard touchdown against EMU and now has 177 rushing yards.

Berry has accumulated eight more yards than Saine while toting the ball 21 fewer times. Although his carries have come against the other team's reserves, that has not stopped speculation that the redshirt freshman could find his way up the depth chart.

Also entering into the equation is the continued development of Pryor. The Buckeyes are averaging 266.5 yards per game through the air, good for third-best in the Big Ten.

Saine said he is often asked what he provides that is different from the other backs.

"I feel like we're all taught by the same coach and we all do a lot of things similar but some of us might be faster or shiftier," he said. "It's hard to exactly say. It's easier to just watch us and tell for yourself. I'm definitely not as shifty as (sophomore Jordan Hall) and Jaamal but I think that I'm able to bring a little bit of speed to the table."

During his prep career at Piqua, Ohio, Saine was timed at 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash and captured state track titles in the 400- and 100-meter dashes.

The senior said he likes the depth in the running backs room and is not worried about losing his carries to Berry or Hall, who has 13 carries for 72 yards.

"You always feel (competition)," he said. "I think it's been there since camp. They're great athletes, great running backs and you can never forget about them. We've never had a problem with it. We're all good friends. I think we all realize it's a team game and that's all that matters."

Herron said that is the attitude that made him for Saine as a team captain.

"He's definitely a competitor, a guy that wants to win and a guy that wants to lead us to a national championship," he said.

As his OSU career has progressed, Saine has found himself more involved in the team's passing attack. This season in particular, coaching staff and players alike have raved at his ability to stretch opposing defenses through the air. At one point against EMU, Herron lined up in the backfield with Saine in the slot as a wide receiver.

Through four games, he sits fourth on the team with eight receptions and is tied for second with two touchdowns. Saine said his growth as a receiver has not taken away from his role as a running back, however.

"It's just lining up somewhere different and doing something different," he said. "I don't think that it changes my running style or running game."

As a junior, Saine managed to stay healthy for an entire season for the first time in his OSU career and responded with a career-high 739 yards while splitting carries with Herron and Hall.

He looked to have picked right up where he left off with his performance against Marshall, but the only thing Saine has changed on a game-by-game basis is the team's game plan.

"I really can't say that there's one thing (different)," he said. "We played against a great defense in Miami and there's been different game plan things that we've been doing, but I can't really say."

The question then becomes if, should the game plan put an emphasis on piling up rushing yards, Saine will be the primary one called upon.

"Brandon is a great team player and he comes out and works hard every day in practice," Herron said. "He's going to try to bring his ‘A' game very week. Even if he doesn't get his carries that he feels he should get, he doesn't really complain about it. He stays up. He's one of our leaders."

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