The two might be related.
After picking up 103 yards on only nine carries in the season-opening win against Marshall, Saine has since struggled to find traction. The last four games have seen him combine for 80 yards on 35 carries – an average of 2.3 yards per rush. Against the Fighting Illini, he carried the ball just once in the fourth quarter for no gain while the Buckeyes leaned on junior Dan Herron to pave the way to a victory. For the game, Saine carried the ball eight times for 14 yards.
But looking back on Saine's recent struggles, head coach Jim Tressel saw a few other players at fault as well.
"He hasn't had the running yards (recently)," he said, "(but) I'm not sure who would have in the situations he just happened to be in."
That would especially appear to have been true last weekend. Each member of the team's offensive line made available for interviews expressed his disappointment in how the unit performed. It was not until the fourth quarter that the line figured a few things out and allowed Herron to average 4.2 yards per pop in situations where it was obvious OSU would be attempting to run the ball.
The sour feelings for the linemen continued after watching the game film Sunday.
"This year it was the first game that I think we really didn't live up to our potential," senior right guard Bryant Browning said. "We didn't do a lot of things well, especially starting off early. We started off really shaky. We knew watching the film that we definitely could have played better than that and there's several things we need to work on."
Thoughts like those have not necessarily been isolated to the Illinois game, however. Each game has drawn postgame comments from members of the OSU offensive line that the week's opponent did something the Buckeyes were not expecting. That OSU was able to run the ball effectively in the fourth quarter was proof, Tressel said, that the line made the necessary adjustments to be successful.
Senior left guard Justin Boren said dealing with in-game adjustments comes with the territory.
"I think when you're the No. 2 team in the nation, teams are going to throw everything they have at you," he said. "They're going to put new schemes in. I don't think we're ever underprepared. I think we're prepared every game."
Saine's struggles have been the most visible, but Tressel pointed to his overall impact in the offense as reason to keep playing the senior co-captain. The coaches like using Saine as a wide receiver as well, and he is tied for third on the team with nine receptions for 75 yards. His three touchdown catches rank second-best among the Buckeyes.
Tressel said the coaches are still working out how to best utilize Saine's talents.
"Brandon Saine adds a dimension of speed and versatility that we have to absolutely use," he said. "So have we figured out exactly how to maximize that? Probably not. But that's what you do during the course of a season, you know, (figure it out)."
That has led to an outcry among fans to see less of Saine and more of reserves Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry. Although Tressel proclaimed himself "a Jordan Hall fan" when asked specifically about the sophomore, he stopped short of saying either would see more playing time at Saine's expense.
"I have one million percent faith in Jordan Hall," the coach said. "He is a good runner. I wish we had more carries available, but you're going to see Jordan Hall."
In addition, he pointed out that the team rushed for 213 yards against the Illini, surpassing the weekly goal of at least 200 yards.
Boren said fans should not judge the team's rushing attack based on last weekend's performance. The Buckeyes sit third in the Big Ten with an average of 234.8 rushing yards per game.
"I think if you look at the previous four games, us as an offensive line played really well," he said. "Granted, on Saturday we did not put together a good performance and there's always going to be naysayers out there but we're not worried about that. We just know after watching the film that we have to get after it this week and get ready to go."
While Saine's struggles have extended beyond just the last game, solving some issues up front could be the first step toward getting the senior back on track.
"Every guy felt like we could've done certain things a little bit better (against Illinois)," Browning said. "We really didn't execute the way we should've. We didn't open up too many gaps. We need to make more room for our backs."