However, with an improved offensive line and the emergence of sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman, the running game is expected be much better this year.
Historically, the Buckeyes are known as a power running team. It will always be the staple of the offense, but Pittman says the strength of this year's team is versatility.
"I wouldn't say the running game is what it's all about at Ohio State," Pittman said. "I feel that this year it's more of a well-rounded team. With the receivers that we have, it's going to help the running game a lot. No one is really focusing on us to come out there the first game and set the tone. It's very important going into week two, week three, week four, for the rest of the season. So, just to get the running game started is very important."
"It helps the running game a lot," Pittman said. "That way you don't have to worry about eight in the box or anything like that. Defense is going to have to spread out. Regardless of what it is, with the speed that Ted, Santonio and Gonzo (Anthony Gonzalez) have, it's going to spread a defense out and that can only help the running game."
Pittman turned in a solid freshman campaign in 2004. He rushed for 381 yards and a touchdown and also led all of OSU's running backs with 5.3 yards per carry.
However, the team as a whole averaged just four yards per carry. So, just why did the running game struggle so much last year?
"The only thing I can comment on about last year is my behalf," Pittman said. "Going in there, not being patient, not running behind my blockers and everything like that. This year is a different game. I'm more focused. Grown up a little bit more; picked up more pounds (from 190 to 200). I'm ready."
And there's no question that Ohio State's offensive line is much better this season. The unit is experienced, talented and deep.
"Compared to this year from last year, they got stronger," Pittman said. "Couple of them lost some pounds, or got bigger. It's more versatile. From the transition of Rob (Sims) going from tackle to guard; Steve (Rehring) playing some guard and tackle too; Nick (Mangold) playing center and guard; Doug Datish playing center, guard and tackle. I mean, last year's line, we didn't have that much movement in it and there really wasn't that much depth. So, it's good."
As a senior at Akron Buchtel High School in 2003, Pittman rushed for 1,300 yards, scored 17 touchdowns and averaged 12 yards per carry. All that despite missing three games with a turf toe injury. But even when he returned, the injury plagued him all season.
Fortunately for Pittman, the injury has not resurfaced during his college career.
"Nah, hopefully it doesn't," he said. "Knock on wood."
Pittman is pleased that 240-pound senior Brandon Schnittker was moved to tailback. It could mean a few less carries for Pittman, but he thinks Schnittker is a good addition to the tailback corps.
"Three, four backs, it's needed in the Big Ten," Pittman said. "It's a pounding out there that you're going to take. It's hard on the body and just practicing against one of the top defenses in the nation makes you sore. And this is practice. But when the game comes and adrenaline is rushing and everything, it's going to be a lot worse than that sore. So, he's needed back there."
In addition to being the only "big" tailback (unless you count the 212-pound Erik Haw), Schnittker brings a veteran presence to the group.
"Yeah, it's a benefit," Pittman said. "He's mature back there. He's been here – this is fifth year – and it's great, it's a plus to have him back there with one sophomore, a redshirt freshman (Haw) and a true freshman (Maurice Wells). The wisdom is needed. It's very much needed back there, so it's great to have him back there."
Pittman was asked to comment on what he has seen from Wells thus far.
"Good one. Good running back," he said. "Maurice is like… I look at him like a Warrick Dunn-type back. Very little guy – he's little like Warrick Dunn, but he reminds me of Ricky Williams with the hair. That's how I look at Mo."
"They're looking real good," Pittman said.
Pittman was asked if he's going to "pick his spots" a little more this year. In other words, knowing when to lower his shoulder and play the power game, and knowing when to use his speed.
"Well, last year, I knew when to do that, but it was a big problem with me," he admitted. "I would try and save myself and say, ‘If I don't take this big hit, I'll be better for the next play.' But I was not getting the necessary yardage that we needed.
"This year, I'm willing to put it all on the line and just do whatever I've got to do just to help this team win. It doesn't matter if I rush for 1,500 yards, or 700 yards. As long as we're winning and go to the national championship it's a blessing."
Pittman comes across much more mature this year. He was asked if running backs coach Dick Tressel influenced the attitude change.
"No, he didn't influence me to change my attitude," Pittman said. "It's just more growing up and doing what is needed, instead of what you think is best for you. Sure, it would be good to rush for 1,500 yards and win all the awards and everything, but you don't get anything out of that if you don't win. If we would have rushed for 1,500 yards last year we probably would have won a lot more games. But it doesn't take away the losses."
Pittman keeps mentioning that 1,500-yard mark. It has become his benchmark of sorts.
"I'm going into this year looking to get more than 1,500 yards," he said. "But that's just the number I threw out there. More importantly, it's all about winning. If I rush for 80 yards in one day and have 70 yards receiving and we come out with the W, then it's a plus. On the other hand, if I rush for 200-some yards and we lose, I didn't do enough to help the team. So, I'm willing to do whatever in order to help the team win. My dream is to win a national championship."