The Break In The Routine

Three games into their conference slate, the Buckeyes and head coach Jim Tressel will step away from familiar foes and take on non-conference foe Kent State. Get the latest on the team as OSU prepares for the Golden Flashes this weekend at Ohio Stadium.

As the Buckeyes' final non-conference game of the regular season approaches, it is hard not to view it as almost a minor annoyance.

Three weeks into a conference season and matchups against familiar teams, the Buckeyes face in-state Mid-American Conference opponent Kent State in Ohio Stadium at noon on Saturday. While the timing of the game on the schedule might not be idea, the actual timing of the game is considering the start times of the last two Ohio State games.

"Right now, at this moment, I love the thought of a noon game," head coach Jim Tressel said. "I love the thought of playing at home, and our guys, I know, feel the same way."

Following two consecutive night road games played at Minnesota and Purdue, the Buckeyes have been able to get back into a more familiar routine as they have prepared for the Golden Flashes. The effect of the back-to-back night games might not have been as great as some expected, however.

Tressel felt more tired following the Minnesota game than the Purdue game, perhaps owing to the time difference, he said.

In an ideal world, Tressel said, the Buckeyes would play a slate of non-conference games before closing with eight consecutive Big Ten contests. In an ideal world, too, the Buckeyes would boast a full stable of healthy running backs.

This is not an ideal world, though. Freshman Brandon Saine missed two games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee and sophomore Chris Wells has suffered from a lingering ankle injury that has limited his touches for much of the season.

Preparation for the Kent State game has seen one make positive strides, while the other has had a more frustrating time.

"Chris had as good a practice Tuesday as I think he's had in a while," Tressel said. "(Wednesday), not so good. A little bit sore and didn't do as much, so I'm hoping (Thursday) is ramped up a little bit.

"Brandon Saine, on the other hand, probably Tuesday and Wednesday you could just see he's back, physically. The more you get to practice, you're back mentally."

The stabilizing force in the backfield has been junior Maurice Wells, who remains second on the depth chart behind "Beanie" and ahead of Saine. With 66 carries for 248 yards – already a career-high – Wells is the only one of the three to not suffer any major injuries this season that have affected his performance.

After learning to keep his pads lower to the ground as the season has progressed, Tressel said he has seen improvement out of Wells.

"He's been gaining confidence," Tressel said. "I think he's grown into being a solid veteran. If we can get all three of them healthy at the same time, it's going to be a huge bonus."

With this game marking the seventh contest of the season for the Buckeyes, Tressel said it is unlikely that any players who have been redshirting will see playing time this season.

Facing an entire season with no prospect of seeing game time can be challenging, and Tressel said he had spoken with freshman defensive back Donnie Evege on Wednesday about keeping focused while not playing.

"(Sophomore cornerback) Donald Washington and I were talking to Donnie about making sure he stays disciplined on scout team so that you don't get into any bad habits from a technique standpoint," Tressel said. "The three of us were talking about how you have to try to keep your execution even though you're reading a card and there's no consequences to the decisions that you make."

It is also less likely that the team's second-string offensive line will see much playing time as the season goes on. A staple for OSU last season, the Buckeyes have utilized their second team less this season.

As it turns out, there are two reasons. One is that offensive line coach Jim Bollman likes to keep his first unit playing together in order to increase both their experience and their ability to communicate with each other along the line.

The other is that, simply, they have not played all that well.

"We need to become a little bit more consistent with our second group," Tressel said. "That concerns me a little bit, that we haven't got as consistent but the problem is when you don't get to play as much, you don't improve as much."

As of Thursday, Tressel said there were no plans to ensure that the second-team line got into the upcoming game against KSU.


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