Battered And Bruised Backs

Not only did the Buckeyes lose to Illinois on Saturday, but they also lost the services of two of their running backs by the time the game was over. Led by Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State will look to heal this week heading into the annual rivalry game. As it turns out, the situation is not entirely unlike the one the Wolverines also face this week.

As they battle over some of the same recruits year in and year out, Ohio State and Michigan can have a tendency to wind up with similar players who can do similar things.

But while few would say that OSU's Chris "Beanie" Wells and Michigan's Mike Hart are the same tailback, they have had remarkably similar seasons. Both have exactly 215 carries and 12 touchdowns, although Hart has missed three games. Beanie holds an edge in total yards and yards per carry – 1,241 to 1,188 and 5.8 to 5.5, respectively – but the two have been linked by something more personal throughout the season.

Both have battled a significant number of injuries that have derailed otherwise promising seasons.

"I thought I knew what pain was until I got here," Wells said. "It's a different type of pain. Week in and week out in the Big Ten, it's rough, but it's something that you have to deal with."

As the Wolverines dropped a 37-21 decision to Wisconsin in week 11, Hart sat out the game with an ankle injury that has nagged him for the entire season. Some 180 miles south, Wells has also battled an ankle injury that has limited his availability throughout the year.

Hart was not made available to reporters to preview the OSU game.

In the Buckeyes' 28-21 loss to Illinois, Wells had a new ailment to deal with. He was seen on the sidelines having his right thumb taped early in the game, but it turns out he had suffered the injury one week prior.

The official diagnosis will have to wait until Tuesday, when Wells is scheduled to have x-rays on the thumb. The injury occurred when he hit it on another player's helmet, he said.

Although he said he does not carry the ball any differently due to the injury, Wells said it did hinder his ability to perform all his functions against the Fighting Illini. With the score tied at 14 midway through the second quarter, Wells fumbled a pitch that resulted in a four-yard loss, setting up third-and-11 and then an eventual punt deep in OSU's own territory.

"I dropped the ball on the pitch because I couldn't really grip it," he said. "It's feeling OK."

Throughout the season, Wells has soldiered on despite his ankle injury that he knew would not be going away anytime soon. While he did not sit out for an entire game like Hart has three times this year, Wells said he measures himself against what a back like Hart can do.

"Mike Hart is a great football player," he said. "He runs with great vision and power. I love Mike Hart as a running back. He inspires me because he's a great running back. All great running backs inspire me, whether they be college or NFL. I look at all the greats, and he's an inspiring running back."

In Hart's place, the Wolverines have called on sophomore Brandon Minor to carry the load. Through 10 games of action, Minor has 89 carries for 387 yards and one touchdown. Behind him is sophomore Carlos Brown, who has 75 carries for 382 yards and four touchdowns in eight games.

Minor battled an injury early in the season, but appears healthy now. The same can not be said for Wells' primary backups, both of whom were unable to finish the game against Illinois.

Junior Maurice Wells rolled his ankle and had to be helped to the locker room after the game. He was later seen in a walking boot. Behind Maurice, true freshman Brandon Saine suffered a slight concussion, senior fullback Dionte Johnson said, and was in street clothes for the second half of the game.

Officially, the status for both tailbacks remains uncertain. However, Johnson seemed confident both would be in uniform this weekend.

"They're both doing good,' he said. "I've seen them both in the training room rehabbing. They're both making strides. I don't think they're both going to practice (Tuesday). They'll probably give them a day off. But at the same time they're both sounding good and they both are up in spirits and they sound like they're ready to get after it this week."

Should either of them not be able to go, freshman Dan Herron could be the logical replacement. The coaching staff has decided to redshirt him for this season, but both Beanie and Johnson expressed confidence that Herron will be ready if his abilities are needed.

"I don't think there's any more pressure on him," Beanie said. "Dan Herron, if his number is called he'll be ready. He's the type of guy that practices hard, whether it's the scout team or with the first team. He practices hard at all time. He's very explosive and quick. He picks up things really fast."

If Maurice or Saine need advice on how to play with injuries, both can look to Beanie for inspiration. Although he said it has not affected his day-to-day activities, the sophomore can be seen walking with a slight limp off the field.

On the field, however, he is all business.

"I respect him for that," Johnson said. "He's going to give his all for the team and we in return give it all to him. We try to keep him healthy and try to do what he can so he doesn't take that many hits. He's a great guy and a great Buckeye.

"He's one of those guys that's not going to come limping (in the huddle). He's not going to be in the huddle trying to baby it. He's going to be one of the guys standing there going, ‘Give me the ball. I'm ready to go. I can do it.' "

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