Any Buckeye can tell you what happened then. Before his team's 14-3 win over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor Nov. 17, Wells became a vocal leader, imploring his team to do its best in an effort to defeat Michigan. He then went out and put the Buckeyes on his back, rushing for the most yards an Ohio State player has ever rushed for against the Maize and Blue – 222 of them – and scoring the team's two touchdowns.
So the fact that the look is back in his eye is definitely a good thing for Ohio State heading into the matchup with the Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game in the Superdome. If Wells continues to play the way he did during the final five games of the regular season, the odds would have to improve tremendously for the Buckeyes.
Through the first seven games, Wells had four 100-yard games and six touchdowns while battling through a preseason ankle injury that would haunt him all year. But during the final five games, he went to another level.
He started that stretch with a 221-yard performance – all of which the Buckeyes needed, as he earned three straight first downs on OSU's final clock-killing drive – during a seven-point victory over Michigan State Oct. 20. He followed that with 133 yards against Penn State, 169 and three touchdowns against Wisconsin and 76 yards and two more touchdowns against Illinois before the historic performance in Michigan Stadium.
Running backs coach Dick "Doc" Tressel said that Wells' improved the mental side of his game as his first year as a full-time starter continued.
"He improved as a runner," Tressel said. "I think it has to do with patience, understanding a little bit better when to hurry, when to slow down. You don't have to get a lot better at those things, just a little bit better at patience, and all of a sudden the picture broadens. You get an expanded vision of what's going on and that allows you to anticipate and look like you're utilizing the full talent that you have."
When the dust settled, Wells ran the ball 254 times – despite the lingering ankle injury that should be the healthiest it will be all year against LSU – for 14 touchdowns and 1,463 yards, already the seventh-most yards in a season for a Buckeye tailback. One more game at his average of 121.9 yards per game would push him into fourth all time.
As a result of those numbers, Wells' earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media and was named the team's most valuable player.
"It's great that my teammates voted me that award," Wells said. "It's a tremendous honor. I was surprised. I was really surprised by that."
Now his attention must turn to LSU, a team that boasts the third best defense in the country and the 13th-best rush defense that allows just 103.08 yards per game. The Tiger defenders say they're impressed with the 6-1, 230-pound back from Akron.
"He's a big guy, runs the ball hard, has some great moves," tackle Glenn Dorsey said. "I think he's faster than what people give him credit for. He's a quick, powerful guy. We're going to have to be on top of our game to try to stop him."
There have been times this year that the Tigers have been on their game and there have been times when they have not. Through the first five games of the season against Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Middle Tennessee State, South Carolina and Tulane, the Tigers were allowing just 39.0 yards per game. They would later keep Auburn on Oct. 20 and Alabama Nov. 3 under the 100-yard mark on the ground.
However, some other games saw the Tiger front gashed. Florida ran for 156 yards Oct. 6, Ole Miss – behind 94 yards from quarterback Brent Schaeffer and 53 from Indiana transfer BenJarvis Green-Ellis – had 201 yards on the ground Nov. 17, and then Arkansas ran for 385 yards Nov. 23 thanks to 206 yards by Heisman candidate Darren McFadden.
One difference between then and now might be the health of the LSU front. Dorsey, the Outland, Lombardi, Lott and Nagurski winner, battled knee and back injuries the entire second half of the season. Starting tackle Charles Alexander suffered a season-ending knee injury three games into the year and will not play, but banged up replacement Marlon Favorite, who had 28 stops on the year, is expected to play OSU at 100 percent.
"We were nicked up some in the second half of the year," defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. "We feel we're the best defense in the country and we'll try to go out Monday night and prove it."
Also bolstering that group will be tackle Ricky Jean-Francois, a sophomore who returned in the SEC title game against Tennessee after missing the regular season because of an off-the-field suspension.
The result will be a vastly improved LSU front than the one that took the field as the season reached its end.
"I think the challenge they pose for us is they're a very physical team," OSU tackle Alex Boone said. "You watch them and they're tough. They can get to the ball."