The Ohio State running back known as "Beanie" had just gone through his first career start for the Buckeyes, and to say it was not what was expected out of him would be a grave understatement. Playing against a Youngstown State front four that was outweighed by an average of 48.3 pounds per player by the OSU offensive line, the bruising tailback looked almost lost on the field.
After rushing for just 46 yards on 16 carries, a bewildered Wells sat in the postgame interview room and offered no answers for his play. Buckeye fans found themselves wondering what had happened to the back who had amassed 576 yards and seven touchdowns as an exciting true freshman.
"That was one of the worst games I've ever played since I started playing football," he said as the Buckeyes prepared for their 2008 rematch against the Penguins. "I was definitely nervous because it was my first start. I didn't know exactly what was going through my head."
Now, one year later, Wells has a chance to atone for his struggles against the Penguins – assuming the last 12 games of the 2007 season were not enough. Wells went on to rush for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns as the starting tailback, earning team most valuable player honors in the process.
Beanie learned a primary lesson from his experience against YSU: He learned patience.
"Last year I think I was just rushing everything," he said. "I wasn't patient. I was out there for the first time and I was so anxious to get out there on the football field and make big plays instead of letting things come to me. I came up short."
According to head coach Jim Tressel, that was largely due to the fact that Wells was starting in his first game. Although he excelled as the primary backup to then-junior Antonio Pittman during the 2006 season, Wells had never been counted on to be the primary ballcarrier for the Buckeyes.
Becoming that kind of running back requires a completely different mental outlook, Wells said.
"It's completely different," he said. "When you're not a starter, you're not going to be out there on the field all the time. A starter completely changes the game on the field from start to finish. I wouldn't say (it causes) more pressure, but certainly you have to be ready to go out there and give 110 percent for the whole game."
However, Beanie was not the only player to take responsibility for YSU's ability to assert its will on the OSU offense at times. Then-senior captain Kirk Barton vowed that the offensive line would have to step up its own performance to better open up holes for the team's running backs.
A year later, senior left tackle Alex Boone said re-watching the film has opened his eyes to how the offensive line performed during that game.
"We really determine how Beanie plays," he said. "We were watching the film and it's kind of like, ‘Man, what were we doing? We were not focused.' That's why this week, this offensive line will come out and smack them right away."
Tressel hesitated to call Saturday's game against the Penguins (Noon, Big Ten Network) a red-letter game for Wells. Rather, he pointed to it as another chance to continue his maturation process as a top-flight tailback.
"What you saw as the season developed was a more patient back, a back who knew more about the schemes," Tressel said. "He can stand in the I-back now and he can visualize how it's going to be blocked because he's seen a lot of the different looks. He's had a lot more carries."
That game against the Penguins remains a point of contention for Wells, however. Beanie said it seems like that game was played just yesterday, not a full year ago.
To get past the mistakes in the first game of 2007, Wells said he reached out more to his teammates both on and off the field. Those relationships he developed helped him to overcome a series of nagging injuries that clearly limited him early during the season.
Now his teammates have set some lofty goals for their tailback.
"My goal for Beanie is the Heisman," Boone said. "If he doesn't get that then I will personally take that on my shoulders as we didn't do a great job on the offensive line."