Though no official prognosis was available after the No. 2 Ohio State football defeated Youngstown State 43-0 Saturday afternoon in the season opener, the vibe during postgame at Ohio Stadium is that what at first appeared to be a significant injury to tailback Chris Wells isn't as serious as it looked on first glance.
Wells crumpled to the turf during a third-period play on which he fumbled and grabbed his right foot. He had to be helped from the field, putting no weight on his foot, but later was spotted on the Ohio State sideline walking with a slight limp and with a boot on his right foot.
Afterward, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said that X-rays were negative and that Wells was not suffering from turf toe.
Other than that, not much is known. Wells was not available for comment afterward because he was headed to have the foot checked out by doctors. Tressel said he did not know whether the tailback will play next Saturday against Ohio.
His teammates discussed the panic that went through their heads upon seeing Wells on the ground.
"I was in shock," said tailback Boom Herron, who was Ohio State's No. 2 tailback on the day. "I was just praying that he was OK. Me and Beanie, we're like best friends. I was just hoping that he's OK."
Almost immediately, defensive end Lawrence Wilson, who suffered a season-ending broken leg last season against the Penguins, went out to comfort Wells and ended up helping to carry the tailback off of the field.
"It was like I went down again," Wilson said. "I was scared. I wasn't in the game but I snuck out there and I saw he was all tore up. I was like, ‘Aww, man.' I felt terrible. I felt really bad. Hopefully he'll bounce back and everything."
The play, a first-and-goal situation from the 2-yard line, appeared to begin innocuously enough. Wells had just rumbled through the line a play earlier to get the ball to the 2, and he was looking to plunge in his second touchdown of the day. On first glance, it appeared that he lost his footing approaching the line of scrimmage after taking the handoff from quarterback Todd Boeckman, but the senior captain said that he sensed trouble before that.
"As I handed him the ball back, he didn't grab it," Boeckman said. "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what he did. Like I said, he put his hands on the ball and he went down and he was in some serious pain."
When Wilson reached Wells, who fumbled the ball on the way down, he said the junior tailback and possible Heisman Trophy candidate was flustered.
"I was telling him to stay calm and breathe," Wilson said. "He was breathing real fast. I was like, ‘Relax and breathe and everything is going to be all right.' I was trying to encourage him a little bit because he seemed a little rattled."
After Wells was carried to the sideline, a gaggle of trainers inspected his heel on a sideline training table before he was carted off for the X-rays. In moving to the cart, he still put no weight on the foot.
Tressel defended his decision to have Wells in the game with the Buckeyes holding a 26-0 lead against a clearly overmatched Division I-AA squad.
"When was that?" Tressel asked. "That was early in the third quarter, wasn't it? We were out there playing all of our guys throughout the course of the game until a little bit later, but I don't know how many carries he ended up, but he's the kind of guy that we want him to be a 20- to 30-carry guy. I don't know what he got, but I don't know that he was overused or anything."
Up to that point, Beanie had put up an excellent day. On Ohio State's first offensive possession, he converted a fourth-and-1 play into a 43-yard touchdown run after breaking through the line of scrimmage. On the first drive, Wells had 55 yards on four carries, topping his total against the Penguins last season. He finished the day with 111 yards on 13 carries.
Wells said he came into 2008 more confident and comfortable in his role as Ohio State's No. 1 tailback after rushing for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns on 274 carries last season. He did all that while fighting off constant injuries; he suffered an ankle injury in camp that never seemed to heal and later developed a wrist injury that he said at times overwhelmed the ankle injury as far as pain was concerned.
His backups are redshirt Herron, senior Mo Wells and sophomore Brandon Saine. All carried the ball five times, with Wells compiling 32 yards, Saine earning 20 and Herron fighting for 17.
The Buckeyes face Ohio next week in Ohio Stadium before a highly anticipated Sept. 13 showdown with USC in Los Angeles.
"Like Coach said, we don't know what happened or if he's going to be able to play next week, but we're just hoping for the best for him," Boeckman said.