Junior tailback Chris Wells, the Heisman Trophy candidate who goes by the name of "Beanie," was relegated to the sidelines after suffering a foot injury one week prior against Youngstown State. While his teammates ran through the marching band and toward the bench, Beanie found himself walking to the bench with the team's cadre of injured players.
But while he was unable to be on the field against the Bobcats, that did not stop Wells from trying to have a big impact on the game's final outcome. With the heavily favored home team trailing 7-6 at halftime, it was Wells who exhorted his teammates in the locker room to perform better in the second half.
"Beanie came in there and said a couple words I can't say, but he meant it from the heart," junior wide receiver Ray Small said. "Beanie's a real leader. He's a real leader, and he was telling us just because he's not out there doesn't mean we can't play football."
The scoreboard and statistics would seem to suggest otherwise, however. During his OSU career, Beanie has averaged 5.9 yards per carry while establishing himself as one of the most feared backs in the country.
Since his injury, however, the Buckeyes maintained that their stable of tailbacks is more than able to pick up the slack. Between Maurice Wells, Brandon Saine and Dan Herron, OSU would be able to compensate for the loss of its top tailback.
But aside from a few flashes here and there, that was largely proved not to be the case. Maurice Wells earned his first career start and finished with nine carries for 48 yards, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. Herron led the way with 12 carries for 50 yards and scored the team's first touchdown of the game with 2:51 remaining in the third quarter, and Saine had five carries for 15 yards and the go-ahead touchdown one minute into the fourth quarter.
None of the tailbacks had a big, breakout carry that changed the game, however – a play Beanie seems to make on a weekly basis. The longest carry of the game was a 23-yard gain by freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
As a team, the Buckeyes averaged 4.1 yards per carry – totals boosted by Pryor's 37 yards on five carries.
According to junior center Jim Cordle, the addition of Beanie to the equation would not mattered much due to the overall play of the offensive line.
"I don't think having him in there would have been that big of a difference because we still didn't execute," he said.
With Beanie sidelined, senior quarterback Todd Boeckman denied that he felt any added responsibility to make plays through the air.
"I think we have some great backs behind me," he said. "I know I've got to step up and make the throws when I'm needed and I didn't do that today at times, but there were some times we did some great things out there."
It took a while for those great things to which Boeckman referred to materialize. On OSU's first touchdown drive, it was Herron's legs that helped get them there. On the first two plays, he rushed for gains of 14 and 6 yards to put the Buckeyes near midfield. Three called pass plays later, Herron picked up 7 more yards on a rush up the gut that put the ball on the OU 23-yard line.
Predictably, it was Herron who then plunged across the goal line from one yard out to pull the Buckeyes within two points.
"I knew I had to do something for us to get the whole offense going," he said. "We started slow, so somebody had to make a play to get us going. It was definitely frustrating, but we knew we had to pick it up."
With the momentum swinging back to the home side, OSU turned to Saine on the next drive to power the ball into the end zone. His runs of 7, 5 and 2 yards on consecutive plays gave the Buckeyes their first lead since the second quarter and put the home team back on top for good.
Despite the team's struggles on both sides of the football, it was Beanie – walking without a boot on his foot and dressed simply in tennis shoes – who was talking to each player individually at halftime, exhorting them to play better.
It was more of the same on the sidelines throughout the game.
"He was real emotional out there, and it was different without him," Saine said.
Now the focus turns to next week and whether or not Beanie will be ready for the USC Trojans. Head coach Jim Tressel was coy on his status, while Boeckman said he thought he would be available.
Then, steeling himself – and perhaps reflecting on how the offense performs with Beanie in the backfield – Boeckman offered a little more insight.
"I hope so," he said. "He's been moving around fairly well. I don't know what his prognosis is, but hopefully."