With Chris "Beanie" Wells relegated to the sidelines by a foot injury, Ohio State deployed the three-headed monster it promised all week, but claims from the coaching staff that they would like to get each 12-15 carries proved to be greatly exaggerated.
Maurice Wells, after a strong week of practice and perhaps in a nod to the senior of the group, drew the start and carried nine times for 48 yards, but the leading rusher was redshirt freshman Dan Herron. The Warren Harding product toted the rock 12 times for 50 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Saine, though reputedly healthy after being slowed by a hamstring injury during preseason camp, carried just five times for 16 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Also in the mix: hotshot freshman backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who gained 37 yards on five carries, including a 23-yarder that was Ohio state's longest rush of the day, and even starting quarterback Todd Boeckman, who scrambled a handful of times and picked up six yards on an option keeper during Ohio State's first touchdown drive.
2. How will the Buckeyes run it?
As a team, the Buckeyes totaled 162 ugly yards on 40 carries, including three sacks that subtracted six yards.
Ohio State started the game normally enough with Maurice Wells and fullback Brandon Smith in an I-formation, but then abandoned that staple of the offense and the running game for most of the rest of the first half.
When it came time for the rubber to meet the road, the ‘I' made a comeback, this time with Herron the main man.
To start the first Buckeye touchdown drive, Herron rambled 14 yards on a draw then picked up six on a run off right tackle.
"I just 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."
That seemed to create some room for the passing game, which helped put the Buckeyes in position to dent the end zone. They did so by going back to the run. This time linebacker/defensive end Curtis Terry made his first appearance on offense and combined with Smith in a modified wing-T to clear the way for Herron to score from a yard out.
Without their best running back, the Buckeyes did little out of the ordinary aside from the additional quarterback runs, which were effective.
The tailbacks all had a moment or two, but it was clear none was ready to be Beanie Wells, whose 237 pounds and exceptional quickness probably would have earned more yards than did his replacements on a number of occasions Saturday.
3. How will the passing game perform?
Boeckman was 16 of 26 for just 110 yards, a 6.8-yard average per completion.
Playing a lot of man-to-man behind a blitzing front, Ohio took the big play away from the Ohio State receivers and made starting wideouts Brian Robiskie (three catches for 8 yards) and Brian Hartline (two catches for 14) virtual nonfactors.
"It was a struggle, in the first half especially," Boeckman said. "We didn't get in that rhythm for some reason. We were all hyped up before the game. I guess you've just got to give some credit to OU. They put a lot of pressure on us, blitzed and came after us."
Credit Boeckman for adjusting, though, when the Brians were not available. He hit his third and fourth receivers a total of nine times for 59 yards. Ray Small had a team-high five grabs for 27 yards and Dane Sanzenbacher hauled in four passes for a team-high 32. Sanzenbacher had the longest grab of the day by a receiver, an important 12-yarder during the first Ohio State touchdown drive.
Boeckman also did something else he rarely has in the past: found a tight end for a big play. The long gain of the day came on one of the Ohio State field goal drives when Boeckman hooked up with Jake Ballard for 25.
4. What about pass protection?
The pass protection was mixed. As mentioned, Boeckman was sacked three times. He also rarely looked comfortable in the pocket.
Some of that was his own doing, however. A number of times he dropped back and never seemed to get comfortable, almost as if sensing a rush that wasn't there.
"They got a lot of pressure on," Boeckman said. "Maybe once you feel that pressure once in the back of your mind you're still thinking about it even though you shouldn't."
The Bobcats certainly did their part. They came in with an intent to blitz and were quite effective. They outnumbered the Buckeye pass protectors on the Buckeyes' first third down of the day and Lee Renfro took advantage by racing around end to sack Boeckman for a 3-yard loss. Perhaps that play set the tone for the rest of the game.
It was a team effort for Ohio as well, as there were times Boeckman had plenty of time to throw but had to take off (or was sacked) when he could find no one open.
5. Who gets a better boost from the return game?
No doubts here.
Small's 69-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter put the game safely out of reach and allowed Ohio Stadium to exhale.
On the flipside, the Bobcats got nothing from their usually productive return teams. Though showing no fear by bringing more than one kick out of the end zone when a touchback would have sufficed, Ohio returners Chris Garrett and Donte Harden averaged 21 yards per return with a long of 24.
Credit Buckeye kickoff specialist Aaron Pettrey for booming every one of his six kickoffs, two of which were touchbacks, and the coverage team for running under each boot and swarming to the ball.
Ohio's best field position after a kickoff was its own 24-yard line.
Garrett and Mark Parson combined to return three Ohio State punts for a total of eight yards.