OSU Offensive Identity Becoming Clear

Five games into the 2008 season, the calling card of the Ohio State offense is starting to become clear. Chris Wells, who made his return after missing three games, and Terrelle Pryor helped the Buckeyes to their best rushing day since 2005, and afterward the Buckeyes said they hope to make that success on the ground a continued theme.

Alex Boone didn't hesitate to answer the question, though he rarely does.

When asked last Tuesday, Sept. 23, if the Ohio State football team had an offensive identity, the senior offensive tackle wasted less time than usual in formulating an answer.

"Running the ball," he said. "That's what we've always been good at. Just pounding the ball. With Beanie out, it kind of hurt us a little bit. I think Boom Herron stepped up and Brandon Saine did a great job, but with Beanie back we're going to have to show people we're the running team we used to be."

If the return of Chris Wells – the man known as "Beanie" – to the lineup Saturday against Minnesota after missing three straight games with a foot injury is any indication, the loquacious Boone was on to something.

The 14th-ranked Buckeyes (4-1) piled up a season-high 279 yards rushing on the way to a 34-21 win over Minnesota in the Big Ten opener for both squads in Ohio Stadium. The total was the most for an Ohio State team since it ran for 317 yards against Northwestern in 2005.

Ohio State served notice from the beginning that it would be moving the ball on the ground. On the fourth play of the game and his second carry, Wells went through a huge hole on the left side of the line, bounced outside and hit the open field, racing for 28 yards before being brought down by Deon Hightower.

He was topped one play later by quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who beat Kevin Mannion and Tramaine Brock to the corner and outraced Kyle Theret to the right pylon for a 33-yard touchdown that gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead 2:13 into the game.

The rushing didn't stop from there, and perhaps the most memorable play from the game was Wells' leap over Theret on a 21-yard run late in the first half. By the time the first half ended, Ohio State had piled up 179 yards on 23 carries for an average of 7.8 yards per try.

When the dust settled on the game, Wells had raced for 106 yards on 14 carries, both team highs. Pryor added 97 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, while redshirt freshman Boom Herron continued to run well with 50 yards on 10 carries.

"It was nice to see all of those rushing yards up there," left guard Jim Cordle said. "When you hit and engage and you're driving and then Beanie breaks away, it's fun. It's good for us."

Head coach Jim Tressel expressed concern over the passing game – the Buckeyes threw for just 135 yards but did throw two touchdowns against no interceptions – but seemed happy with his team's ability to move the ball on the ground.

"I don't know what our numbers were from a run-game standpoint, but Beanie looked like he picked up a few and Boom hit his opportunities fairly well and Terrelle, I'm sure, got a few," he said. "I hope we're a balanced team."

Tressel had to be more pleased with the offensive line after spending the past two weeks taking special notice of their progress in practice. That started after the team struggled against Ohio and USC, and at the forefront of the criticism was the offensive line. Still, the Buckeyes pounded out a workmanlike 162 yards on 40 carries against the Bobcats, and Herron had 51 carries on 11 tries against USC before Ohio State had to abandon the run.

Against Troy Sept. 20, the insertion of Pryor into the starting line and 20 carries for Herron helped the team pound out 170 yards, while Herron and Pryor – with 14 carries – each averaged 4.7 yards per try on the ground.

The Buckeyes ran for 7.5 yards per carry against the Golden Gophers, a fact Wells helped credit to the offensive line.

"The offensive line played incredibly today in my eyes," Wells said. "I think they're only going to play better as the season goes on."

Of course, adding the preseason Big Ten offensive player of the year to the mix didn't hurt, either. Pryor and Wells had 22 carries among them for 203 yards, an average of 9.2 yards per try. Wells showed his skills immediately by making defenders miss, and when he wasn't breaking off yards, Pryor was adding another dimension to the offense with his running, including that 33-yard TD scamper and a later 1-yard run.

"I saw a lot of his back today," Cordle said of the true freshman. "On the (first) touchdown he just looked like a 100-yard sprinter. It's exciting."

With the physical Big Ten season having started against Minnesota, Wells said it's not a bad time for the Buckeyes to have shown what they can do on the ground.

"I would love for that to be our identity, just go out there and run the football down people's throats," Wells said.

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