"We've definitely got to establish our running game," the sophomore wide receiver said following Tuesday's practice. "It's Ohio State. That's what we do and that's really important for us."
The problem is that, through the first three games of the season, the Buckeyes have not been as proficient as they would like to be running the football. Heading into the weekend's Big Ten opener against Illinois, OSU sits fifth in the conference in rushing at 162.7 yards per game.
In the past five seasons, the Buckeyes have rushed for fewer yards per game just once: the 2004 campaign, when they finished seventh in the conference at 145.4 yards per game. This year's team has some players who have shown flashes of ability, but for the OSU offense to be successful in its current form it will need one player to improve on his production thus far.
That would be starting tailback Dan Herron, who leads the team with 50 carries but trails quarterback Terrelle Pryor in yards gained, 176-158. One-quarter of the way through the season, Herron is averaging 3.2 yards per carry – the lowest total among the top 10 ground gainers in the Big Ten by two full yards.
"I think (Herron) had a couple chances last week where he just got shoestringed and you could see where he might pop it and all you need is to pop it and all your yards per carry is totally skewed," he said. "I haven't seen his grade and so forth as being anything less than excellent. He's where he's supposed to be."
As Tressel pointed out, a big run could go a long way toward helping Herron's statistics. His longest rush of the season has gone for 18 yards, while Pryor picked up 43 on one scramble against Toledo and Saine has popped one for 31 yards.
As someone who sits in on all the running back meetings with Herron, senior walk-on Marcus Williams said he does not feel the starter is starting to press for a big play.
"From watching film no, it doesn't seem like it," Williams said. "He still looks like he's trying to stay within the offense. He's not trying to bounce around and take long ones. He's letting the big plays come to him and he's not getting frustrated."
As the primary backup to Chris Wells last season, Herron finished the year with 89 carries for 439 yards and six touchdowns. He was third on the team behind Wells and Pryor.
Following his performance against USC (18 carries, 44 yards and a touchdown), Herron said his struggles were a symptom of an offense still finding its way.
"I would say I definitely could've done a little better doing the little things right but in the end if the offense doesn't execute it's hard for one player to do everything by himself," he said.
Herron is like the rest of the athletes in OSU's stable of running backs in that he is not a bruiser. Although he goes by the moniker "boom" for the ferocity with which he hits defenders, Herron would not be confused for Chris "Beanie" Wells.
Junior offensive lineman Bryant Browning said having a different running back taking carries does not change the name of the game for the team's offensive linemen – even going from a 6-1, 237-pound hulk like Wells to a 5-10, 193-pound back like Herron.
"For him or any other running back that's back there, you've just got to do your assignment, get a hat on hat, stay locked up and hold your block so you can create a lane so he can explode," Browning said. "It's the same thing. You've always got to do your assignment and try to get to your guy and hold your block."
Despite having Troy Smith win the Heisman in 2006 as a dual-threat quarterback, the Buckeyes have never had a quarterback lead them in rushing under Tressel. Pryor leads the team thanks to his 110-yard outburst against Toledo in week three. In addition, only one player has led the team in rushing by averaging less than 5.0 yards per carry in a season: Lydell Ross averaged 4.1 and 4.3 yards per game in 2004 and 2003, respectively.
Saine is averaging 5.3 yards on 19 carries, while Hall averaged 6.3 yards per pop on seven carries against the Rockets. No other running back has more than one carry.
The Buckeyes figure to keep rotating tailbacks, and Saine said he sees no problem with the situation.
"It works out pretty well," he said. "When you're in there and you get tired, you know there's another capable back coming in that can also get the yardage the team needs. I think that we're getting things done and getting better each game."
OSU will need to take another step forward this weekend against the visiting Fighting Illini. Tressel pointed to controlling the run game as key to winning Saturday – a fact that goes beyond the coach's overwhelming desire to do so anyway.
When the Illini upset top-ranked OSU in Ohio Stadium two years ago, they held the ball for 33 minutes and rushed for 260 yards on 51 carries.
"We better make sure that they can't have their way running it and first and foremost we better make sure that we can do some things running it," Tressel said. "I don't mean we're going to go out and run every play, but we better be able to do some things running the football."