Upon Further Review: Buckeye Ground Game

Ohio State's ground game nearly always has been the heart of its offense. That's just as true in 2008, with about 60% of the Buckeyes' yardage coming from the run in Big Ten play, contrasted to the national average of closer to only 40%. Beanie Wells is far and away the main attraction for Jim Tressel's crew, so how potent is this ground attack when viewed under the microscope?

In revisiting games like Penn State, Northwestern, and Michigan in closer detail, even when the final box score figures impress the casual viewer (against the latter two teams cited), the story's intricate details reveal a lot more offensive struggles than expected.

We often read how Penn State crowded the line of scrimmage with eight in the box, focusing solely on taking Beanie out of the ballgame. And yet, film review displayed an often countering viewpoint. Most of the time, Joe Paterno's crew played a more "honest" 4-3 alignment while his defensive front whipped that Jim Tressel's offensive front that evening. Wells may not have been 100%, per some reports, but his 55 yards on 22 carries (2.5 average) supports the Nittany Lions' domination.

In most contests, Ohio State's skill guys are talented enough to break something long even if the opposition is playing "with a lot of heart." Seeing those outmanned opponents often stifling the Buckeyes' ground game several times in the early going, though, forces us to question the scarlet and gray's superiority.

Case in point: As you watched your college game of choice, the broadcast brought you a highlight clip of Beanie Wells busting loose from the Northwestern defense on his way to a 55-yard touchdown gallop, his second score of a game just into the second quarter. With all the accolades, you naturally assume Beanie and the Buckeyes must be gouging that overwhelmed Wildcats defense.

But if you'd caught that contest prior to his long jaunt, you'd have found a frustrated Wells. He'd garnered a shrunken sum of four yards on eight carries against a Northwestern defense playing an honest seven in the box more often than not. Further illustrating: Ohio State's first touchdown drive included a 15-yard facemask, two passes for 53 yards, but six rushes for minus two yards. The sideline reporter relayed Beanie blowing up at his blockers for his Herculean struggles just to get back to the line of scrimmage after a three-and-out possession.

Even his highlight score showed the opposition mainly winning the line of scrimmage battle. In the end, Beanie and the Buckeyes did find more success and were simply too talented for the Wildcats, rolling to a 45-10 win.

The Michigan game told a similar story. Though Ohio State led 14-7 at halftime, Michigan's front four won a lot more battles the first thirty minutes than it lost.

Beanie Wells had a first quarter much like the Northwestern contest. Though the Wolverines came in at just 3-8, they played virtually head up with the Buckeyes the whole first half. Beanie managed all of four yards his first four carries, including three plays of one yard or less, while the Buckeyes went three and out three straight times. Then, out of nowhere, the blocking finally materialized and Wells exploded through the middle, racing his 237 pounds to the end zone for a 59-yard score.

Ahead by one score at halftime on its home turf, Ohio State broke some big plays in the second half to again roll away, 42-7. Despite the apparent dominance, the Buckeyes again needed the big play, making just 13 first downs on the day.

That kind of end success is almost a given against non-contenders, when a combination of big plays and dominant defense takes the fight out of the opponent. But what about when facing a team similar in talent?

As we noted, Ohio State, in large part because of its lack of success running the football, fell short against Penn State, 13-6, failing to score a touchdown despite Terrelle Pryor having a good evening passing. An absentee ground game from the Beanie-less Buckeyes also led to their measly three points against the highly touted USC Trojans defense.

Despite Wells' apparent return to full health for the Fiesta Bowl, will Ohio State need to live off of the long play against Texas?

The Longhorns may not have faced someone as good as Beanie, but the season's lines indicate the Buckeyes will be hard pressed to hold their own if looking to hit a bunch of big ones against Will Muschamp's defense.

Texas only allowed a running back one play all year longer than 24 yards, that being Baylor's Jay Finley a 40-yarder against reserves with the game already in the bag. Finley had been stuffed the whole game when it mattered, getting five yards on nine attempts.

With the consistent array of high-octane offenses faced, Texas, for the most part, has been content with a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that allows comparatively few huge gains via the ground or the air. Texas also owns a better defensive front than most teams Ohio State has played, and will not have quite the demand placed on its secondary in the passing game than most of its conference brethren force, allowing those defensive backs to help slow Wells.

Unless Terrelle Pryor plays lights out and forces the Longhorns to cover the pass as if they're facing one of the Big 12 Heisman quarterback candidates, it's hard to imagine the Buckeyes moving the ball with any real consistency.

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