January 3, 2008

Beanie's Buckeyes face stingy LSU defense

MORE: Steltz hopes to follow in family footsteps

NEW ORLEANS The list of individuals to rush for 100 yards against LSU's vaunted defense is short and impressive.

Arkansas' Darren McFadden.

That's the list.

And that's not because LSU played a schedule rife with pass-crazed offense or plow-horse tailbacks. Rather, the Tigers shut down several 1,000-yard running backs, including Tulane's Matt Forte (73 yards), Ole Miss' BenJarvus Green-Ellis (53 yards) and Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon (29 yards).

In fact, nine of the 13 teams LSU faced failed to rush for 100 yards.

"LSU is a great football team and they have a great defense," Ohio State sophomore tailback Chris Wells said. "I mean, that's just something that we've been preparing for since we found out we were going to be playing LSU."

McFadden, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up, rushed for 206 yards in a triple-overtime victory over LSU. Like McFadden, Wells is a player of rare ability. And like McFadden, his team's success against LSU in Monday night's BCS National Championship Game depends on his production.

That's a burden Wells neither embraces nor rejects. Indeed, it's one he barely acknowledges.

"That's something I'm not even focused on, breaking out on a national stage or whatever," Wells said at a Thursday news conference. "I'm just really worried about playing my role and helping this team be successful."

Wells was ranked the No. 1 running back and the No. 3 player overall in the class of 2006 by Rivals.com as a senior at Akron (Ohio) Garfield. He ran for 576 yards in a backup role to Antonio Pittman as a true freshman last season. Wells has been the primary reason for Ohio State's offensive success, especially in the second half of the season. He rushed for 821 yards and eight touchdowns in the Buckeyes' last five regular-season games. The only game in that span in which he didn't reach 100 yards was a 28-21 loss to Illinois.

Wells isn't the only star in Ohio State's offense, but there is absolutely no doubt he shines brightest.

Quarterback Todd Boeckman has proven himself a solid passer, but whether he's capable of carrying the Buckeyes to a national championship via his passing arm is subject to debate. Wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline are good, but neither has more than 50 catches. The Buckeyes' offensive line is among the nation's best, but may still be haunted by the demons of last season's championship-game debacle, when it allowed five sacks.

Wells (6 feet 1, 230 pounds) runs with the power needed for ball control, but he also has the speed to make big plays. He displayed his big-play ability by rushing for 222 yards and a 62-yard touchdown in a 14-3 win over Michigan. He also scored on touchdown runs of 23, 30 and 31 yards in a 38-17 victory over Wisconsin - a game that was tied heading into the fourth quarter.

The game-by-game rushing stats for Ohio State's Chris Wells:
Opponent (result)Key stats
Youngstown State (W, 38-6)16 rushes, 46 yards, two TDs
Akron (W, 20-2)20 rushes, 143 yards, zero TDs
At Washington (W, 33-14)24 rushes, 135 yards, one TD
Northwestern (W, 58-7)12 rushes, 100 yards, one TD
At Minnesota (W, 30-7)24 rushes, 135 yards, two TDs
At Purdue (W, 23-7)18 rushes, 85 yards, zero TDs
Kent State (W, 48-3)four rushes, 17 yards, one TD
Michigan State (W, 24-17)31 rushes, 221 yards, one TD
At Penn State (W, 37-17)25 rushes, 133 yards, zero TDs
Wisconsin (W, 38-17)21 rushes, 169 yards, three TDs
Illinois (L, 28-21)20 rushes, 76 yards, two TDs
At Michigan (W, 14-3)39 rushes, 222 yards, two TDs
Season totals 254 rushes, 1,463 yards, 14 TDs
Because of performances like that, Wells already is being talked about as a strong Heisman contender in 2008.

But he isn't among those doing the talking. He rarely is.

Oh, he spoke up to stress the importance of beating Michigan before the Buckeyes faced their rival, but other than that, he usually keeps a low profile.

"The one thing I've noticed about 'Beanie' whenever you try to talk to him in a game, he'll never respond. Ever," Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone said. "I always thought it was because he was mad at me about something, but I realized he was so focused he doesn't notice me trying to ask him something.

"He's come a long way from last year, and last year was a great season for him. This year, he's had an even better season. Obviously, the sky's the limit for him."

Limiting Wells is the top priority for the LSU defense, which ranks 13th in the nation against the run.

"He's a heck of a football player who they feature in their offense," LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. "They feel confident in their running game, and that's obviously going to be a big key to the football game."

If Wells consistently gets positive yardage on early downs, the Buckeyes can avoid obvious passing situations. That will ease the pressure on Boeckman, open up passing lanes and help the offensive line that still must prove it can cope with speed rushers off the edge.

That also would allow the Buckeyes to limit the chances for LSU's offense, which has big-play ability and has scored more than 40 points seven times this season.

Of course, LSU is aware of that, too, which is why the Tigers defenders have put containing Wells at the top of their list of priorities.

"He's a big guy, runs the ball hard and has some great moves," LSU All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey said. "I think he's faster than what people give him credit for. He's a quick, powerful guy. We're going to have to be on top of our game to try and stop him."

Hmmm big guy, runs hard, has great moves. That sounds a lot like someone else. You know, the one guy who exceeded 100 yards against LSU.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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