December 24, 2007

Beanie battled all season

Ankle problems, an injured thumb, a sore hamstring, a poor start to the season, none of these issues were able to take Ohio State running back Chris Wells out of the picture for more than a few moments. The sophomore running back ended the regular season ranked No. 12 in total rushing yards and led the Buckeyes with 1,463 yards on the season.

Wells had some big shoes to fill when Antonio Pittman opted to head to the NFL rather than come back for his senior season and expectations were sky high for the former 5-star and No. 1 rated running back coming out of high school.

"We lose Antonio Pittman and we gained Beanie Wells," offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. "He's as good as anyone. Our coach has always put us in a situation where we can be at the top."

But the beginning of Beanie's first starting campaign was anything but smooth. An ankle injury kept a disappointed Wells out of the spring game in 2007 and then more ankle issues slowed Beanie down in fall practice. It wasn't going to keep Beanie out of the starting lineup but may have been a contributing factor to a slow start on the season.

Wells first action of the year came in the opener against Youngstown State and despite rumbling in for a touchdown in the first game it was a very pedestrian 46 yard on 16 carry outing and at times it looks as Beanie was on the lethargic side on the field. Wells was very disappointed in his first game effort and was his own toughest critic.

"I'm not satisfied at all," Wells said after the YSU game. "It took me too long to get in the mode of the game and by the second half it is basically too late to try and kick it in. In the first half I did terrible."

"(Beanie) probably didn't get off to the start that the whole world wanted him to, but kept plugging and kept plugging and kept getting a feel for it," head coach Jim Tressel said.

Things bounced back for Beanie in the next four games with Wells recording 100-yard plus game in all four contests. Before the Akron game the sophomore running back had never recorded a 100-yard game (previous high was 99 yards against Northwestern). Wells was hurting but seemed to have turned the corner on the season.

In the sixth game of the season it seemed everything was going according to plan for Wells. The starting running back racked up 88 yards on 18 carries and seemed well on his way to yet another 100 yard game when Wells got injured on a play and had to limp off. His nagging ankle injury reared its ugly head and the coaches decided it would be best to sit Wells the rest of the way with the game seemingly in hand. It was not a well-received decision for Wells but ultimately was probably for the best.

"I am (unhappy) because I wanted to go back in the game and the coaches wouldn't let me," Wells said after the Purdue game. "I just want to get back out there and help the team and I feel like I could have gone back out there and helped the team today and put a couple more points on the board but I wasn't able to do that."

The coaches were not going to take any chances with their workhorse the following week and Wells was held to four carries for 17 yards against Kent State. That would be the last time of the season that Wells would be held under 20 carries for the final stretch of five games.

"I thought his back half of the season was outstanding," Tressel said. "He's a major contributor to this group."

Despite not being near 100-percent Wells was well-rested going into the Michigan State game. It was evident as Beanie went for a then career highs in carries (31) and yardage (221) against the Spartans. Beanie even caught a pass out of the backfield to hive himself just shy of 230 total yards on the afternoon. It seemed as if Beanie was turning the corner and as long as he could stay healthy the Buckeyes would ride him to a Big Ten title.

Beanie was sore and in several post game locker rooms commented on how sore he was going to be on the bus ride home or the morning after but Ohio State's warrior knew that it went with the territory of being the No. 1 back.

"As running back that's something you have to expect," Wells said. "You're going to get beat up week in and week out."

Games against Penn State and Wisconsin each netted similar results for Beanie. Wells ran for more than 300 yards on 46 carries between the two games and looked like he was going to keep building momentum toward the end of the season.

That momentum hit a brick wall against the Illini in the second to last week of the season. Wells who was already nursing a bad ankle sustained a right thumb injury in the game and never seemed to really get on track with the offense. In the second half of the game the team had to look at the pass more and Beanie was not able to put the team on his back and the winning streak ended at 10 games.

All was not lost though for the Bucks who still had an outright Big Ten title and likely Rose Bowl berth on the line. Wells was physically battered but by no means was he broken mentally and knew that when age-old rivals met in the finale that the battle would likely be won by the time with the better running game.

The elements saw fit to make sure that the ground game would decide things with a cold-mist covering Michigan Stadium from kick-off to the final gun. Wells saved his best for last with a career high 222 yards on 39 carries on a wet track. Wells was the Ohio State offense in the second half once the Buckeyes secured a 14-3 lead and the defense clamped down on the Wolverines. Despite the ankle and the thumb and the new problem of a sore hamstring popping up there was no denying Wells and his contribution toward the Big Ten title Buckeyes.

"Oh, man. We wouldn't be right here with all of you if it weren't for Beanie Wells," Tressel said. "I think he's really grown."

There hasn't been much time off for Beanie and the Buckeyes. The team is home with their families until the 26th and then the Bucks will return to the practice field and the weight room in preparation for the BCS title game. During this time though the ankle, thumb and hamstring have had a chance to rest some and without the physical demands of getting whacked play after play Beanie should be about as healthy as he has been all season.

Beanie's doing (well), although he was doing (well) through the back half of the season," Tressel said. "Still a little bit sore and so forth. I don't know that he's ever going to escape that soreness and I listen to the trainers. He looks real good right now."

Beanie admitted before going home for the holidays that he was still a little sore and that the rest was helping. Nobody expects Wells to be at 100-percent this season but it is a goal of his to be as healthy for the game as possible and then leave it all out on the field.

"That's always my goal - to be at my best and play my best no matter who we're playing," Wells said.

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