November 18, 2008

Buckeyes count on Beanie in big games

In the annual rivalry game between Ohio State and Michigan - perhaps the biggest rivalry in college football if not all of American sports - legends from each program are made in the contest that happens only once a year.

From coaches that will forever be remembered by each program in Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler and players like Charles Woodson and Troy Smith, each legend made their reputation by stepping up in the big game.

"I think if you go back into the history of the Ohio State/Michigan game, quite often you point to the people that stepped up and had extraordinary performances, or that extraordinary play and when the game's over and someone has won, you say, hey, that was a huge reason why that team won that game," said Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel in a press conference Monday. "But you have to go out and earn that every -- you don't get knighted as a guy that's going to play good in that game, you have to go do it against good people."

While Tressel wouldn't acknowledge any "Michigan killers" or "Ohio State killers," the coach may have one on his roster in junior running back Chris Wells.

It may be hard to find a game in which a healthy Beanie didn't have his fair share of the impact, especially on the Buckeye offense, but for whatever reason, Wells has stepped up the most in the biggest game of each season - Michigan.

"I think that the old adage that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games is probably true," said tight end Rory Nicol. "I think when you know you're on a stage like this in the rivalry with all the things that embody this game, I think some of your big-time player step up. I think Chris Wells as a freshman broke loose on that one big run and set himself up for a big run last year."

If there is no such thing as a "Michigan Killer," than Beanie Wells is the closest thing to it.

In Wells' freshman year, his first action against the Wolverines came in "The Game of the Century," when Ohio State was ranked No. 1 and Michigan was ranked No. 2 for the first time in the rivalry, and while he was second on the depth chart behind Antonio Pittman, Beanie sure made his impact early.

Wells only carried the ball five times in 2006, but one of his carries was one to remember, as he took the ball right up the heart of the Wolverines defense for 52 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter to give the Buckeyes its first lead of the game.

"Each week, Beanie is excited about carrying the ball. He wants to break the big run," said Brandon Smith. "The bigger the game ... great players make great plays in big games. He shouted that out during the season."

In 2007, one could say Ohio State relied solely on Wells to beat Michigan 14-3 in Ann Arbor.

On a gloomy and moist day, rather than risk turnovers, Tressel decided to ride Wells all the way to the finish line. Instead of throwing the ball with Todd Boeckman, Wells carried the rock 39 times for a career-high 222 yards and scored both of Ohio State touchdowns.

Not only did Wells score the points, his relentless power running wore down the Michigan defense, and more importantly the clock, given the Wolverines offense was completely ineffective, gaining only 91 total yards of offense. Boeckman threw it only 13 times and the leading receiver was Brian Robiskie, who had 21 receiving yards.

It was the Beanie show, indeed.

"Obviously, Beanie is a special player and has a lot of talent. But I think if you look at some of those games, he just tends to step up a little bit. I think a lot of it is everybody around him, especially the offensive line," Robiskie said. "I know last year's Michigan game they did a lot of good things. When he's off to getting big runs and doing a lot of the things you see him doing, I think it's a lot of it is credited to the offensive line and the receivers down field getting blocks for him. Obviously, he's doing a lot but I think it's everybody else stepping up as well."

With this season's version of the rivalry game looming just days away, Beanie will certainly look to end a season filled with some downs - including missing a large portion of the beginning of the season with a foot injury - on yet another high note against Ohio State's biggest rival.

"Beanie is a player. He can change a game at any moment. He's played his
best in the big games," said senior cornerback Malcom Jenkins. "I don't expect this to be any different. Whenever the stakes get higher, he plays better. The stakes are about as high as they can get right now. For the seniors, this is their last chance right now. It's our last home game of the year. I expect him to be at his best and we'll see what happens on Saturday."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at AriWasserman@gmail.com.



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