The only topic more popular among fans in Columbus than Ohio State’s upcoming trip to face the nation’s No. 1 team is the health of its star tailback.
They knew one of those issues would have to wait a week - and now Chris “Beanie” Wells will have to as well.
With the season’s most anticipated non-conference game still more than a week away, the third-ranked Buckeyes will look for the school’s 800th all-time victory Saturday when they host Ohio University, and they’ll do so with Wells on the sidelines.
Ohio State came into the season having won 27 straight games against in-state opponents, a streak that dates back to 1921. It figured to have no problems adding two more wins to that total with home games against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Youngstown State and Mid-American Conference member Ohio to open the season.
With that in mind, nearly all of the early season focus in Columbus revolved around a Sept. 13 tilt against Southern California, the country’s top-ranked team.
But as the Buckeyes ran their streak against Ohio teams to 28 on Saturday, routing Youngstown State 43-0, a much bigger concern arose. Wells, one of the top preseason candidates to win the Heisman Trophy, was carted off the field midway through the third quarter with an injury to his right foot, slipping as he planted to make a cut near the goal line.
“Something just didn’t feel right. Then I think I felt a pop,” Wells said after the game through the school’s sports information department.
The news has been better - if a bit vague - in the days since for Wells, who ran for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as a sophomore. Though Wells said he felt good enough to play early in the week, coach Jim Tressel on Thursday ruled him out against Ohio, saying even though he felt good about the tailback’s progress, he hadn’t practiced all week.
“I think there’s a little bit of risk when you don’t practice, not just in the injury department but in the execution department,” Tressel said.
He also said it’s too early to speculate on whether Wells, who has worn a protective boot most of the week, would be available to face USC next Saturday.
Wells ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries before exiting Saturday, and with him out against the Bobcats, the running duties will go to senior Maurice Wells, sophomore Brandon Saine and redshirt freshman Dan Herron.
That trio got five carries apiece, totaling 69 yards, against Youngstown State. Ohio coach Frank Solich says the Buckeyes won’t hesitate to run the ball even with “Beanie” sidelined.
“As great a back as he is, the other guys that are stepping on the field can hurt you,” Solich said. “So it’s not like they’re going to abandon the running game.”
Todd Boeckman had a fine day throwing the ball in the opener, connecting on 14 of 19 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Highly touted freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor was impressive in his collegiate debut, throwing for 35 yards and running for 52 and a score.
Despite needing to prepare for Ohio’s visit this weekend, Tressel wasn’t hesitant to talk about the matchup with the Trojans in his weekly press conference Tuesday, .
“We’d all be lying if we didn’t talk about being excited about playing Southern Cal,” Tressel said. “One of the challenges is being able to put away any of those distracting thoughts … and working on the task at hand.”
The task this week is Solich’s Bobcats, who opened their season with a 21-20 loss at Wyoming last Saturday, its second one-point loss to the Cowboys in as many years.
Ohio was picked to finish sixth out of seven teams in the MAC East, but if nothing else, it saw some encouraging signs from the passing game in the loss at Wyoming. Junior Taylor Price set the school’s single-game receptions record with 14 catches for 139 yards.
Ohio State leads the all-time series with the Bobcats 5-0.