What exactly does Brandon Saine need to do?
He has all the physical tools of a great running back. He's 6'1", 217 lbs and is lightning fast, running the 40 in 4.27 seconds. He has game-breaking speed and the strength to carry the pile. And have you seen him as a receiver?
He was the most impressive rusher in the season opener against Navy averaging 5.9 yards on nine carries. The next week against USC, he was rewarded with just one carry while Daniel "Boom" Herron got the start.
When Herron went down with an ankle injury against Illinois, Saine finally got the nod to start against the Indiana Hoosiers. In that game, he became the first Ohio State tailback to rush for over 100 yards this season, a feat which has yet to be repeated despite remaining as the featured back.
Why is that?
Saine has touched the ball less each game since. After rushing for 113 yards on 17 attempts against the Hoosiers, he ran only 14 times against Wisconsin. The game after that was slightly less.
Before the Purdue game, I told my wife that the Buckeye offense needs to start revolving more around Saine and considerably less on the self-destructive Pryor. Saine is the most talented and consistent player on that offense and if Ohio State wants to be at all successful putting points on the board, they need to build everything around his versatility.
But much to my chagrin, I watched in horror as $3.4 million head coach Jim Tressel completely abandon the running game outside of Pryor. Though Saine had a 20-yard run that set up Ohio State's first score, he touched the ball only five more times in the first half.
How many carries did he get in the second half?
The counter-argument here is that the Purdue defense was stacking the box to prevent the run and challenge Pryor to make them pay with his arm . Therefore, relying on the passing game was the only logical strategy for success.
I could understand this argument if...
- Ohio State had a competent quarterback, which they don't . I'd rather try and run Saine up the middle anyway and gain one yard rather than relying on Pryor's passing ability. Heck, let's just punt on 1st-and-10. It would at least limit the turnovers.
- The run/pass ratio wasn't so lopsided. The running back got one carry in the entire second half. One .
You want to throw eight helmets in the box? Fine. I still say we run it right at you regardless because we are The Ohio State University Buckeyes. You are the Purdue Boilermakers. We are the Rolls Royce of the conference. You are the Volkswagen Rabbit. We are a good football program. You are not. We'll run it at your eight defenders and still pull out 5 or 6 yards so forgive me if I'm not threatened by your bluff.
Why not try other things? You want to try to stack eight defenders inside the box? Fine. We'll pitch to a tailback who runs a 4.27. Or how about a reverse? Try and catch him as he runs around the outside, all 217 lbs of him. All of a sudden, if I'm the opposing defensive coordinator, I'm thinking twice before I crowd the line of scrimmage again.
Mix things up. Make (gasp! ) adjustments . Throw your opponent off balance. Brandon Saine has the ability to do exactly that. I don't know if he is the sure-fire recipe for success given how bad the quarterback has turned out to be, but he's best chance the Buckeyes have to becoming competitive again.
Spare me the garbage about the offensive line. Terrible? Yes. Crippling to the rushing attack? Absolutely not. Saine is still averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Any coach would be happy with that effort especially when the o-line stinks. So, saying that the Buckeyes can't run the football is ridiculous.
Saturday's upset was a gross exhibition of Jim Tressel's cluelessness. I'm writhing in agony, watching this man grasp at straws. He is paid to be a big-time, big-game coach. He's supposed to have all the answers and has none. He's taken this offense and marred it beyond recognition while simple solutions stare him right in the face.
We are the Ohio State University. We need to run the football. End of story.
Last Saturday afternoon, Woody Hayes was rolling in his grave.