Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Chris "Beanie" Wells watched from the sideline last Saturday, his value to Ohio State's offense rose with every stalled drive and stuffed rushing attempt.
Wells undoubtedly would have provided a lift for the Buckeyes against Ohio. Ultimately, they didn't need him to win the game.
Saturday's matchup against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) is a different deal. Wells adds credibility to the Buckeyes' offense whenever he steps on the field, but his worth in big games is especially noteworthy.
Wells finished the 2007 season by playing his best at the most critical points. After Michigan State rallied to make things interesting last year in Columbus, Wells took over in the second half and finished with 221 yards. He had three second-half rushing touchdowns as Ohio State rallied against Wisconsin, and he saved his top performance for archrival Michigan, racking up a career-high 222 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
"He's a fierce competitor," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "Whenever the competition goes up, his game plan goes up. He's somebody who's not going to let his team fall down or give up."
The BCS national championship wasn't a shining moment for many Ohio State players, but Wells still finished with 146 rushing yards, including a 65-yard touchdown scamper, against an LSU defense that ranked ninth nationally against the run.
"He's such a great player," Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "He can do so many things for you. He's got speed, he's powerful, he's strong, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. It just helps us out so much."
Wells will play Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum. His effectiveness remains a question after a right foot/toe injury, but his big-game track record heightens hopes for the Buckeyes.
"He's a great leader," tackle Bryant Browning said. "When he thinks the offense is down, he gets after us. ... Him playing is going to be a real big help. He's a great player, as everybody knows. He makes big plays. Just having him around really helps the team."
But what if Wells can only help in a limited role? Unlike USC, famous and feared for its annual stable of running backs, Ohio State drops off a bit after Wells.
Redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron likely will get the first shot behind Wells on Saturday after taking the bulk of the carries against Ohio. Senior Maurice Wells is the most experienced reserve but hasn't shown the ability to take over. Expect a greater role for sophomore Brandon Saine, who had only five carries last week and missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury.
"I don't think you can diminish the effect of missing 20-plus practices in the preseason that has slowed Brandon a little bit," head coach Jim Tressel said. "That was good to get him back in there, plus the practice time, he picked up this past week and this particular week."
Chris Wells told Tressel on Monday that he wanted 45 carries against the Trojans. That's wishful thinking coming off an injury, and Ohio State has faith in its other runners.
"Danny Herron is an extremely tough kid," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "We have other guys that can carry the load."