Buckeyes' Saine, Herron save best for last

As they do every season, Ohio State fans had plenty of burning questions about a Buckeyes running back this fall.

Jaamal Berry.

They wondered when Berry would see the field, how his injured hamstring was progressing and whether head coach Jim Tressel would end up redshirting the highly touted freshman from Miami. These questions peppered Tressel at his weekly news conference and filled up my inbox.

As the wait for Berry continued, it was clear that many Buckeye fans had seen enough of running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Chris "Beanie" Wells was sorely missed, and for the first time since 2004, when Lydell Ross and Antonio Pittman shared the carries load, Ohio State lacked a dominant runner.

Could the Buckeyes win the Big Ten without a bell cow in the backfield? The answer arrived last Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

Saine and Herron turned in their best performances of the season in the biggest game of the season. The two backs combined for 200 rush yards and three touchdowns against a stout Iowa defense as Ohio State rode a run-heavy offense to a 27-24 overtime victory.

"Those are two tough kids and the seniors mean a lot to those two," Tressel said after the game. "They were not going to let those seniors down."

Ohio State didn't hide its intentions on offense from the get-go. Tressel didn't want to throw downfield against an Iowa defense that ranks second nationally in interceptions (19).

So the Buckeyes ran the ball a season-high 51 times, with 43 attempts going to either Saine or Herron. Ohio State's offensive line, which, like Saine and Herron, has drawn plenty of criticism this season, imposed its will against the Iowa defensive front.

"Boom [Herron] and Brandon were running the ball," quarterback Terrelle Pryor told reporters. "We really didn't need to pass."

The two backs accounted for almost all of Ohio State's big plays on offense.

Saine gave the Buckeyes their first lead with a 22-yard scoring burst late in the second quarter. After Iowa tied the score at 10-10, Herron sprinted 11 yards to the end zone out of the Wildcat formation. Moments later, following a Ross Homan interception, Saine scooted down the sideline for a 49-yard score.

"We were really just having fun out there and stepping up and doing what we knew how to do," Saine said. "We weren't trying to overthink anything. We were trying to be in the moment the whole time."

It has been a mixed bag this year for both Saine and Herron. Both have had decent performances -- Saine against Indiana and Illinois, Herron against Illinois and New Mexico State -- and both have battled injuries (concussion for Saine, ankle for Herron).

But when Ohio State needed to lean on the run game, both backs stepped up.

"They both learned their way as they backed up Beanie over the years," Tressel said. "They waited their turn and kept trying to improve along the way, and they're playing good football."