ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Michigan will always have Biakabutuka.
Ohio State now has Beanie.
Just as the Wolverines` Tshimanga Biakabutuka ran wild on the Buckeyes in 1995, Chris "Beanie" Wells put up the most prolific rushing performance any Ohio State running back has laid on Michigan in the 104 years the two schools have battled.
Wells rushed 39 times for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Ohio State dominated Michigan for a 14-3 victory, a Big Ten championship and a BCS bid.
The carries and the yards topped the lists of Ohio State running backs against Michigan, just as Biakabutuka`s 313 yards is the best, and most memorable, performance a Wolverines running back has ever put on the Buckeyes.
"I was pretty emotional today," Wells said. "Playing Michigan, I don`t know what it is, but something about that maize and blue, it`s like playing in a good-vs.-evil game.
"It always makes me tear up."
The tears didn`t blur the sophomore`s vision, as he broke through hole after hole the Buckeyes offensive line opened for him and put ankle-breaking moves - despite his own ankle, knee, hamstring and thumb injuries - on the Wolverines defenders for long gains.
"Beanie Wells is a difference-maker," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "He`s physical, he`s a fiery guy. You could tell in the locker room before the game that he wanted to put the team on his shoulders and go with it.
"He`s the best back in the Big Ten in my opinion."
Those were meaningful words, because right across the field on the other sideline stood Michigan`s Mike Hart, who passed Michigan State`s Lorenzo White for fourth place on the league`s career rushing list during Saturday`s loss.
Hart, who was considered a preseason favorite to win this year`s Heisman Trophy, has been hobbled by injuries all season, but still played throughout Saturday`s game. But the Buckeyes defense wore him down and rendered him useless during the second half, leaving the senior with just 44 yards on 18 carries for a 2.4-yards-per-carry average.
"We didn`t think we were going to be this bad off," Hart said. "We made a lot of mistakes out there. Give credit to the (Ohio State) defense. They came up with a great gameplan and had a good scheme against us. The defense did a great job."
The humble words were a stunning turnaround for Hart, who ripped the Buckeyes defense after last season`s 42-39 loss to Ohio State. Hart said the Buckeyes defense wasn`t, "anything special," and that the Wolverines would defeat the Buckeyes if they played in a rematch in the national championship game.
"I think that shows you should never disrespect another team the way Michigan has been disrespecting us," Buckeyes tackle Alex Boone. "The whole, â€˜We`re going to come back (for our senior season) and we`re going to beat them,` and, â€˜Their defense is nothing special.` You don`t hear any of us saying that."
Other Ohio State players were a little more diplomatic after serving Hart his plate of crow.
"You try not to use stuff like that as a motivation tactic, but that kind of stuff sits in our minds," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "We know what he said last year and that`s just him being the competitor he is."
"I know what type of guy he is and he`s a competitor," Wells said. "All competitors want to compete, so that`s what he wanted to do out there. So I don`t think you can really knock him for the statements that he made."
The sentiment was just another example of the maturity Wells has shown off the field. Asked about his 62-yard scoring run that put the Buckeyes up 14-3, Wells said the same thing on five separate occasions: "The offensive line did a great job blocking out there. It was wide open, and I just ran through the holes."
The answer may sound vanilla, but Tressel raved about how the usually quiet Wells was the one pumping up his teammates in the locker room before Saturday`s game.
"I just told everybody, â€˜There`s nothing you`re going to do in life that compares to this moment,`" Wells said. "It`s going against Michigan and it`s for all the marbles. It`s great."
Wells practiced what he preached, turning in a gutsy performance despite experiencing "unbearable" pain in his ankle throughout the game.
"Once you get that adrenaline flowing and you understand what the circumstances are, you just have to fight through it," Wells said.
The words capped a performance that proved Wells had completed a long journey since the start of the season. He was criticized during the first few games for being soft and not playing with pain. The buzz got so bad that Tressel had to sit down with his young running back.
"That`s something I had to go through," Wells said. "When Coach Tressel told me he wanted me to be a warrior, I just took that and just ran with it. When the head coach comes to you and tells you exactly what he wants you to do and what he wants you to become, it`s going to have an effect on you."
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or email@example.com.