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Herron steps up in victory

October 3, 2010
By ED PUSKAS Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor

With the Ohio State Buckeyes' No. 2 ranking and national championship hopes on the line in the fourth quarter against Illinois on Saturday, it was Boom or bust.

Boom, otherwise known as junior tailback Dan Herron, came through.

With quarterback Terrelle Pryor battling an aching quad, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel returned to his roots - the power running game - to grind out a 24-13 victory in the Buckeyes' Big Ten Conference opener.

Herron, a former Warren G. Harding High School standout, carried on 11 of Ohio State's final 17 plays - including all six on a game-clinching touchdown drive - as the Buckeyes escaped wind-whipped Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

With Pryor limited to safe passes and handoffs in the fourth quarter, Tressel turned the game over to Herron, who finished with a season-best 95 yards on 23 carries, including a 6-yard touchdown run to finish off Illinois.

"Boom is always ready to be that physical back you want him to be," Tressel said. "He took that fourth quarter, and really parts of the third, when we were against the wind ... and Boom did a good job of running physically."

That has always been Herron's style. He didn't have quite the same buzz coming out of Harding that predecessor Maurice Clarett had, but Herron was just as productive with the Raiders. He did it with the same bruising, down-hill running he employed on Saturday, when the Buckeyes needed it most.

At 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds, Herron seems to seek contact with defenders the way even some bigger backs - like teammate Brandon Saine - are unwilling or unable to do.

Saine has been Ohio State's starting tailback this season, but his production has steadily declined after a 103-yard, two-touchdown performance in the season-opening victory over Marshall. Despite an impressive combination of size and speed, the former Ohio Mr. Football hasn't laid claim to the role of Ohio State's No. 1 tailback. There was grumbling in Columbus about the lack of numbers at tailback over the last couple of weeks. In fact, this week, an Associated Press story openly questioned if the position - long the focal point of Ohio State's offense - had become an afterthought in Columbus.

Herron and Saine were splitting time, Pryor was becoming the Buckeyes' first and best running option and young running backs Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall were getting more opportunities.

But with so much at sake in the fourth quarter Saturday, Saine and the running backs of the future were on the sideline and Pryor was handing off to Herron.

Boom got it done in a performance that showed off-tackle running is still relevant - and perhaps even critical - to Ohio State's success. It was a performance that rewarded the confidence Tressel has in Herron's down-hill running style and his offensive line.



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