Friday, August 29, 1997
Wiley's future well-grounded

The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - It is Pepe Pearson's turn at Ohio State. His turn to rack up the yards behind the Buckeyes' blocking behemoths. His turn to be mentioned for All-America, and the celebrated stiff-armed statue bestowed by the Downtown Athletic Club.

Pearson is the starting senior tailback, the incumbent, the proven commodity. He is a guy bound for glory.

Michael Wiley, however, is the guy with the extra gear. He will be the one to watch.

Ohio State opened another football season Thursday night with embarrassing riches: two skilled and seasoned quarterbacks; a claustrophobia-inducing defense; another class of nimble linemen; and two terrific tailbacks.

Pearson averaged better than five yards per carry in OSU's 24-10 victory over Wyoming, gaining 71 yards on 14 tries. Wiley, however, was wondrous. He carried 10 times for 121 yards, and demonstrated a burst of speed that might have left tire tracks.

"We've been saying all the time that Michael Wiley can hit the home run," OSU coach John Cooper said. "And he did that. You don't want to get in a footrace with him. . . . We expect that out of our running backs."

Buckeye running backs have won six Heisman Trophies so far, and Wiley may well mean a seventh. Five of his 10 carries Thursday night covered at least 17 yards, and this was without the benefit of precision blocking.

"That," Wiley said, "was a good game for me."

Collectively, the Buckeyes were no sharper than spoons. They were prone to penalties (nine) and fumbled snaps (two). They were so sluggish on offense in the first half that they were able to score only one touchdown against a Wyoming defense so small it might have been shoved back to Laramie.

Wiley got more work in the second half, and the entire proceeding picked up its pace.

Ohio State will win most of its games this season on sheer talent. When there is doubt, they should fall back on a familiar pattern, handing the ball to one of their tailbacks and telling their tackles to clear a path.

This is the heart of Ohio State football - a sturdy back running behind some lineman who makes the ground shake. Hopalong Cassady and Jim Parker. Archie Griffin and John Hicks. Eddie George and Orlando Pace.

Now there is Michael Wiley behind Tyson Walter.

The names change. The numbers change. But Ohio State's offensive strategy is a constant. Once immortalized as Three Yards And A Cloud Of Dust, it remains largely unchanged except for yards per carry. Wiley is a sophomore, and he has been a flanker and a defensive back at various times in his career in Columbus. But he was destined for tailback duty. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry in spot duty last season. Thursday, he made a case for more regular status.

As a senior at Monte Vista High School in California, Wiley gained 1,901 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. He was rated the nation's second-best running back prospect by Bluechip Illustrated. He came to Columbus to carry the ball.

"I've played tailback all my life," he said. "I feel like I'm back home."

Yet because Pearson gained 1,443 yards last year, Wiley has had to wait his turn at center stage. Now, Cooper may have to rebalance the scales.

"We got some mileage out of the running back spot," Cooper said Thursday. "Pepe didn't have the production he'd like to have, but we did some good things."

Michael Wiley did most of them. He is entitled to an encore.