When the Big Ten football season began, the two running backs whose names rolled off the tongues of fans were Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne and Ohio State’s Michael Wiley. Meanwhile, Gophers running back Thomas Hamner wasn’t getting very much respect.
But when the top two backs in the conference are discussed now, it’s Dayne and Hamner who are brought up.
He’s been out-rushed in conference play by Buckeyes quarterback Steve Bellisari 186-121.
Hamner is averaging almost 149 yards per game on the ground in conference play, and the difference between running backs is the main reason the two teams are where they’re at.
Ohio State, ranked 22nd, is 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. It’s the worst start for the Buckeyes since 1988, when they started 2-4 in coach John Cooper’s first year.
And if No. 24 Minnesota (5-1, 2-1) wins Saturday, it will be its best start since 1967.
Cooper’s squad is coming off a 23-10 loss at No. 2 Penn State on Saturday. In that game, the Buckeyes gained only 113 yards of total offense.
“When our quarterback, who we pick for his passing ability, leads our team in rushing, I guess that illustrates a little of the problems we’ve been having on the offensive side of the ball,” Cooper said.
Hamner, who’s from Hamilton, Ohio, was recruited by Ohio State in high school, but he says the assistant who recruited him left the program and Hamner was “lost in the shuffle.”
Cooper said he isn’t real hands-on in the recruiting process and he doesn’t remember Hamner in high school.
That’s indicative of the lack of respect Hamner has gotten his whole career.
After his infamous fumble against Penn State in 1997, he was in Minnesota coach Glen Mason’s doghouse and was seriously contemplating a transfer.
But he said he listened to the advice of his mother and decided to stick it out at Minnesota.
“There was a little anger at that time, and a little pain,” Hamner said. “But I’m not a quitter. That’s become my strength. Now I look forward to being doubted.”
In his last eight games Hamner has rushed for 969 yards and nine touchdowns.
Bye bye, Buckeyes
Eight Buckeyes were drafted by the NFL last year and three key players were declared ineligible because of bad grades.
All-American guard Rob Murphy, linebacker Chris Kirk and defensive back Derek Ross were all kicked off the team.
“Sometimes at our place you can sort of expect those guys to leaving early,” Cooper said, “but you can’t plan for guys flunking out of school.”
Last week the Gophers faced Illinois running back Rocky Harvey. This week Ohio State comes to town with Ken-Yon Rambo.
Purdue doesn’t have anyone one named Tango, do they?
Michael Dougherty covers football and can be reached at [email protected]