Oct. 13, 2011
by Chris Britt, OhioStateBuckeyes.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio - To those who follow Ohio State football, it may feel as if the sky is falling after back-to-back losses for the first time since 2004. The sky hasn't fallen. This team is 3-3 with two undefeated Big Ten team opponents on deck in No. 15 Illinois and No. 4 Wisconsin the next two games and the Buckeyes remain optimistic and ready to prove that the second half of the season could be a whole new story.
"Nothing will change for us, the energy, the passion, all those kinds of things won't change the way we coach, won't change the way we get after our guys," head coach Luke Fickell said. "Our expectations of them won't change and I think the team has embraced that.
"We're excited about getting back on the field," he added. "That's the only way to get that taste out of your mouth and we're going to continue to find a way to get better."
Coming off two narrow defeats in a row against Michigan State and Nebraska is a rarity at Ohio State and may have caused some uneasiness for the Buckeye faithful. But even though both games were hard fought losses that could have gone either way, the actual performances on the field couldn't have been much different.
"There were some good things that happened against Nebraska," senior linebacker Tony Jackson said. "We definitely made some plays on offense and defensively we held them, but we just didn't hold them long enough. The Michigan State game, it was tough. And two weeks in a row is definitely tough. We're not used to that around here. We're not used to everything that's going on and we've just got to keep fighting, keep battling, and overcome this adversity."
Against Michigan State in the Horseshoe, the offense struggled for the majority of the game until a late touchdown. However, against Nebraska, the newest member of the Big Ten, the Buckeye offense, behind freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, turned a new leaf and surprised most by jumping out to a 27-6 lead early in the third quarter behind Miller's 186 total yards. But later in the quarter, after a turnover and an ankle injury to Miller, the team fell behind as Nebraska gained momentum behind a raucous crowd in Lincoln to come back for a 34-27 victory.
They're fighting for each other. They believe in each other and I don't think there's anything that can drive them apart.
Head Coach Luke Fickell
But heading into the contest against the Cornhuskers, the nation and even some Ohio State loyalists were expecting a similar offensive performance as the week before and not expecting to leave Nebraska with a victory. Many were just hoping the Buckeyes would simply put on a good showing on prime time national television. But with strong performances by Miller and sophomore running back Carlos Hyde, the Buckeyes showed big-play ability on offense and toughness on defense while building a 27-6 lead.
"We always go into a practice with the same attitude - we are hungry to get better," junior tight end Jake Stoneburner said. "I think we were energetic and were ready to play. It doesn't matter what our record is. We will continue to play hard for our coaches and fans."
The team hopes to continue building on the positives they have shown so far in games like Nebraska.
"I'm looking forward to Illinois; they are 6-0 and have a lot of confidence," Buckeye defensive back Bradley Roby said. "We can't think about the past. We have to go out there and be confident and know what we can do. We know that whatever week it is, we can go and compete with anybody."
That is exactly the type of optimism and motivation Fickell's squad needs heading into Champaign on Saturday, led by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency, and Biletnikoff candidate A.J. Jenkins, who has amassed a Big Ten-record 450 yards in his previous two contests.
Buckeye defensive lineman and Illinois native Garrett Goebel is ready for the challenge.
"I'm really looking forward to playing this weekend," he said. "It will be a big challenge for us and they have a solid offense. We need to play as a unit with all 11 guys swarming to the football and defend on both sides of the field."
The game against Ron Zook's Illini will be the first contest for the Buckeyes in the Leaders Division and Fickell notes this team is full of fighters and guys that won't give up.
"If you go onto the practice field, you'll see what I mean, see what kind of passion they have, see what kind of work ethic they have," Fickell said. "I think they in their minds knew that they were in for a battle throughout this entire season, and getting better is what we said we had to do from the get-go. The only thing that allows me to sleep a little bit at night is to know that those guys are workers. They're fighting for each other. They believe in each other and I don't think there's anything that can drive them apart."
Expect Ohio State to get a boost with the return of senior running back Daniel Herron. "Boom" has been a key piece to the Buckeye offense during his career donning the Scarlet and Gray uniform. The Warren, Ohio, native has just over 2,000 career rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. Herron is coming off a season where his performance on the field earned him All-Big Ten honors. His addition to the lineup this weekend will add to the already impressive rushing attack of Hyde and Jordan Hall.
"Boom, he's fired-up," Jackson said. "You should have seen him at practice when he was on scout team with us, he was giving us the best looks that you could ever imagine coming from a guy like that. Having that kind of spirit, that kind of emotion on the road is definitely going to help us out."
So as the Buckeyes prepare this week for Illinois the sky is the limit for this young Ohio State team seeking to emerge and find its groove during the second half of the season.