To you, the worried fan, the one made nervous with your stomach turning whenever the Ohio State football team finds itself on the wrong side of the scoreboard, Jeff Heuerman has something to say.
“Just relax,” he said after Ohio State’s come-from-behind 34-24 win vs. Iowa on Saturday afternoon. “We got it under control.”
What allows the OSU tight end to have such confidence in the Buckeyes?
Think of the old UMass basketball slogan. Under John Calipari. It was so ubiquitous the Minutemen even put it on their team warmups on the way to the Final Four.
Refuse to lose.
Those three words escaped the lips of both Devin Smith and Ryan Shazier after the Iowa win and another, Heuerman, said it in so many words as well.
In fact, the language of the Buckeyes contains many synonyms for the word “win” since Urban Meyer came on board, as the two-time national championship head coach has led Ohio State to 19 consecutive victories against zero losses in his tenure.
And they haven’t all been easy, too. Think of the Cal comeback a season ago, or the famous and stunning Purdue rally, or the fact that Michigan led the Buckeyes at halftime. There were tight games vs. Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, too.
Now, this season, the Buckeyes have battled back two weeks in a row. The team trailed Northwestern and Iowa each by a touchdown at half, yet the right side of the ledger remains clear.
They refuse to lose.
“That’s one of the things that I said after the game in my speech to the team,” Heuerman said. “Braxton and I are in Swahili class together and we were talking after the Northwestern game and on the bye week, and that’s something really special about this team, that there’s never any doubt that we’re going to win the game.
“No matter what the score is, no matter if the offense is getting stopped, the defense is being run through, there’s never any doubt. We always know we’re going to win the game, and that’s really special.”
One reported jokingly asked if that conversation was in Swahili, causing Heuerman to laugh.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, we’re not that advanced yet,” Heuerman said.
So we did the work for him. According to Google translation services, “Refuse to lose” translates as “Kukataa kupoteza.” (Is that right? Who knows. It might be a swear word, but we’ll run with it.)
The Buckeyes have gotten the job done in the clutch in so many of those close contests that it’s almost like a button is pushed, that the team simply says “No mas” ("No more," or “hakuna zaidi,” again according to Google translate) when it finds itself hit in the mouth.
Where does that come from? Leadership, it seems. Head coach Urban Meyer has said he wants players with a competitive nature strong enough that they’ll “choke you to win a game of checkers,” and it appears he’s got it.
“We just refuse to lose,” Smith said. “That’s the mentality of this football team. You see it every single day. Each and every guy goes out there in practice and works his tail off to try to win in every situation.”
For someone like Joshua Perry, a second-year sophomore who knows nothing of college football outside of Meyer’s “four-to-six seconds of relentless effort” mantra, it’s a welcome feeling.
“That’s the one thing as a recruit that you hope is that you can be on a team like that,” the Lewis Center (Ohio) Olentangy product said. “I’ve never had the fortune of playing on a team like that. My high school team, we were below .500 two years and I think .500 the next year, so being on a team like this, you get a taste of victory and you just want it to keep going, and you have guys with you that keep it going.”
Another key is that you never know where the big play that turns things around is going to come from.
Against Northwestern, the defense picked up the offense, keeping the Wildcats to a three-and-out after a Miller fumble near the goal line seemed to dig OSU’s seven-point hole even deeper. Saturday, the defense was gashed in the first half, so the Buckeye offense came out and scored on its first four drives after halftime.
“One of the biggest things about this team is that we really don’t want to lose,” Shazier said. “We were just talking about it earlier, it’s almost like we refuse to lose. We know somebody might make a mistake or whatever, somebody is going to have his back. We know the offense is going to take care of the defense and the defense is going to take care of the offense. We know we’re going to take care of each other at the end of the day.”
And for 19 straight game days, the Buckeyes have lived up to that very mantra.
Refuse to lose.