With two games left in the regular season, the Buckeyes have their sights set firmly on one thing and one thing only: Illibuck.
The winner of this weekend’s game between Ohio State and Illinois will bring home the second-oldest trophy in the Big Ten. A replica wooden turtle that has been awarded annually between the two schools since 1925, representatives for the Illibuck trophy met with the Buckeyes this week to share the trophy’s storied past with them.
Additionally, a victory would put the Buckeyes one win away from a return berth to the BCS National Championship Game. As they prepare for this weekend’s contest, head coach Jim Tressel told reporters at his weekly press luncheon that the team will be shortening practices from here on out.
The move is one that comes out of being 10 weeks into a regular season that Tressel said has gone by quickly.
“Once the preseason begins and you walk in the door and you take a deep breath and you say, ‘okay, we’re not going to breathe until who knows when, Thanksgiving dinner or something,’ ” he said. “Then you go to work on each day, and you don’t really have a chance to look back or forward. Hopefully you’re just looking straight ahead.”
The fact that there are just two regular season games left is the only thing Tressel said is surprising to him as the Buckeyes sit 10-0 and No. 1 in the BCS standings.
Two players could be rejoining the team this week, but both at different levels and for different reasons. Sophomore cornerback Chimdi Chekwa had what Tressel described as “a temperature” that caused him to miss some time against Wisconsin in week nine, while sophomore defensive end Rob Rose was held out of the game with an unidentified injury.
Chekwa might miss Tuesday’s practice but should be fine, while the status of Rose remains up in the air.
“Rob might be able to give us a little more this week than last because it’s a different style game, but I don’t know that we can count on him to be a 25 or more play guy,” Tressel said.
In addition, sophomore linebacker Ross Homan, who has missed most of the season with a turf toe injury, practiced last week but appears to have suffered another setback on his road back to the field.
“I guess he just got some reports back,” sophomore linebacker Austin Spitler said. “It’s still healing pretty good, but it might take a little bit longer.”
In addition to being played for the Illibuck Trophy, Saturday’s game will also be senior day at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes will recognize 15 senior players and one student manager before the game.
“We don’t have the largest senior class of guys that you see playing on Saturday, but we do have 15 guys that have given a whole lot to this program, a lot of hours and a lot of effort and a number of those guys in a very unglamorous way,” Tressel said. “It’s a big day for them and it’s a big day for us and it’s amazing we only have one game left in the stadium.”
Tressel announced the team’s weekly award winners from the 38-17 victory against Wisconsin. Spitler was the team’s special units player of the week, while junior Vernon Gholston took home top defensive player honors and junior James Laurinaitis was named the team’s attack force player of the week.
On offense, sophomore tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells was the top offensive player for his three-touchdown effort while senior Kirk Barton graded out at 92 percent and was named the team’s Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week.
“He’s done a great job all year leading, has done a great job all year really molding together a new group of linemen, helping them learn to communicate under the gun, in the noise, all those things,” Tressel said. “He really has been a fine, fine leader.”
As for the scout team, freshman Bo DeLande was named the special teams player of the week. Junior linebacker Ryan Lukens was the defensive player of the week, while sophomore tight end J.D Larson was the team’s offensive player of the week.
And while the team’s annual showdown with Michigan is on tap for next week, Tressel said the focus is simply on the Fighting Illini this weekend.
“I think this group really understands that we’ve got work to do,” he said. “I hope they’re not in practice today thinking about Saturday. I want them to be thinking about what we have to do Saturday, but Tuesday’s different than Saturday and they’ve been good at being very attentive and staying on task.”