When the calendar turned to November and Ohio State sat idle for one weekend, head coach Jim Tressel schooled his team in the need to play well in the final month of the regular season.
True champions are born in that month, the coach said, and the key is to take care of business. A few hours after the Buckeyes dispatched Northwestern to improve to improve to 8-2 and 5-1 within the Big Ten, conference front-runner Penn State dropped a one-point decision to Iowa. Suddenly, a conference championship was back on the table as a distinct possibility.
At his weekly press luncheon, Tressel said the weekend simply goes to show that anything can happen as the temperatures drop and the pressure rises.
“Anything can happen in November,” Tressel said. “Yes, we were a game behind. That’s a fact. We’ve got to take care of business in November. If you look back at history, the team that takes care of business in November usually ends up feeling good about the results.”
Tressel felt pretty good about his team’s results from the game against the Wildcats. The OSU defense held Northwestern to 10 points, the fourth straight game a Buckeye opponent has been held to less than two touchdowns. Offensively, OSU piled up 441 yards of total offense – the most it has scored all season against a Division I opponent.
The game was an indication that the offense is better, Tressel said, but it is still not at the level it needs to be. The Buckeyes were without the services of junior wide receiver Ray Small, who was suspended from the team during the week prior to the game.
Tressel said Small’s suspension was one game “as of now” during an abbreviated Nov. 6 press conference, and he will not suit up again this weekend against Illinois.
Asked about Small’s availability or lack thereof, Tressel responded, “lack thereof.” He still has an opportunity to rejoin the team at some point, Tressel said.
Sophomore safety Jermale Hines and senior running back Maurice Wells did not take part in Tuesday’s practice as they both nurse unspecified injuries, but both could practice Wednesday, Tressel said. Senior right guard Ben Person could return for the team’s bowl game, but is out for the rest of the regular season after undergoing an undisclosed minor surgery, Tressel said.
This weekend’s game will see the Buckeyes take to the road for the second consecutive week. OSU faces an Illinois team that handed the Buckeyes an upset defeat last season during senior day in Ohio Stadium. This time, OSU will be playing at Memorial Stadium in Champagne, Ill., on senior night for the Fighting Illini.
Playing on the road in a hostile environment within the Big Ten is something that has not had much of an effect on the Buckeyes in recent years. The last OSU conference loss on the road came Oct. 8, 2005, when it was defeated by Penn State in a night game. Since then, the Buckeyes have run off a streak of 14 straight wins in such games.
Having success in hostile Big Ten environments is something Tressel said he harps on his players.
“It does take maybe a little bit more focus because you don’t necessarily have that energy that that home crowd brings,” he said. “It takes a little bit more to overcome the energy that can be manufactured by the home crowd. It’s going to take a little bit better performance. It will take that this week.”
That is not always the case, however. During the Northwestern game, the Buckeyes took the field to see a crowd that appeared to be at least half pro-OSU.
“At Northwestern, you walked out there and you were looking around for all purple and there was a lot of red,” he said.
The Buckeyes moved up their usual Tuesday practice as part of the team’s observance of Veterans Day. With the university closed for the day, the Buckeyes took an early-morning field trip to the Ohio Statehouse to see a memorial dedicated to the Lima Company. Located in the building’s rotunda, the exhibit left an extra impact on the players when the artist who created the memorial was on hand to celebrate its last day at the statehouse.
“We didn’t know it or plan it,” Tressel said of the artist’s appearance. “It was really special for our guys.”