Friday, November 4, 2011

GAME PREVIEW: HOT BUCKEYES HOPE TO KEEP FOCUS VS. LOWLY HOOSIERS

COLUMBUS — Going into the past four contests for the Ohio State football team, they have had to handle some pretty tough demands.

They had to face Michigan State's stout front four, Nebraska's dynamic running attack, Illinois' multi-dimensional offense and the all-around greatness of Wisconsin. They narrowly failed to accomplish the first two, but rallied to become victorious against the latter pair.

This week against lowly Indiana (1-8, 0-5 Big Ten), the Buckeyes will have yet another difficult and unique task to tackle — handling success.

Ever since the Buckeyes upset Wisconsin last Saturday night in Columbus, the expectations have exploded through the roof. Three weeks ago, the Buckeyes were just hoping to become eligible to play in a bowl game — any bowl game — and now people are mentioning them as a major contender for the Big Ten title and a shot at the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell said the Buckeyes' handling of success and praise moving forward will be just as important as the X's and O's.

"Since the time I came here, I've always kind of said that the toughest thing here is to be able to handle those praises, those things, those successes that you have," Fickell said. "Criticism, yes, they drain you emotionally and things. But to really handle the criticism, that makes you tougher.

"It's when things are going successfully and things are happening positively for you. How do you handle that? To me, that's every bit as much of a distraction as the negative stuff. So our ability to handle the positives is going to be a big part of it.

"I've always said to the guys that it's a lot harder here to handle success and praise than it is to handle criticism. So make sure we're aware of that."

It's also going to be a lot harder — especially after the Buckeyes' meat grinder the past four games — to get up for a team in Indiana who is winless in the Big Ten and has surrendered more than 40 points in each of their last four outings.

Fickell said the way to avoid a letdown against Indiana Saturday isn't about focusing on the Hoosiers ... it's about looking in the mirror.

"We continue to focus on ourselves," Fickell said. "It's about us getting better and we're going to make sure those guys understand that our preparation will match up with our performance. And your preparation begins on that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, so there will be no letdown.

"The way we've kind of always done it here is to focus on yourselves and what you can do to get better. That doesn't mean you don't prepare for Indiana, doesn't mean you don't prepare for Wisconsin. Whether it's Wisconsin or Indiana, you still focus on how you can get better as a team. That's still a big part of it as opposed to saying what do we do to beat this team.

"That's where we're going to continue to stay, is making sure we understand it's about us, it's about how we can get better, focusing on what we need to do and reminding them of all the adversity, things we've been through, those negative feelings as well as those great feelings. Emotions are a big part of it."

The game Saturday against Indiana shouldn't be viewed as a 'set up' game, but more as one the Buckeyes can use to build upon their second half offensive success last week against Wisconsin.

Indiana gave up nine touchdowns last week to Northwestern on the Wildcats' first 10 series of the game. The Hoosiers' defense — which started seven freshman last week — surrendered 616 total yards to the Wildcats, including 317 on the ground. They have given up 51 points per contest over the past four weeks.

The Buckeyes must look at this game as an offensive test, to see if they have the capabilities to put up 50-plus on an opponent.

"Yeah, I mean, you gotta look at it that way," senior tailback Dan "Boom" Herron said. "Whatever we could do to put points on the board, you know. You keep getting better in practice and listen to what the coaches have for us to do and just go out there and do it."

Bottom Line

This could be the most important game of the season for the Buckeyes. 

It's not only going to show how well the team can handle success, but it also gives them an opportunity to work on some critical aspects of their game before going into the final three contests of the season — which includes a home tilt against Penn State and a road trip to Michigan.

It's obvious the Buckeyes are the far superior team in this week's game against Indiana, but they mustn't come into the contest with the same emotion they had against Akron and Toledo earlier in the year. 

They must prove that they are the superior team. They must show that they can throw and run the ball at will on the Hoosiers' inferior defense. The Buckeyes must smother the Indiana rushing attack led by Stephen Houston (111-577, 6 TDs) and they must pressure true freshman quarterback Tre Roberson as soon as he steps off the bus.

Fickell oftens speaks about confidence being the key to success, the key to their November push. Putting it on the Hoosiers would go a long way toward solidifying that growing confidence. 

I think Fickell gets that now.

Prediction: OSU 56-6