Tuesday, November 1, 2011

TUESDAY ROUNDUP: FICKELL HOPES BUCKEYES CAN HANDLE PRAISE

Luke Fickell
AP/Jay LaPrete
COLUMBUS — Three weeks ago, many were wondering if the Ohio State football team would even become eligible to play in a bowl game this season after struggling to a 3-3 start.

Now those same folks are talking about a possible Big Ten championship for the Buckeyes.

That's what happens when you win two-straight games, including a victory for the ages over heavily-favored Wisconsin on Saturday night. That's what happens when your offense — which has been putrid for most of the season — scores 30 points in the second half and sees its true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller launch a game-winning touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the contest.

If Ohio State can win its final four regular season games against Indiana, at Purdue, home to Penn State and on the road to Michigan — as well as one loss by the Nittany Lions to either Wisconsin or Nebraska — the Buckeyes will be playing in the inaugural Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.

The victory over Wisconsin was the epitome of a 'signature win,' whether Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell wants to admit it or not.

"I don't know. Every win is big," OSU head coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday during his media luncheon in Columbus. "The way it was won, obviously, maybe that might mean something different. The atmosphere it was won in. But it still goes down the same on the schedule, it goes down as a win. It's one win."

It's also one win that may have saved Fickell's job as head coach in Columbus.

Prior to the Saturday night's victory over Wisconsin, the possibility of Fickell retaining his current position at season's end didn't look promising to most. Now many are singing Fickell's praises ... you know, jumping on the bandwagon and such.

"I don't know about any bandwagon," Fickell said. "Like I said, I see my four kids and my wife. We see the guy over at the facility and they've always been on my bandwagon. So those are the people that ultimately you stick close to."

It seems as if Fickell is doing his best to shield the praise, something he feels is the most difficult thing to deal with at a school like Ohio State.

"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."

Fickell isn't a complete killjoy, though.

"My wife reminds me to make sure I enjoy it," Fickell smiled. "But sometimes as a coach you keep thinking back, I'd like to have that thing back to about four minutes and 30 seconds to go in the game. Probably save about two years off my life if we make another play or two and something different happens.

"But it is exciting. To me the most exciting time about that is the next 30 minutes in that locker room with those guys. Not for myself, but to see the joy on their faces, to see all the hard work that they've been through, all the different things they've been through and to see them be able to celebrate with each other, to have that true joy, true emotion.

"To me, that's what the game's all about."

MILLER BEAMING WITH CONFIDENCE ... Prior to their game-winning drive Saturday night against Wisconsin, the young quarterback Miller glanced at Fickell, gave him a wink and said, "We got this man, don't worry about nothing."

Then he delivered an improbable 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith to win the game.

Just like the victory over Wisconsin can be viewed as a 'signature win," the late heroics by Miller can be looked at as his 'signature moment' — the moment he decided to take the reins.

"We talk about that every day to have that ability, remember, we are Ohio State. You came here for a reason," Fickell said of Miller. "You expect to be great and you've got to have that demeanor. You've got to have that confidence."

Even veteran players like fifth-year senior tailback Dan "Boom" Herron are buying into what Miller's selling.

"I see him growing and getting better as a football player," Herron said. "I think he's getting better every week. And the more experience he gets, the better he gets. And I think he's definitely going to be a great player, a special player."

HERRON COUNSELING HYDE ... Through the first six games of the season, sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde rushed for 400 yards and five touchdowns — leading the team in both statistical categories.

However, in the two games since, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound back has only ran the football three times for eight yards, including zero carries against Wisconsin. The Buckeyes' staff have decided to run Herron as the starter, with Jordan Hall playing as primary backup — something that's been quite upsetting to the talented Hyde.

Herron, who knows a thing or two about working his way up a depth chart, is counseling Hyde about being patient and biding his time.

"We definitely talked, and I think he's doing a lot better now," Herron said of Hyde. "Like I told him, you know, when I first got here, I had a lot of guys in front of me, Beanie Wells, Brandon (Saine) and Maurice Wells. I told him he has a couple of years left, so his time is definitely going to come.

"He's a great running back, and he's always working hard, always doing a great job. His time will definitely come."