Bouncing Back Not Easy, But Can Be Done

It might be a cliche that a team can't dwell on a loss, but it's a cliche for a reason -- because it's true. BSB talked to some former Ohio State players on how they were able to move past big early-season losses, something the Buckeyes are now trying to do after the Virginia Tech loss.

When Ohio State lost to Penn State during the 2005 season, a team that began the year with national championship hopes had just a 3-2 record.

So when starting offensive lineman Kirk Barton and freshman quarterback Rob Schoenhoft went to class upon returning from Happy Valley, they weren’t exactly thrilled when a professor brought up the team’s shortcomings the weekend prior.

“Somebody in one of the articles said that we couldn’t exploit throwing down the middle vs. Cover-3,” Barton remembered this week. “I don’t know who wrote it but remember thinking that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever read in my life because there’s a safety right down the middle of Cover-3.

“But the professor, he had to have read that article because he wasn’t a guy who knew anything about football, but he asked us that question. So Robby gets up there and draws Cover-3 on the board and was like, ‘I don’t know how you attack the middle of the field when they have a safety standing right there.’

“It’s just weird, man, because when you lose at Ohio State, everybody wants an explanation.”

Barton wasn’t lamenting that fact – “It’s fine; if you don’t want the pressure, go somewhere else,” he added – but merely stating the obvious. When Ohio State loses, Columbus can be a tough place to be.

“I always make the comments, you’d love to just go move (your players) off to a desert island somewhere and not worry,” head coach Urban Meyer noted Monday.

Meyer said the same overreaction going the other direction happens with a winning team as well, but this is a situation Ohio State doesn’t ever want to have to deal with – picking up the pieces of an early-season loss and trying to not only move on but excel the rest of the season.

Logically, looking forward makes sense. There are still 10 regular-season games to go, conference play hasn’t even started and plenty of goals – yes, even a chance to capture the program’s first-ever Big Ten Championship Game victory and an outside shot at the College Football Playoff – are still on the table.

“We’ve got to keep rolling because we can make a positive out of this,” linebacker Joshua Perry said after the game. “It’s a long season, anything can happen. There are a lot of games to be played throughout America. We’ve got to just wait and see and we’ve got to get out there and play Buckeye football. If we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a good situation for something.”

Of course, former players questioned by admitted that’s easier said than done – especially when the loss comes in the marquee nonconference game of the season.

“It’s heartbreaking because it means so much,” said former offensive lineman Jim Cordle, who was a starter on OSU teams that lost early-season nonconference games to USC in 2008 and ’09. “Whatever your big game is that year, you’re looking forward to that game all summer. When you’re going through workouts and stuff, that’s what you think about, so when you get to that game – especially when it’s a home game and you have all that hype and the fans are great – and you lose, it’s just heartbreaking to lose that game.”

So how does a team get over the loss? Well, it simply just does.

“You move on,” Cordle said. “The goal is always to be the Big Ten champions, so I remember we moved on (in 2009) and looked to the Big Ten. Even though you look forward to one game, one big nonconference opponent and you lose it, you still have the whole season that you want to validate all that work you did in the offseason.”

Just because it hasn’t happened under Meyer, who hadn’t lost a regular season game at the helm of the program before Saturday, Ohio State has proved how to bounce back plenty of times before after early-season losses. That 2009 team bounced back from the USC loss to beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl, becoming the first Buckeye squad to win in Pasadena in a quarter of a century.

The same could be said about the 2008 team that lost to USC early in the season but came back to play in the Fiesta Bowl, or Barton’s 2005 team that lost to Texas in game two of the season but went on to blow out Notre Dame in the desert. Each of those teams captured at least a share of the Big Ten title, won at least 10 games and played in a BCS bowl.

“Ohio State is still going to be in big night games and they still have exciting things to play for,” Cordle said. “You put it behind you.”

For their part, the Buckeyes were talking about doing just that on Wednesday.

“The season’s not over,” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “There have been one-loss teams that have won the national championship before. Our goals are still there. We have to keep getting better each week.”

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