Fuel For The Buckeye Fire

OSU's quiet satisfaction after Saturday's win at Penn State has become more vocal since in the time since. The Buckeyes said that there was a little bit more fire in the team at Penn State, a fire that added to an already strong pot of motivation and which should continue to burn this week against Wisconsin.

After Ohio State's 37-17 dominating win over Penn State Saturday night in Happy Valley, the company line was never stronger.

Numerous players were asked if the impressive win, on national television no less, had quieted some of the doubters and solidified the Buckeyes' hold on the No. 1 national ranking. The general response was the verbal equivalent of a giant yawn.

"It's not a big deal to us," quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "If we keep on winning I think it will take care of itself."

A few days later, the Buckeyes are singing a different tune. As it turns out, that win against the No. 24 Nittany Lions, in a venue in which the Buckeyes last lost during the regular season, with many in the national media predicting OSU's demise, was quite the statement.

"I think we sent out the right message," tight end Rory Nicol said. "That was our challenge, to let people know what Ohio State is about and what type of team we are because there's a lot of people that for some reason don't think that we're very talented.

"In front of everybody at 8 o'clock at night on national television, we put on a pretty good performance. That was the biggest stage we've been on, and I think we answered the call."

But that's not all; in fact, Nicol said the dominating nature of the win was not by accident. Fueled on by those experts who stated that the Buckeyes are simply going to be the next top-five team to suffer a stunning upset – a message funneled to Nicol by his two sisters, Ashley and Lisa – during this year of upsets, Ohio State's players have taken on a take-no-prisoners attitude.

"We do think about going after people, you know," Nicol said. "It's not a matter of just trying to protect what you've already got. It's now kind of like everybody's doubted us. We went out there Saturday night with intentions of winning a game and sending a message to the world, really. I think that's kind of the attitude that we all have now is that we're going to come after people."

Nicol went on to call the attitude of the team confident, but not cocky, and that the urge to blow teams out of the water has come more from the brain trust of players and not from any urging of the coaching staff. Safety Anderson Russell said there was a movement afoot to make Saturday's game one to remember.

"Yeah, because I think a lot of people were doubting us because of what happened two years ago when we went up there and lost 17-10," Russell said. "I think a lot of people were thinking that was going to happen again. I think we kind of took that personally."

With one score – that 17-10 loss in 2005 to Penn State – settled, the Buckeyes turn their attention to another in Wisconsin. Not only have the Badgers won each of their last three trips to Ohio Stadium, the last time, a 24-13 win in 2004, ended with the Wisconsin players dancing on the block "O" at the center of the field, prompting pushing and shoving between the two squads.

Head coach Jim Tressel is quite fond of reminding his team during game week of past occurrence between the Buckeyes and upcoming opponents, especially if any motivational fire can be drawn from story lines. Two weeks ago, Buckeye players were reminded of Michigan State's 1998 upset in the Horseshoe, and afterward Dexter Larimore said he didn't want to see another scene like Sedrick Irvin grabbing Ohio Stadium turf to take home as part of Sparty's celebration.

As the Buckeyes prepare to host the Badgers, players can count on seeing tape of the 2004 skirmish, as well as highlights – well, lowlights – of OSU's 1999 and 2001 losses to UW in Columbus. For those who were on the team in '04, the reminders won't be necessary.

"I think that's the bitter taste everybody's got in their mouth right now," Nicol said. "They've had success against us at home. It's one thing whenever we're on the road, but not over there in our house. The guys that were here especially are going to have a little bit of an edge this week getting ready."

But as much as that serves as fuel for the Buckeye fire, the matter at hand is that the Buckeyes are preparing for this game much as they are for every game – with an eye on getting better and staying undefeated.

"You want to beat a team as good as you can," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "because you want to play a perfect game. You want to make sure each week you're getting better and playing that perfect game. You try to improve. That's something that we're using as motivation."


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