Cus Words: Nothin' But The Taillights

The Buckeyes have shown the intestinal fortitude to tap into their considerable talent whenever necessary this season, a good trait for a young team to have. We consider that, what the challenge is that lies ahead, what to watch on TV this weekend, if any Badgers talked their way onto the list of toughest Buckeye opponents and more.

What we learned last week:

The Buckeyes can accomplish a lot when they put their minds to it.

For the second time this year, they trailed in the second half. Mark them down as 2-for-2 in responding to adversity as for the second time this year, they hit the accelerator with stunning effects.

We first saw this act in Seattle back in September.

Washington had a 7-3 lead and was looking for more when Larry Grant blocked a Husky field goal.

Soon after, brains and finesse got the Buckeyes over the hump.

Todd Boeckman read man coverage on Brian Robiskie, sent his man deep and then hit him with a perfect rainbow throw for a 68-yard touchdown that put Ohio State ahead for good.

Last Saturday was much more simple. Instead of outsmarting the Badgers, Ohio State just ran over them.

The Buckeye offensive line took control and Chris Wells took advantage, slashing through holes in the Wisconsin defense for huge chunks of yards, including second half touchdowns of 31, 30 and 23 yards.

In the process, the Buckeyes showed how physical they can be when called upon to do so, and Wells continued to answer any questions about his toughness.

But despite the method, the lesson wasn't physical. It was still mental, as it has been all year.

The Buckeyes have yet to face a team that could hang with them from a talent standpoint – and they won't before the end of the regular season – but it takes mental strength to get the most out of all that football ability Jim Tressel and his staff have assembled and molded.

Through 10 games, Ohio State has yet to see anything they could not handle when every player did his job.

That's as evident from an eyewitness standpoint as it is from consultations with the Buckeyes themselves.

Why did the Badgers get consistent pressure on Todd Boeckman?

"We just didn't execute up front protection-wise," right tackle Kirk Barton explained.

How was Penn State able to move the ball on the vaunted Buckeye defense early?

"I think we got caught up a little bit in the atmosphere, and we just didn't execute that first series," linebacker Marcus Freeman explained.

When Kent State's Eugene Jarvis was able to squirt free for a handful of nice runs? When the Buckeyes found holes hard to open in short-yardage situations against Youngstown State?

All inquiries drew similar responses, some variation of, "We just weren't doing what we were supposed to do the way we're supposed to do it."

Given how impressively the Buckeyes have been able to surge when necessary, it is hard not to believe them.

So from a physical standpoint, let's all agree this latest Ohio State win over Wisconsin was a solid one, nothing more.

The Badgers were about what they were supposed to be: Though short-handed, they had a good offense with a tough quarterback, a solid running back and one playmaker. Travis Beckum (said playmaker) got his shots in but that was about it. Aside from one big play by Paul Hubbard that was extended by a blatant and unflagged holding penalty down the field, the Badger receivers did nothing, and I'm willing to chalk that up as further validation of the quality of Ohio State's cover guys rather than I am an indication the Badgers are deficient out wide. I'm sure the Badgers would be tougher matchup with a healthy Luke Swan, though.

The Wisconsin offensive line got a little bit of movement in the running game but was completely overmatched when it came to pass protection.

On the flip side, Wisconsin has a good defensive line, particularly when it comes to pass rushing, but it just wasn't good enough overall. When the Buckeyes set their mind to running the ball, the Badger front four caved in.

Then it turned out the guys behind them can't tackle, so all the Buckeyes had to do was get focused on getting their big, fast tailback into the secondary.

The result? A three-touchdown win for the Buckeyes.


What we figure to learn this week:

The Buckeyes will not overlook Illinois, but they won't have to in order to get a good look from the Fighting Illini because head coach Ron Zook has amassed some of the best raw talent in the Big Ten.

Barton said with true conviction in his face that Illinois will pose a bigger threat to his team than did Wisconsin.

Moments after facing the Badgers, the look on Barton's face made it seem as if the memory of facing Illinois was more vivid than that of going against Wisconsin. That's despite the fact the former contest had ended 364 days earlier.

"We have to start faster next week because Illinois is a great team," Barton said without being asked about his next opponent. "Don't try to say it's a trap game before Michigan because they took it to us last year, and we remember that. We really have to come out of the gate next week.

"They definitely are a very talented team. Their coach has really turned their program around over the last three years. They have a lot of talented athletes. He's done a good job recruiting and we've got to be ready because they're a tough team."

And it's not that Barton was bashing the Badgers.

He called theirs the best defensive front he's faced this year.

Then he said Illinois' would be better. I tend to believe him.

Barton is not one to produce bulletin board material for an opponent, but he has not been known toss many bouquets at them, either.

The Illinois defensive front seven is strong with the likes of tackle senior tackle Chris Norwell, end Will Davis and linebackers J. Leman, Brit Miller and Antonio Steele.

It's a group that got after Troy Smith last year and stopped cold the Buckeye running game, although some would argue Tressel helped with a head-scratchingly conservative game plan in the second half.

Don't doubt that they will make Ohio State prove it has worked out its execution issues in pass protection because Zook's secondary has struggled this season.

Still, though the unit ranks 10th in the conference in passing yards allowed and seventh in pass efficiency defense, it contains a Thorpe Award semifinalist in sophomore cornerback Vontae Davis.

I will not suggest Illinois can go toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes, at least not for 60 minutes, but the Fighting Illini could come closer than anyone yet this season.


All-Buckeye Beaters Team Nominations:

A team that talks as much trash as the Badgers did Saturday without backing it up does not deserve much recognition in this writer's book.

I strongly considered leaving them all out, but the one Badger was not guilty of the demonstrative woofing as many of his teammates were, so Travis Beckum gets the nod.

With nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown, he was a monster, as he has been all season.

The rest? Check back with me when we start an All-Punk Team. Strong safety Aubrey Pleasant will have a good chance to be named captain, assuming his ankles have healed after Chris Wells' go-ahead touchdown.


Fit For DVR This Week:

Well I would say a good place to start is Michigan's trip to Wisconsin. Set for a noon kickoff from Madison on ESPN, this should be a good warmup for fans set to watch the Buckeyes' 3:30 game on ABC. After so many Badgers limped off the Ohio Stadium FieldTurf Saturday, it will be interesting to see which team can get the closest to healthy.

When Ohio State is finished, Kansas' trip to Oklahoma State could be worth a look if you have not seen the unbeaten Jayhawks yet.


CUS WORDS BIG TEN POWER POLL

1. Ohio State (Don't think Barton will let his Senior Day go sour.)
2. Michigan (After another fourth quarter rally, a trip to Madison won't be easy.)
3. Illinois (Will last year's scare of OSU give Fighting Illini confidence boost?)
4. Penn State (First team to win the week after losing to Ohio State.)
5. Wisconsin (How many of those banged up guys will be back to face Michigan?)
6. Purdue (Could have earned some respectability with a win over PSU last week.)
7. Michigan State (S.O.S. – Same old Spartans.)
8. Indiana (Hope Coach Hep is somewhere smiling because the Hoosiers are bowl eligible.)
9. Iowa (A couple good wins in a row, and now playing for the pig! – See No. 11.)
10. Northwestern (And yet a bowl is not out of the question…)
11. Minnesota (Hey, at least this week they could win the best trophy in college football – the Floyd of Rosedale.)


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