"We're not giving up. I can guarantee that. … We're never going to give up. We're going to go back to work, figure out what went wrong and get it fixed."
Those two quotes sure sound like words that could have been uttered by an Ohio State player after Saturday night's 35-3 loss to No. 1 USC, do they not? Instead, those words were uttered the night of Oct. 8, 2005, minutes after Ohio State dropped to 3-2 on its season with a 17-10 loss at Penn State in Happy Valley.
The first quote, spoken by offensive lineman Rob Sims, showed that the Buckeyes still had a lot to play for even when it seemed their season was spiraling out of control. The latter, from linebacker A.J. Hawk, showed the determination of a senior-laden class to get the team back on track for their final collegiate games.
Indeed, that 2005 team could bear a lot of resemblance to the 2008 version of the Buckeye football squad. After entering the season with fairly reasonable national championship hopes, both teams were faced with picking up the pieces after a devastating loss that seemed to leave the hopes and dreams of the season on life support.
"That team, it was set up similar to this team," current punter A.J. Trapasso said Tuesday. "And yeah, that's a perfect example of how we can use an early loss, because that year we lost to Texas and it was right out of the gate. You almost feel like you shot yourself in the foot, but by the end of the (2005) season we had risen up and really become a great team."
Indeed, that 2005 season ended well. After the loss to Penn State, things looked gloomy a week later against Michigan State, but some breaks went Ohio State's way and the offense began to click during the second half. Soon, that unit became one of the most prolific in the country and combined with a talented, experienced defense to help the Buckeyes defeat the Spartans, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan in a row to end the regular season.
Ohio State then went to the desert and staged its third Fiesta Bowl party in four years, ending Notre Dame's most recent return to glory by pinning a 34-20 loss on the Fighting Irish. By the end of that game, the Buckeyes had reached No. 4 in the country and were playing some of the best football in the nation, leaving something other than a sour taste in the mouths of many.
"We lost two games, and when we beat Notre Dame, all of that was pretty much forgotten," Jenkins said. "It was still a great time, and we still enjoyed the season."
There are 28 players on the current team who were on the 2005 roster, including players like Trapasso, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, linebacker James Laurinaitis, and offensive lineman Alex Boone who contributed mightily. Laurinaitis said to expect those players to try to simulate what seniors like Hawk, Sims and Nick Mangold did to keep the squad with its head above water.
"They never gave up," Laurinaitis said. "They kept trying to get better and better. By the end of the year people were saying that that team was playing with the best in the country. That's a good example for a lot of us seniors because we were on that team when we were younger."
The process begins with setting goals. In 2005, the team immediately set its sights on winning out, which would put pressure on Penn State to not slip up in order to win the conference.
"We were just trying to win the Big Ten," Jenkins said. "We had to win all of our games to be co-champions in the Big Ten, so that's what we focused on at that point."
The scenario worked out. The Buckeyes swept through the rest of the schedule and did receive some help from Penn State when the Nittany Lions' undefeated run came to an end on the last play at Michigan a few weeks later. Both Ohio State and Penn State would finish league play at 7-1.
There is still much to play for this year as there was then. This year, the chances of a national championship berth look slim, but the team still has a chance to win a Big Ten-record third straight outright league title. Also on the table is a chance at a record fifth straight win over archrival Michigan.
"We have a lot of things we can focus on – the Big Ten, trying to beat Michigan again, of course, as usual, and just trying to make our stamp on college football," Jenkins said. "We can still go undefeated from here. You never know if we'll make it to the national championship."