The Ohio State senior tight end had just watched his team's offense sputter against the lowly Purdue Boilermakers, amassing just 222 yards of total offense and not scoring any touchdowns in a 16-3 victory. As has been the case for much of the 2008 season, the Buckeyes had been inconsistent as an offensive unit and struggled to move the ball consistently.
From Nicol's perspective, something clearly had to change and that something started right up front. So Sunday night, one night after the victory, Nicol – who missed the game with an ankle injury and watched from the sidelines – called the team's offensive line and tight ends into a meeting. Doors were closed, and the senior put it all on the line for his teammates.
"The reality of the situation right now is we're not playing as well as we're capable of playing," he said. "Sometimes someone needs to say something to piss you off or get you to realize. I challenged everybody to go home and ask themselves if they were truly doing everything they could to be as good as they could be. If there was anybody in that room who could honestly say they've been happy with the way they've been playing, no one stepped up or spoke out at that."
The OSU coaching staff apparently agrees with Nicol's sentiment. Following the game, the Buckeyes did not name either an offensive player or an offensive lineman of the week for the Purdue game.
As the offense has struggled to get on track this season, the blame has consistently come back to the team's offensive line. Injuries have forced players to shuffle in and out of positions in the starting lineup, but the Buckeyes are not accepting that as an excuse. At one point, head coach Jim Tressel anointed himself the assistant offensive line coach and spent extra time in the trenches hollering at his players to get better.
Still, the team did not play up to standards against Purdue. The line needs to play better, and Nicol felt that was a message that needed delivered.
"The message was a challenge," he said. "I feel like right now someone needs to step up. I've been here for five years and I'm certainly willing to take that role and I made a promise to them that I'm going to do all that I can play as hard as I can."
Senior left tackle Alex Boone – the only player on the line to stick to his one position through the first seven games – said that hearing the message from a player like Nicol caught his attention.
According to Boone, Nicol did not mince words.
"It was good hearing it from him," Boone said. "He was like, ‘I didn't get to play but I'm still pissed. You guys look like a bunch of girls out there.' That's the truth. It just takes one person to stand up and say it. We've all been trying to say it, but coming from an outside source (helps)."
Nicol's intent was not to call any of his teammates out, he said. Rather, the goal was simply to try and light a fire under the offensive line that needed started.
With four returning starters from a year ago, two of them seniors, the line was expected to be a source of strength for the Buckeyes this season. The fact that such an experienced unit needed a pep talk was still evident, Nicol said.
"I've just thought that this is reality for us," he said. "We're not desperate. We're a great team. It wasn't crazy. There was no hollering or yelling. That's not what it's about. It was just a matter of putting it into reality. Let's go. We haven't been as good as we're capable of being."
That final point has not been refuted by anyone on the roster. However, Nicol, Boone and Tressel alike all said that the film often shows that it is just one player missing his assignment on a play where everyone else does their jobs. That one mistake proves to be too much to overcome, and the play is compromised.
Those mistakes have helped hold back an offense that is ranked 59th in the country and 10th in the Big Ten at 320.9 yards per game.
"It's crazy because you can look at film and see one guy misses a block maybe on an edge and six guys are doing the right thing," Nicol said. "Everybody's got to be going. I don't know that we've all across the board on offense at every position have been hitting on all cylinders at the same time yet. That's something we're working our tails off to do this year."
Now the trick is for OSU to turn that work into results.