Rivalry, Not Revenge, On OSU's Mind

A funny thing happens when the calendar flips to November. Winning when the leaves change colors and the chips are down is all the motivation a team needs. With that in mind, the Ohio State football team says that while it remembers last year's upset loss to Illinois, revenge isn't the biggest factor playing into Saturday's continuation of what has become a hard-hitting rivalry.

The last time Ohio State and Illinois met on the gridiron, it was a less than cordial affair.

After Illinois knocked the Buckeyes from the ranks of the unbeaten and ruined Senior Day last season with a 28-21 upset win, the Fighting Illini players raced toward the center of the Ohio Stadium field and the scarlet Block "O" for a postgame celebration.

They were greeted rudely by the Ohio State players for brief skirmish – though end Vernon Gholston said at the time that the Buckeyes "politely" pushed the UI players back – that included a swing or two before the squads broke up and Illinois began celebrating its landmark win in other fashions. Each school later was reprimanded and fined.

So it would make sense that there would be no love lost between the Buckeyes and Fighting Illini as they get set to reprise their rivalry – on Illinois' Senior Day, no less – Saturday in Memorial Stadium.

Malcolm Jenkins, the senior Buckeye cornerback, said that this game means a little more when it comes up on the schedule – and it's not just because of the Illibuck trophy that will be up for grabs.

"Besides the Michigan game, I think as far as a rivalry, it's them and Penn State for us as far as who we don't like the most or who we play the hardest against," Jenkins said. "You can tell by how the games play out."

Even with that said, the thought that there is bad blood between the two schools is probably overstating things. Even Jenkins, who is on the short list of Buckeyes who elevate trash talking into an art form, wouldn't go too far when talking about the Fighting Illini other than stating that the rivalry is one he enjoys playing in.

As for his comment about the team not liking Illinois, Jenkins seemed to want to make amends immediately.

"I like everybody in the Big Ten," he said with a smile.

If there was a dominant way of looking at the upcoming clash when the Buckeye players met with the media Tuesday, it was somewhat close to the views espoused by Jenkins. While the Buckeyes do remember last season's loss and appreciate what their rivalry with Illinois has become, the upset would not be a major motivating factor for this season's game.

"It is hard because that was our seniors, and that's not the way they wanted to remember Senior Day," current senior Rory Nicol said about last year's happenings. "But it's just important that we go down there and get a win regardless of their Senior Day or the other stuff that's happened down there."

Even though it should be, perhaps, given Ohio State's general ability under head coach Jim Tressel to rebound from a loss the year before. Nine times in Tressel's career, he has lost to a team the Buckeyes would play the next season, and the Buckeyes are 8-1 in such situations. The only loss came in 2004 when Wisconsin made it a two-game winning streak over OSU. That loss, as well as an '04 loss at Purdue, was paid back when the Buckeyes beat the Badgers and Boilermakers in 2007.

Tressel has been known to use techniques to remind the team of what happened the year before. The Buckeyes couldn't escape 33-7, the score of the 2004 game at Iowa, the entire week before destroying the Hawkeyes on their return trip to Ohio Stadium.

But this week, Tressel said that last year's game was just that.

"The fact that we didn't win it maybe gives you a shade more to think about, but … if it helps you, maybe it helps you on the first play," he said. "Then after that, it's time to go."

When the ball finally is in the air, the game should be tough and could come down to the final minute. Only once in Tressel's five tries against Illinois – 2005's 40-2 win over a depleted Fighting Illini squad – have the Buckeyes blown out UI. Included in Tressel's 3-2 record against Illinois are a 2001 loss that ended Ohio State's Big Ten title hopes, a dramatic overtime win that kept the 2002 national title season alive and a 2006 game that came down to the wire before the Buckeyes escaped with a 17-10 win in Champaign.

That Buckeye triumph came during a two-win season for Illinois, but the squad has been on the uptick to a certain extent under head coach Ron Zook. The win over OSU vaulted Illinois into last year's Rose Bowl, and recruiting rankings show that talent continues to improve.

"With them emerging as being another great team in the Big Ten and with us trying to continue what we're doing, it definitely has become that type of (rivalry) game," receiver Brian Robiskie said.

The result, according to Jenkins, is a game that is physical and even chippy – something befitting of a contest with its own rivalry trophy.

"I wouldn't say bad blood, but it is a rivalry," Jenkins said. "We have a trophy for it and everything like that. The stakes are a little higher when we play Illinois. It's a different type of game."


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