Pressure Comes In Many Forms For OSU

On the surface, one reason to expect the Ohio State football team to play better against Texas than in past big games is the fact that the Buckeyes are underdogs for the Fiesta Bowl. However, the Buckeye players say pressure comes in many forms as many team members prepare for their final game.

Pressure can be a funny thing in the world of sports.

Some athletes are able to deal with it better than others. Throughout the history of sports, some players have become known as the masters of clutch situations; Michael Jordan, who won six NBA titles, the last by making a last-second shot, comes to mind.

Other athletes are on the exact other end of the spectrum. There are those who seem to wilt when the spotlight glares brightest. Scott Norwood and Bill Buckner have been known as goats for single important mistakes, while Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez have compiled a more consistent history of failing in important moments.

In the eyes of the nation, Ohio State is squarely in the latter group.

By now, the failings of the Buckeyes in big games are known to all Ohio State fans, so there's no point rehashing title-game losses to Florida and LSU and this year's blowout at the hands of then-No. 1 USC.

The Buckeyes entered each of those games under a certain amount of pressure. The first two were national title games, and the showdown with USC was the most hyped game of the entire preseason. During each game, the Buckeyes made enough mental mistakes and turnovers that would leave one to believe that they were playing too tight.

To many pundits across the country, there's very little to differentiate between those past performances and the Buckeyes' upcoming game against No. 3 Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. The public certainly expects the Longhorns, who have been installed as favorites of up to 10 points, to win, as 91 percent of users in Yahoo.com's bowl pick ‘em have chosen Texas to win.

In other words, there's no pressure on the Buckeyes this time, right?

Well, some of them would have you believe that.

"I don't think we're putting any pressure on ourselves," safety Anderson Russell said. "We've been having a lot of fun in practice and it's been a lot more relaxed. I think it's really actually been better for us. I don't think we're putting any pressure on ourselves and it's helping us out in the long run."

That's easy for Russell to say, though, because the second-year starter is a junior. Though he has filed paperwork to find out what his NFL draft status might be, Russell still has a chance to return for another season and another full slate of games should he choose to do so.

There's a different kind of pressure on the Buckeye seniors, a group 28 strong that will be playing for the final time in Scarlet and Gray when they take the University of Phoenix Stadium field.

To those players, there might not be another more pressure-packed game that they will ever play in.

"Just the fact it's your last game, that's the biggest thing to me," tight end Rory Nicol said. "That's the most pressure you could put on my shoulders, just knowing it's your last chance with these guys. This is the best team we're going to be on for the rest of our lives. It's important to me that we win for us.

"What I have been telling myself is this is the last time I can influence the outcome of a game at Ohio State, where I will physically be on the field and can do something to help the team. That's what is important for me."

Defensive tackle Nader Abdallah spoke in the same vein as Nicol.

"It's never going to be as important to you as it is when you are a senior," he said. "When you're a senior you realize that time is precious and we have to make the most of our time. (Until you are a senior) you always have in the back of your mind that you always have next year. As a senior you don't have next year, you only have one game left, so it means a lot more."

A dissenter comes in the form of cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. Already having developed a reputation as one of the smoothest Buckeyes, Jenkins said the fact that he'll be playing in his final game won't overwhelm him with emotions once the fifth day in January arrives.

"I look at it like that in a positive sense: I have one more chance to have a great impact on Ohio State, to be known as one of the best corners at Ohio State or to be known as one of the better defenders or better teams," he said. "Instead of looking at it as pressure, I just look at it as an opportunity."

Pressure comes in many forms, but Ohio State fans surely hope going into the game that the Buckeyes channel the attitude of their senior captain, Jenkins.

"We have no pressure on us because nobody's giving us a shot," he said. "We can go up there and stink it up for all we care, and it'll still be ‘same old Ohio State.' For us, we're just going to go out there and just try to prove what we know about ourselves – and that's that we can play."


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