Ohio State football: Buckeyes say loss won’t lead to a bowl letdown

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Ohio State’s primary goal for this season was to win a championship, singular, and upon achieving that, try to add two more within the next month.

It gained the first one, taking its second straight Big Ten Leaders Division title with its second straight 12-0 run through the regular season. But really, the Buckeyes, suspended from the postseason a year ago, had their sights set on winning the Big Ten championship game and moving on to the final Bowl Championship Series title game.

Those thoughts helped motivate them through early morning offseason workouts in the winter and summer, through an intense run of spring drills and through a season that — right up until the 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game — went according to plan.

“That will sit in your stomach, but at the same time, what’s done is done,” junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said this week. “All you can do is move past it and, not forget it, but get the positives out of it so you’ve got a pit in your stomach and a chip on your shoulder.

“I think we play best that way. Obviously, it’s not a positive situation, but like I said, what’s done is done.”

The Buckeyes have hit the reset button. Now they are preparing to meet Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3 at Sun Life Stadium north of Miami. It’s a BCS game, one of the premier bowls, and a prime-time encounter with the 12th-ranked Tigers, the second-highest ranked team the Buckeyes will have faced this season.

“Obviously, we’re not playing for a national title, which is what we wanted to do, but we’re still playing in a BCS bowl game,” senior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. “Guys need to realize this is a big-time bowl game (and) we’re going to be playing in front of a lot of people. … I think it’s our job as leaders to communicate that to the younger guys and make sure guys prepare like they should.”

Bennett said he thinks everyone understands.

“When we came in for our first practice (after the loss), guys were flying around, guys were working,” he said. “So I don’t think people were moping about it. I don’t feel like guys mope and complain around here too much.”

But after all the hard work, it would seem that coming so close to running the string and playing for the national title would leave an indelible mark, perhaps even make a player second guess the sacrifice involved.

“It makes the cut burn a little more, I guess you could say,” senior center Corey Linsley said. “But how hard we worked — everybody on the team knows that what we were doing was the right thing.

“I don’t know, the answer to our problem doesn’t lie in how hard we were going. I think we can all believe the hard work we put in was in the right places. Maybe we have to work smarter, in terms of maybe we didn’t know what our weaknesses were individually. Maybe each individual person needs to work harder on those weaknesses.”

Dwelling on the loss serves no purpose, Mewhort said.

“When you go back to the coulda, woulda, shouldas, I think that’s poisonous to a team,” he said. “We know we worked hard and put a lot of effort in this thing, and obviously, we’re not going where we thought we were going and where we wanted to be going.

“But we’re playing in the Orange Bowl, and that’s big-time bowl game, and we’re excited for that.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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