Buckeyes Feeling Refreshed During Spirited Bowl Practices
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After a season like the Buckeyes had in 2011, it would make sense to see players moping around feeling sorry for themselves as the team prepares to play a 6-6 Florida team in the Gator Bowl.
They are being coached by a staff that will not stay intact after the bowl game, and Ohio State has already lost its bowl game for next season. They had their six-year BCS bowl streak snapped, along with a seven-year streak of beating Michigan.
Ohio State closed out the regular season with three straight losses, but that negative momentum does not seem to have carried over into bowl practice.
“It’s actually been really good,” junior fullback Zach Boren said.
“I feel like every day we’ve been out here, we’ve really been pushing it. Offense and defense, we’ve been going hard against each other, making each other better. To tell you the truth, this is one of the better bowl practices I’ve been a part of.”
Interim head coach Luke Fickell did a good job of keeping the focus on the field, but there was no question the turmoil surrounding the Buckeyes eventually began to take a toll.
If losing beloved head coach Jim Tressel in May wasn’t enough, Ohio State also had star quarterback Terrelle Pryor bolt for the NFL back in June. He was going to miss the first five games of the season anyway—along with Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas—but then three more players were suspended just before the season opener.
The Buckeyes lost early games to Miami (Fla.) and Michigan State, and then blew a 27-6 lead in the second half at Nebraska. That was followed by more suspensions for Herron and Posey, who was hit the hardest by the NCAA.
By the time he returned, the Buckeyes did not have much left in the tank, at least from an emotional standpoint.
“After the Michigan game, I felt like a lot of guys, myself included, were just exhausted from everything,” senior center Mike Brewster said.
“But the last two weeks everyone was getting their workouts in, and we're ready to go. It's definitely important to get this one. I think there's definitely a sense of urgency. We lost three straight and we don't want to end on a loss.”
Brewster said there was a renewed sense of excitement and energy when the Buckeyes returned to the practice field to prepare for the bowl game, even if it wasn’t the type of postseason spotlight they were used to.
Brewster’s co-captain, junior defensive lineman John Simon, agreed with his offensive teammate.
“It’s been excellent,” he said.
“I think we’re having our best practices of the year so far: a lot of excitement, a lot of passion, great competition out there between the offense and the defense. We’re getting after it pretty good.”
Not many at Ohio State were expecting to get a postseason ban from the NCAA, even after everything this program has been through in the last 12 months. New head coach Urban Meyer called it a “punch to the gut,” but at least now the players know what their future will hold.
That newfound certainty has carried over onto the practice field, especially as players try to make a good first impression on Meyer, who speaks regularly with Fickell, who will serve as his defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
“Practice has been really good, really up-tempo. Guys are really excited to play a good Florida team,” sophomore guard Jack Mewhort said.
“We’ve just been cutting loose. There is no more worrying about what’s going to happen or who’s doing what. It’s just football. Guys put a lot of pressure on themselves during the fall quarter and school, right now it’s all football. You can tell out there on the practice field that we’re just having more fun.”
It has been a while since this team has had much fun. They went from 12-1 last season to 6-6 under Fickell in 2011. They lost every big game this year save for a miraculous game-winning throw by Braxton Miller against Wisconsin back in October.
There were many times when this team could have folded, but Simon says he always knew the Buckeyes would keep fighting past the adversity. That started at the top with Fickell.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I think we have a close-knit group of guys and coaching staff,” he said.
“We’re fired up for this game. It’s a big bowl game for us, to play a great team like Florida is going to be a great challenge for us.”
If the Buckeyes lose on Jan. 2, they are facing their first losing season in Columbus since 1988. It would also be the first time Ohio State has suffered seven losses in a single season since they went 1-7-1 under coach David Edwards back in 1897.
None of that is on the minds of Ohio State players as they gun for their third-straight bowl victory, and second-straight postseason win over the Southeastern Conference.
“Everyone wants to end the season with a win,” senior defensive back Tyler Moeller said.
“It kind of washes everything that happened away, so we want to bust our butts and work hard for these next couple weeks and make sure we go out with a win.”
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