Jeff Simpson / The Lantern
A 38-0 triumph over Toledo hasn’t erased thoughts of Ohio State’s 18-15 loss to USC two weeks ago, but it has the Buckeyes optimistic as Big Ten play arrives.
“The disappointment was two weeks away,” coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “The people that fought like crazy in that football game, I’m not sure that that is a distant memory for any one of us.”
The Buckeyes clicked on all cylinders Saturday against Toledo, forcing the Rockets to punt on all but two possessions. Both punt-less possessions ended in turnovers.
Still, Tressel doesn’t want his players lulled into a sense of overconfidence as the rigorous conference schedule nears.
“I’ve shared with you before, the C.S. Lewis, ‘The greatest danger is the illusion that all is well,’ when indeed all is not well, and that’s the truth,” he said. “Whether you want to believe it or not, we did some good things Saturday against Toledo. But Toledo, everyone knows, is not in the Big Ten so it has nothing to do with the Big Ten championship.”
Behind the glittering statistics that OSU amassed in Saturday’s win, Tressel pointed out several areas of concern. The Bucks committed six penalties, including five false starts. In addition, though quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw for three touchdowns and a career-high 262 yards, he tossed a pair of interceptions.
“I’m not saying we’re the most experienced, mature football team yet,” Tressel said. “But I’d like to think we’re aware enough to know that we’ve got to get much better and it begins in the Big Ten.”
The Buckeyes (2-1) welcome Illinois (1-1) to Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
While Pryor accumulated career-best statistics in the win over Toledo, Tressel still noticed certain mechanics in his game that must be tweaked.
With the competition level rising in conference play, the nine-year Buckeye coach hopes the improvements appear immediately.
“There are still a number of things we have to get a lot better at,” Tressel said. “We understand we’re entering the league and the difficulty ratchets up when you’re playing against people that you play every year that know what you do and how you do it.”
Nevertheless, Tressel was pleased with how comfortable Pryor looked in the pocket. In addition to his 262 passing yards, Pryor also ran for 110 yards on 12 carries.
On the Bucks’ first possession, he launched a pass deep downfield to a wide open Dane Sanzenbacher for a 76-yard touchdown. The instant success set the tone for Pryor’s encouraging performance.
“I thought he played a little more relaxed and I think getting that momentum helps that,” Tressel said. “You hit a homerun right off the bat and the next few at-bats you have a little confidence about you.”
Illini look to repeat history
Two years ago, OSU was cruising toward its second consecutive BCS Championship game appearance. The team sprinted out to a 10-0 start, crushing opponents by an average score of 35-10.
Illinois entered The Horseshoe on Nov. 10, 2007 as a heavy underdog, but left Columbus with a 28-21 victory. OSU plummeted from the top spot in the BCS rankings with just one regular season game remaining.
The upset remains fresh in Tressel’s mind, but he said it shouldn’t factor in to the team’s mindset as they prepare for Saturday’s meeting.
“I think for the people that were a part of it, it’s relevant, and for the people that weren’t a part of it, if you bring it up they might not have even known it happened,” he said. “I’m sure some of the guys that were a part of that game, that will be a reminder, but I don’t know what it will do for us.”
Tressel said the teams have had too much of a roster shake-up over the past two years to draw any potential similarities for the matchup this time around.
“We’ve got to go out and do the things we have to do and get focused in on what we have to do against their current personnel,” he said.
The Buckeyes have won or shared each of the past four Big Ten titles, placing a target on the team’s back. The team expects to receive its opponent’s best shot each week, right guard Bryant Browning said.
“Playing against Ohio State is probably a big thing for [Illinois],” he said. “I know they’ll do what they can to come up with a victory.”
Boom boom pow
Pryor carried the rushing load against Toledo, as starting running back Dan “Boom” Herron has struggled to find consistent running room.
Herron has scored a touchdown in each of his last seven games, but is averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry this season. Last year, he averaged 4.9 yards per rush.
Tressel said he isn’t worried about Herron’s struggles, insisting that the sophomore running back has been close to breaking long runs on several occasions.
“‘Boom’ had a couple chances last week where he just got shoestringed and you could see where he might pop it,” he said. “All you need is to pop it and all your yards per carry is totally skewed… Boom will be fine.”