The scene was simple enough two years ago when the Buckeyes welcomed the Fighting Illini to The ‘Shoe for their final home game in an undefeated season.
Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the country and the fans were hungry for another chance at the national championship game. Illinois was 8-3, 5-2 in the Big Ten. It should have been one last chance to shine at home before meeting Michigan on the road.
But instead of cheering, fans watched as “Juice” Williams and the rest of the Illinois team ran out the clock on the Buckeyes. Coach Jim Tressel and the Ohio State players are determined not to let happen again.
“I just remember seeing them and seeing how excited they were after they won that game,” said Marcus Williams, senior running back. “I was just like, ‘Man, this was like their Super Bowl.’ It was an awful feeling, seeing them jumping around, celebrating with their fans in our stadium.”
The setup is slightly different this year. Ohio State is 2-1 with a primetime loss to USC, but the stakes are pretty much the same. If OSU wants any chance at salvaging its season, the Bucks must go undefeated in the Big Ten with a schedule that includes road games at Penn State and Michigan.
“So we get a chance to fast forward and get into the Big Ten. We’ve been saying all along that this is going to be a tremendously challenging September and it certainly has been at that and it begins with the Big Ten and I felt going into the Big Ten year that Illinois probably had as good a personnel as anyone in the league,” Tressel said.
Although they are trying hard not to see Illinois celebrating on Ohio’s turf, Tressel said that it is not the 2007 game that is driving their enthusiasm; it’s what they are trying to look forward to.
“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,” Tressel said. “I mean, 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.”
The Buckeyes are not only vying for Big Ten credibility and the coveted Illibuck trophy, but also for the support of their fans.
“You always have to try to protect your home field. It stings a little bit more when you lose at home because you have all of your fans right there watching you and you know that you let them down,” said Bryant Browning, junior right guard.
The Buckeyes lost at home to a record-breaking crowd of 106,033 two weeks ago, so they need to give the students and fans a reason to keep coming back to The ‘Shoe.