Time off has not been advantageous for Ohio State in the past.
The Buckeyes have dropped three of their last four contests following a bye week, but coach Jim Tressel said he thinks the week off could pay dividends this time around when OSU hosts Penn State on Saturday.
“I thought we used our time wisely,” Tressel said. “Hopefully we will be back on the field with a lot of enthusiasm and pep in our step. We did work out on Sunday for about an hour and guys seemed to be refreshed.”
As the Buckeyes prepare for the home stretch of the season, Tressel said it’s also important to recover emotionally.
“I think if there’s anything that you can accomplish during an open week, it’s perhaps to fill your emotional gas tank back up,” he said. “We’re going to need every ounce of emotion we can get as Penn State comes in.”
Plagued by injury this season, the banged-up Buckeyes got the chance to rest and heal during their break. After suffering a foot injury in the team’s lone loss at Wisconsin, captain Ross Homan has been making strides toward full health, Tressel said.
“The key will be how does he do two days in a row to see if there’s any issues,” Tressel said. “But based upon after Sunday, I would say no doubt” he’ll be ready.
Tressel said he expects both Homan and fellow linebacker Dorian Bell to play Saturday.
Revived running games
A key to each squad’s success of late has been a resurgence from the running back position. For the Buckeyes, junior Dan “Boom” Herron eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground for the first time in his OSU career against Minnesota on Oct. 30.
“I think ‘Boom’ has raised us through his play,” Tressel said. “I think his play has been excellent, and if he’ll play like he did this last month and like he did last November, we have a chance this November because I think he is a difference-maker.”
The Nittany Lions’ leading running back, Evan Royster, has regained form from his First-Team All-Big Ten selection a year ago. Achieving 100-yard performances in each of the last two games, Royster is now PSU’s all-time leading rusher, with 3,652 yards.
“Evan Royster is a guy that now has hit it into gear,” Tressel said. “I think at the beginning of the year, he probably wasn’t himself, and as the year has gone on, just like most tough backs do, he got himself back to where he’d like to be.”
Featuring two of the conference’s elite rushers, dominance on the ground could be the key to victory on Saturday.
“We’ve never been bashful about saying if you do well with the run game, you’ve got a chance to win,” Tressel said.
Penn State quarterback duo
The Nittany Lions will come to the Horseshoe with two quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 500 yards and five touchdowns: redshirt sophomore Matt McGloin and freshman Rob Bolden. Tressel said the Buckeyes expect to see both under center.
“They’ve now played two quarterbacks, and I would expect that we may, perhaps, see both of them. That’s the way we would prepare,” he said.
Despite having to prepare for two signal-callers, Tressel said the duo’s styles don’t differ much.
The Buckeyes are 26-4 under Tressel in November, including 14-1 since 2005. Tressel said his team knows the importance of improvement in the last month of the season.
“I think they’ve done a pretty good job of believing you have to keep working to get better, and if you keep working to get better, you probably will,” he said. “Then it gives you a chance in November.”
Tressel said his players understand the importance of the team’s final three games.
“When I saw these schedules about four or five years ago when they said, ‘You’re going to have Penn State to start your November for a few years,’ I thought, ‘Oh,'” he said. “Not to mention you’re going to have Iowa and Michigan right after them, that’s going to put a challenge on any November record anyone would ever have.
“I think our guys believe that this is a very important time.”