Ohio State hoping to shed big game disaster reputation

Published 2:01 am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

COLUMBUS — It seems every blog, Twitter account and Web page that deals with college football has some disparaging comments about the Ohio State football team’s woeful performance on the national stage the past three years.

Now comes a date with No. 4 USC at Ohio Stadium on Saturday night, a game viewed by the eighth-ranked Buckeyes as an opportunity to finally silence their many critics.

‘‘I don’t really care about the opinions of others right now,’’ defensive lineman Doug Worthington said Tuesday. ‘‘I feel with the team that we have we can compete with anybody in the country.’’

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The game with the Trojans is a rematch after USC’s dominating 35-3 win in Los Angeles last year.

That’s just one loss in a trend that has seen the Buckeyes embarrassed several times on national television in recent seasons.

In 2006, the Buckeyes were swamped 41-14 by Florida in the national championship game. A year later, another SEC team, LSU, put a 38-24 whipping on them in the national finale in New Orleans. Last year, the Buckeyes lost three high-profile night games on national television — the early showdown with USC, against Penn State in a crucial Big Ten game, and in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas.

Not only have the losses stung the Buckeyes, their shortcomings have fueled a national perception that the Big Ten has slipped.

Coach Jim Tressel said it’s important for his players to deal with what’s in front of them, and not try to right three years of disappointment.

‘‘We’ve got to think about the moment — and good teams have that ability to stay in the moment and ignore anything positive or negative or anything along the way and just stay in the moment of what’s going on,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘Sometimes for the younger guys, maybe you could get caught thinking (about the big picture). And to me, that’s dangerous thinking.’’

Still, Ohio State’s players believe that winning this one game can go a long way toward redeeming the school’s sullied national reputation.

‘‘It would definitely help us,’’ tailback Dan ‘‘Boom’’ Herron said. ‘‘It would show the people outside in the world that Ohio State is capable of being one of the top teams and going to the national championship.’’

The Buckeyes didn’t exactly open the season on a high note. They led 21-point underdog Navy 29-14 with 6 1/2 minutes left on Saturday. Then they were stopped on a fourth-and-2 at the Midshipmen 15, gave up an 85-yard touchdown pass, turned the ball over on a Terrelle Pryor interception, and watched as Navy marched downfield to pull to 29-27 with about 2 1/2 minutes left.

Linebacker Brian Rolle stepped in to save the Buckeyes, intercepting Ricky Dobbs’ pass attempt for a two-point conversion. Rolle lumbered untouched along the Navy sideline to give Ohio State two points for a 31-27 lead. The Buckeyes recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock, relieved to escape with a victory.

Tressel said it’s difficult for college kids to wrap their minds around a term so obtuse as a school’s national reputation.

‘‘I don’t know that you can talk in those abstract ways,’’ he said. ‘‘Reputation? I mean, to me that’s an abstract.’’

Herron is aware of how many people are putting down Ohio State’s program because of those big-game losses.

‘‘Of course, you don’t want to hear that,’’ he said. ‘‘For us to get the big win would show everyone out there that we can do it, we can win the big games.’’

The key, kicker Aaron Pettrey said, is to play error-free and worry-free and just let the game play out.

‘‘Everybody knows we’ve made mistakes, that we’ve shot ourselves in the foot in big games,’’ he said. ‘‘So I guess it’ll be in the back of our minds that we just have to go out and play a solid game.’’