OSU may be looking by Indiana

Published 2:01 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

COLUMBUS (AP) — It was almost unthinkable as recently as three weeks ago that Ohio State could possibly look past an opponent.

After all, why would a team headed nowhere take its next game for granted?

But surprising wins over ranked teams Illinois and Wisconsin have changed the landscape for the Buckeyes. Now fans everywhere want to know what coach Luke Fickell and his players think about their chances of winning out and playing in the Big Ten title game, or of even winning the conference championship.

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But Fickell, for one, says his team isn’t looking past beleaguered Indiana, the Buckeyes’ opponent on Saturday.

“We harped on it and will continue to harp on it in about two hours (at practice) that November is where the real games begin,” Fickell said Tuesday.

“We’ll say it again: How you start isn’t exactly what they remember, but how you finish is the key. And November’s always been a focus for us. Today is Nov. 1. It’s about us getting better and we’re going to make sure those guys understand that our preparation will match up with our performance.”

The Buckeyes are coming off one of their most dramatic victories in years. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller lobbed a 40-yard pass to an all-alone Devin Smith with 20 seconds left to cap a crazy final 5 minutes and give Ohio State (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) a 33-29 victory over No. 12 Wisconsin under the lights at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.

After getting through a grueling series of games — Michigan State, then nationally ranked Nebraska, Illinois and the Badgers — it might be easy to consider the game against the lowly Hoosiers (1-8, 0-5) as a chance to take a breath before the stretch run.

Indiana has given up an average of 51 points per game to its last four opponents, all lopsided losses, including twice getting torched for 59.

Do the Buckeyes really need to be wary of a team that hasn’t beaten them in 23 years? That starts 12 freshmen? That is giving up 458 yards and 36 points a game? That has lost not one but TWO starting receivers — among its best players — in the last two days?

Tailback Dan “Boom” Herron sees those ugly defensive numbers and his eyes light up at the Buckeyes’ potential for racking up big points and statistics.

“You gotta look at it that way,” he said. “Whatever we could do to put points on the board.”

But at the same time, he tries to temper that with the message handed down from Fickell and his staff to not take any opponent lightly.

“We still have four games,” he said. “You can’t take it easy now just because we’ve won two games, just because we’ve got two big wins. We’re going to play Indiana now, so it’s Big Ten football and anything can happen.”

After the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes play at Purdue (4-4, 2-2), host No. 16 Penn State (8-1, 5-0) and then travel to archrival No. 13 Michigan (7-1, 3-1).

In the Leaders Division, Penn State holds a two-game lead on Wisconsin, Purdue and Ohio State. Should the Buckeyes win out, and Penn State were to lose one more game, Ohio State would win any tiebreaker and would play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.

But, of course, that’s still a long way off — as Fickell cautioned time and time again on Tuesday.

From his perspective, he talks about the Hoosiers as if they are the Patriots or Steelers.

“They’re a young group that really has just got nothing but up to go,” he said. “They are going to be wide open. They’re going to be playing a lot of young guys. They’re going to be aggressive.”

Speaking of his own team’s approach to the game, Fickell added, “There will be no letdown.”


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.