In years past, the Ohio State football team has been able to enjoy a lengthy break following its rivalry game with the Michigan Wolverines, usually with multiple weeks off before its ensuing bowl game.
That’s not such the case in 2013, as the Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0) are set to compete in the Big Ten Championship game for the first time in the three-year history of the game. OSU missed out on the chance to play for the title in 2011 after going 6-6, and was held out last season because of an NCAA bowl ban.
With it all back in play now, the ultimate goal is in the Buckeyes’ sights.
“The chase is real, that’s what we say around here. The chase is on, the chase is real,” sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said Monday. “Coming from winter conditioning, seeing the signs and banners up to now, it really shows the body of work that we put in, but it also shows the fact that it’s never over and we just gotta keep going.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer said Monday the team has wasted no time turning its attention to Michigan State (11-1, 8-0), the Buckeyes’ opponent for Saturday night in Indianapolis.
“We just jumped right into a very good team, an excellent team, Michigan State,” Meyer said Monday during a press conference. “We want to do the best job we can to make sure this team is prepared.”
Up to No. 2 from No. 3 in the BCS rankings, a win Saturday against the Spartans could all but punch OSU’s ticket to Pasadena, Calif., to play for the National Championship. The importance of such a game, Meyer said, coupled with it being the start of finals week on campus, means keeping things in perspective is important.
“I think they are sore,” Meyer said. “And I have got to be smart this week in what we do … throw in the fact that it’s finals week at Ohio State this week, too, we have to be really efficient with our team.”
The Spartans sport the nation’s best rushing defense, allowing an average of just 64.75 yards per contest, and also rank first in total defense, allowing an average of 237.7 yards per game.
“(Michigan State has) as fine a defense as there is in America,” Meyer said. “Very good players, excellent scheme, well coached.”
Buckeye offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman had a more jovial way of describing the Spartan defensive unit, using an old saying in his description.
“I think that they are like fine wine; they get better with age,” Herman said Monday. “They have 11 guys that know exactly what they are doing, and they do it really well and they tackle well and they are always in the right spot … it’s about as sound a defense as you’ll see.”
OSU will take the nation’s second-ranked rushing offense (321.3 yards per game) into the contest against Michigan State Saturday, fresh off of picking up 393 yards on the ground against Michigan.
OSU redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley said Monday the Buckeyes feel they can run the ball on anybody — regardless of their defensive accolades.
“I mean that’s the way we prepare. We’re going to do our best to do that on Saturday,” Linsley said. “We obviously can’t get too overconfident with that, (but) it is nice to know that … we can not block a guy sometimes and (senior running back) Carlos (Hyde) will just run them over or (junior quarterback) Braxton (Miller) will make them miss.”
Despite Miller only completing a total of six passes, Herman said the Buckeyes are still a balanced offense.
“Balance is being able to win the game either way dependent on how the defense, what the defense is trying to take away, and I think we are a balanced offense right now,” Herman said. “And in the case of the game up in Ann Arbor, we were having success running the football, so it would have been probably against better judgement to stray away from that.”
Success against the Spartan defense will be vital if the Buckeyes wish to see their season end with a trip to play in the BCS National Championship game Jan. 6. Even though it is likely that a victory Saturday will earn them that chance, Meyer was in no way ready to talk about that yet.
“I’ll have a comment on Sunday. We play a game — and for someone to ask about something after this game, I mean, that’s cheating my football team,” Meyer said. “And there will be no conversation about what happens after this game until after this game.”
Kickoff between the Buckeyes and Spartans is set for 8:17 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.