Sunday, October 24, 2004

As usual, Hoosiers are cure for Bucks

Buckeyes end 3-game losing streak in Big Ten

The (Newark, Ohio) Advocate

COLUMBUS - After more than a month without a win, Ohio State finally found an elixir for its ailments.

It wasn't a running game, it wasn't the quarterback and it most assuredly wasn't senior (cough, cough) leadership.

It was Indiana. Thank you, Hoosiers.

Ohio State's Troy Smith looks for an open receiver.
(AP photo)
Yup, things change in the Big Ten on a year-to-year basis, but you can always count on Indiana to provide a steady helping hand when it comes to breaking losing streaks. Weak-sister schools like Illinois and Northwestern have occasionally clambered out the league's cellar, but the Hoosiers are consistently there, like that guy on your couch who won't leave the party at 4 a.m.

If you're losing, Indiana is the team you want to see on the schedule for next week. Beating them, as the Buckeyes did, 30-7 Saturday, isn't all that impressive, but when you need a win in the worst way, it's good to have the worst team on the other side of the field.

And make no mistake, Ohio State needed a win badly.

"After three consecutive losses it felt really good to get the win today," said Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter who did his part with 11 tackles, a sack and an interception. "It sucks losing."

And losing can suck the energy out of a team, which has been apparent the past few weeks.

This was an energized Buckeye team that took the field Saturday. For whatever reason, and there are a few potential reasons to look at, Ohio State played with a little more zest for the homecoming crowd.

For starters, the pain of losing repeatedly undoubtedly provided the team a bit of extra incentive as it returned home after last week's debacle against Iowa.

And while we're at it, don't discount what might have been the biggest contribution Lydell Ross has made to this year's version of the Buckeyes. No, Ross wasn't on the field Saturday and instead sat home suspended after a troubling incident at a nudie bar.

But his absence reinforced a bunker mentality that had the Buckeyes turning inward and conducting a successful search for answers.

"We know, as a team, (the incident) kind of brings you together," linebacker A.J. Hawk said.

Buckeye coach Jim Tressel saw similar things and said the Ross episode didn't do much to hurt his team as it prepared to break a three-game losing streak.

"Well, anytime anything doesn't go as to plan, it's a distraction," Tressel said. "But you have to decide if you allow things to be distractions and I didn't notice anyone allow it to be a distraction."

A good thing, too, although the thought here is that a distracted Buckeye team could have probably put a pretty good whipping on this Indiana bunch. Heck, they might have accomplished it with one arm tied behind their back and Mike Nugent playing quarterback.

That's probably the biggest reason Ohio State won. Indiana is about as poor of a football team as the Buckeyes will play this year, and they played that role with brilliant ineptitude, showing an inability to block, tackle or do much right offensively or defensively.

This in part explains why all-of-a-sudden Buckeye offensive linemen were opening holes that stayed open for Antonio Pittman to lead a 282-yard rushing effort. Yes, folks, you saw it right. Ohio State ran the ball and did it effectively.

"We were more of a unit up front; everybody was on the same page," tackle Rob Sims said. "We still have a lot to work on. We're not done by any means. We've got four more games left and we want to get every single one of them."

Accomplishing that task will take a better effort, because there are no more Indianas on the schedule this season. There's Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan, four pretty good teams who are good in just about all the areas Indiana is bad.

So take this win for what it's worth. A victory like this screams for perspective, and a closer look reveals some of the same problems that have been there all year.

This was no watershed moment, it was a win over Indiana. That's it.

But it is a start, and that's more than you could say about anything else the Buckeyes have done lately.

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