COLUMBUS - When John Cooper ends his weekly Monday press conference quoting Shakespeare, followed by a big smile, it's very unusual.
Yesterday it was all but inconceivable.
It's “Michigan week” down here!
Time to batten down the hatches, button up the lips of those players who can sink ships with the wrong quote, bury the records of Ohio State-Michigan games past, stiff-arm the press and attempt to keep a stiff upper lip and an unflappable resolve.
Not so yesterday as players and coaches alike exuded an air of confidence and congeniality while not allowing anyone to extract even one syllable of controversy.
If you were to believe the Buckeyes, the Wolverines are the best team ever, their sometimes woeful defense is all of a sudden totally uncompromising and their offense is all but unstoppable. Everyone stopped just short of singing, “Hail To The Victors.”
The line of questioning leading up to Cooper's quotation had to do with what he expected from his quarterback, Steve Bellisari on Saturday against the Wolverines.
“I want Steve or anyone else to play as well as they're capable of playing,” Cooper responded. “Go out there and play up to your ability. Play as good of a game as you're capable of playing. That's all you can ask.”
Cooper was then asked if he warns his players not to be too “juiced.”
He replied, “I think you can be too juiced,” then waxed poetic:
“What more can you ask a man than to give it all within his span;
Give it all, it seems to me, is not too far from vic-to-ry.”
“How's that?” Cooper asked. “Shakespeare. How's that?”
What's with this poetry and snippets of gaiety during Michigan week?
There are those who would counter: “Roses are red, violets are blue, 2-9-1 reminds me of you.”
But Cooper doesn't even get defensive about his record against Michigan anymore, his equilibrium of a more relaxed fiber.
“I hope I'm not too relaxed, and I know I'm not,” he explained. “I think you learn that the team that plays the best that day is going to win, not the team that talks the most, or the team that hypes the game the most.
“Obviously I'm aware of what has happened and what could happen. The next game is the most important game to me.”
This new attitude that seems to have pervaded the 12th-ranked Buckeyes (8-2, 5-2) could also be linked to their reprieve from lesser considerations. Now they're playing for at least a share of the Big Ten championship and a possible trip to the Rose Bowl, thanks to previous co-leaders Purdue and Northwestern, which both lost last Saturday.
If OSU wins and Purdue loses at home to Indiana Saturday, the Buckeyes go to the Rose Bowl. It doesn't matter what Northwestern does at home against Illinois because Ohio State would have the better overall record. The Boilermakers are the only one of the four teams deadlocked for the conference lead at 5-2 who control their own destiny. If they win Saturday they will represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
The Buckeyes also feel good about themselves because of the way they came from behind to win at Illinois, stringing together four long scoring drives, including two in the fourth quarter, and settling down defensively. Their zest has also been fueled by Bellisari performing at his best against the Fighting Illini.
Ohio State's three injured starters - wide receivers Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Germany and tailback Derek Combs - are expected to play Saturday, according to Cooper, who admits Combs won't be 100 per cent healthy with a gimpy ankle.
“This is a game where you don't stay out of the film room or the training room,” said a smiling OSU offensive coordinator Chuck Stobart, who formerly coached at the University of Toledo. “You get taped from toe to nose and then you go out and perform. If you see a player taped toe to nose, you know he's ready to go.”