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Published: Tuesday, 1/6/2009

Finality sets in for senior class

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, right, and Texas coach Mack Brown watch medical personnel work on Shaun Lane. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, right, and Texas coach Mack Brown watch medical personnel work on Shaun Lane.
PAUL CONNORS / AP Enlarge

PHOENIX - Until last night, there was always the specter of at least one more game for Ohio State's 28 seniors.

That size XXL class, which came into the Fiesta Bowl matchup with Texas holding a four year record of 43-7, four wins over rival Michigan, and four straight Big Ten championships, carried a bundle of emotions into its sayonara appearance.

"We'll all be focusing in on the game, but it will be hard to fight off the emotions involved," senior kicker Ryan Pretorius said. "It will be the last time putting on that jersey, last time running out on the field together - the last time for so much of what has become such familiar experiences together. It will definitely be emotional."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said over the last few days of preparation for the bowl game, the finality of it all really hit the OSU players and the coaches.

"There will be a wide range of emotions," Tressel said. "We've got guys who have done extraordinary things, so there is a huge range of emotions. This group as it is at this moment will never be together again the same way. They'll never be back."

That over-sized cluster of Buckeyes, which came about because a number of NFL caliber players opted to return to Ohio State rather than turn pro following last season, included 12 Buckeyes who were starters last night on either offense or defense, as well as the kicker and punter.

Tressel said the seniors will be recognized for their championships, individual honors, and their many accomplishments as a team, but what Tressel will miss most is their presence.

"People keep all kinds of

records of wins and losses," Tressel said, "but the thing I've always cherished is the process toward those records."

2 QB SYSTEM: The Buckeyes did not wait long to roll out the two-quarterback offense Tressel said they had been tinkering with during bowl prep. On the first offensive play of last night's game, senior backup Todd Boeckman lined up in the shotgun with freshman starter Terrelle Pryor split outside to the right as a receiver.

Boeckman went the other direction on the play and completed a 14-yard pass to Brian Robiskie. Ohio State utilized the formation with both quarterbacks on the field about a half dozen times in the first half, with limited additional success.

Texas coach Mack Brown, asked before the game about the prospect of seeing both Pryor and Boeckman on the field at the same time, reminded everyone of how effective the two-quarterback deal had worked for Texas.

"We hope it works as well as ours - I think ours had five plays for minus-12 yards," Brown said. "We put a lot of time into it and talked about it, and it carried the media in Austin for about six months. Now they forgot the names."

LANE INJURED: Ohio State senior special teams player Shaun Lane, the son of former Buckeyes captain Garcia Lane, was hurt late in the second quarter of last night's game after making a high-velocity hit on Jordan Shipley of Texas.

Lane was the first to make contact with Shipley on a kickoff return and stopped him on contact at the Texas 25-yard line. Lane was removed from the field on a cart as a precautionary measure. He waved his left hand and pumped his left fist to the crowd as the cart carried him off.

Team officials told the Associated Press Lane was able to move his arms and legs and appeared to be fine but was taken to a hospital as a precaution.

SPEED DRILLS: As it has been in its most recent bowl games, Ohio State's overall team speed had been called into question in advance of last night's matchup with Texas. Senior tight end Rory Nicol said you can't expect the scout team or a practice situation to be able to duplicate what the Buckeyes would see from the Longhorns in last night's game.

"I think the physicality of the game and the speed are hard to simulate," Nicol said. "That's something we've been trying to work on here, to keep the game speed alive. We've been doing a lot of live situations here that maybe we didn't do in the past."

STEAK UM: The last time they were out here, the Buckeyes raved about the food at the Phoenix area In-N-Out Burger fast food restaurants. And then some felt they played slow against Florida and wondered if there was a connection.

In that context, Anderson Russell's comments in the days leading up to the game might have been a little unsettling.

"There's also a lot of stuff to do at the hotel ... and the food ... we eat all the time," Russell said. "Man, you've got to be careful out there. You can mess around and gain five pounds before the game."

BUTTERFLIES: Tressel indicated that once the practices are over and the preparation complete, the waiting for the game to start is torture.

"I think the last 36 hours are the most difficult because we are the kind of people that always want to be doing something," he said.

"The players have heard the same things so many times that you just want that clock to tick. Probably the only thing worse than the 36 hours before the game is the hour before the game because you are really feeling as if you're fairly useless and so forth."

Tressel said he is not immune to the jitters that will afflict his players. "Of course I get butterflies. If it is important to you, you get nervous about it," Tressel said.

MORE NERVES: Texas' Brown said he is part of the group that gets anxious before the game, a condition legendary Longhorns coach Darrell Royal told Brown is part of the business.

"I asked coach Royal once, and he said, did you have trouble sleeping the night before a big game, and at Texas they are all big, unless you lose one, then it gets real big," Brown said.

"He said that unless you gag before you brush your teeth on Saturday morning, you are not ready to play. And I gagged this morning. So I think I'm fine."

MODERN MARVEL: The University of Phoenix Stadium was brand spanking new when the Buckeyes played here two years ago against Florida in the 2006 national championship game. The home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, it remains an engineering marvel.

The stadium was built with the first fully retractable natural grass playing field in North America. The more than two-acre grass field sits on a huge, metal 18.9-million pound tray. The turf rolls outside the stadium and stays there in the sun until game day, allowing it to receive the maximum amount of sunshine and minimizing humidity problems inside the stadium.

The stadium's designers estimate having the rollout field saves $50 million in costs since it is more cost effective to move the field than to install and operate a retractable roof large enough to give the grass the necessary amount of sunshine.

The field tray sits on 13 rail tracks and 42 rows of wheels, 546 steel wheels in all. The roll out playing field moves at about 1/8 miles per hour and takes about 75 minutes to travel the complete distance.



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