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Published: 9/10/2010

Can OSU thrive in spotlight?

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS — In the moments after Ohio State's 45-7 season-opening win over Marshall nine days ago, the excitement and euphoria following a solid and convincing performance was ratcheted down with a quick history lesson.

Next up was one of those “big” national profile kind of games — against Miami, at home — and the Buckeyes had been something akin to underwhelming in their most recent opportunities in such a showcase.

A few retrospective comments from coach Jim Tressel about their shortcomings against Texas and Southern California in Ohio Stadium snapped his team to attention.

“After the game, coach Tressel said the last time we had a big game here at the ‘Shoe, we didn't come through,” sophomore tight end Jake Stoneburner said. “Our focus is the whole world will be watching. We want to make sure they can see what we can do.”

During Tressel's nine seasons as head coach, Ohio State is 26-2 in non-conference games at home, but those two losses have haunted this team, since they were opportunities wasted in potential statement games. Those rare defeats came last season to No. 3-ranked USC, 18-15, and in 2005 to No. 2 Texas, 25-22. Ohio State is 31-4 overall in regular season non-conference games since 2001.

“This is going to be a big test,” Ohio State senior defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “The last time we had a big game here [USC], we didn't perform well and we didn't come out with the win. Miami is going to come in with the mind-set to try and beat us up. We can't let our emotions get the best of us. We have to shut everything out and just focus on the task at hand.”

The Buckeyes, who will play at Miami next year, and then face California, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and Tennessee each twice over the next eight seasons, know this will likely be their best opportunity to increase their standing nationally, until the Big Ten championship is decided later this season.

“What you hope for is to get a chance to play in these games,” Tressel said. “Some people question whether you should do that, because of the big picture and all that, but to me the big picture is the experiences our guys get and the challenges they get to see how good we can get. That's why we wanted to play in these kinds of games.”

Miami brings a swagger and a bravado developed during its dominant run through the 1980s and 90s, when it also fostered a reputation for ultra-aggressive play, and trash talking. From 1983-2001 the Hurricanes won five national championships, and sent numerous players on to the NFL.

“It's always exciting to play against a program that has the history like that, and a history of being successful,” Ohio State senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.

The Miami program went into a bit of a tailspin following the 2002 loss to Ohio State in the national championship game, and bottomed out in 2007 when the Hurricanes went 5-7 under current head coach Randy Shannon. Miami was 9-4 last season, which included a bowl game loss to Wisconsin.

Ohio State junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor said that while the Buckeyes know their national profile will be significantly impacted by today's outcome, he also senses that Miami is aware of how much a win in Ohio Stadium would bolster its march back to prominence.

“It would be a major statement for us, and for them,” Pryor said about the value of an early September victory over a ranked team. “It would be a big confidence builder. They will come in and be fired up. We're going to be ready to go. I can promise you that.”

Contact Matt Markey atmmarkey@theblade.comor 419-724- 6510.



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