COLUMBUS — Ohio State is experiencing a herky-jerky ride on the highway of changing priorities this season.
There were the quarterback questions and concerns to start the season, the defense getting pushed around a bit at Miami, two additional rounds of suspensions that further staggered the murky personnel matters, the lack of offense in the conference opener, then an injury to freshman Braxton Miller just when he seemed to find a bit of a groove.
The Buckeyes now move into a bye on the schedule where, after seven weeks of ups and downs and some sideways movement, they have a little extra time to get their house in order for the final five Big Ten games.
“We’ve been through a lot, no question about it,” defensive lineman John Simon said after the Buckeyes appeared to right the ship in a 17-7 win over previously unbeaten Illinois on Saturday. “But I never saw anyone give up or back off a bit. We took each day as it came, and we kept on fighting. We won this game by just fighting through a lot of things.”
Simon, who on Monday was awarded the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week honor after recording two sacks in his eight tackles against the Illini, said that throughout the travails of the first two months of the season, the Buckeyes haven’t wavered.
“Nobody’s blamed anybody or pointed any fingers — it’s always been about the team and what was best for the team,” he said.
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell credited Simon with being a reliable constant in a season so far filled with near endless changes.
“The thing about John is you know he’s going to be there, working every single day to get better at what he does,” Fickell said.
Simon and the rest of the Buckeyes have two weeks to get ready for their showdown in The Horseshoe on Oct. 29 against currently unbeaten and No. 4-ranked Wisconsin. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said the win at Illinois was just what the Buckeyes needed moving into the bye week, since the losses to Michigan State and Nebraska had Ohio State limping along at 0-2 in the Big Ten.
“It’s huge. We needed to win,” Heacock said. “A three-game losing streak with a top-five team coming in wouldn’t have been much fun.”
Tight end Jake Stoneburner, who caught Ohio State’s only completed pass in the win at Illinois, said the victory was crucial since it puts the team in the right state of mind moving into the final five games of the year.
“We needed it,” Stoneburner said. “Being 3-3, we needed a big-time win, and beating an undefeated Illinois team at their place is something that will give us confidence going in to the bye week.”
Fickell said he appreciates the value of the Illinois win, but does not want too much emphasis placed on just one game.
“Well, we’re not going to let it define us,” Fickell said. “We’ve got a long way to go, and it’s about work. But this game is a lot more fun when you’re winning, and this game’s a lot more fun when things are going your way.”
One of the many benefits of the bye week is it will give Miller more time to heal after he sprained his ankle in the Nebraska game. Miller played the whole way against Illinois, but he threw just four passes and ran the ball only eight times, mostly on scrambles out of the pocket. Miller said he expects the ankle to “be 100 percent” when the Buckeyes host the Badgers.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.