Spirits strong as Buckeyes turn sights to Orange Bowl

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    COLUMBUS — What happens when a dream ends?

    For many of Ohio State’s players and coaches, they awakened and fitfully remained so for much of the days to come.

    Tight end Jeff Heuerman, by his latest count, has rewound in his mind the Buckeyes’ failed late fourth-and-2 run from last weekend’s Big Ten championship game “about a million times.” Linebacker Ryan Shazier agitated in bed after the Buckeyes’ 34-24 loss to Michigan State, unable to “stop thinking about it because it felt so unreal.” Heavens knows how badly Urban Meyer wanted to win.

    “Coach Meyer, I could tell it was kind of tough for him,” Shazier said. ”We were all expecitng to go to the national championship game.”

    Yet if the pain will endure, the Buckeyes have eagerly returned to the practice fields. After four days off for final exams, they are now focused on the Orange Bowl and a game that will be as much a test of resilience as it is skill.

    Seventh-ranked OSU (12-1) and No. 12 Clemson (10-2) — a team ranked as high as third in October — are coming off disappointing losses in seasons that fell just short of their highest goals. (The Tigers lost 31-17 to rival South Carolina in their season finale.)

    Every year, there are both teams that struggle to put their heart into a bowl game and ones that rally to punctuate a detoured but successful season with a rewarding finale.

    The Buckeyes insist they are the latter.

    “When you lose a tough game like that, we owe it to ourselves and this team and this university to keep moving forward and not dwell on it,” senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “In sports, there are ups and downs. It’s how you respond to the downs that defines your character. We’re going to keep moving forward.”

    So far, he reported spirits are strong. The Buckeyes returned to practice Thursday, met with reporters Friday for the first time since the moments after their 24-game winning streak ended, and will have seven more workouts in Columbus before players return home Dec. 22 for a five-night break. They leave for South Beach on Dec. 29.

    Meyer returned from a recruiting trip just in time for the end of practice Thursday. At one point, Mewhort said the coach poked into the offensive huddle to “tell me how much he loves us.”

    “Obviously, the national championship game is the game, and we would have loved to be playing in it,” Mewhort said of the BCS title game, which will match top-ranked Florida State and No. 2 Auburn on Jan. 6. “But those two teams that are there have earned their right to be there. We’re focusing on our game, and we’re really excited to play in a BCS bowl. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun at the Orange Bowl. You can't dwell on the ‘What ifs.’ We’re going to take care of our business.”

    STAY OR GO? Shazier said he remains undecided about whether he will forego his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

    “Right now, I’m dead flat in the middle,” he said Friday. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. If I would say anything, I’d say I’m leaning toward staying.”

    Widely projected as a late first-round selection, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Shazier was honored this week as a first-team All-American by USA Today after piling up a league-high 135 tackles.

    Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.