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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 11/17/2002

Buckeyes can play any style, and with heart

Jim Tressel's Ohio State Buckeyes play football any style you choose.

If you like it close to the vest, the Buckeyes will go to war with you in the trenches. If you want to open it up and pass, the Buckeyes will stretch the field and throw the bomb. If you prefer a game of strategy, Tressel, his coaches and players will out-think you.

We don't know yet if the Buckeyes are the best team in college football - that will be determined at the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3 - but we do know they're 12-0 heading into Saturday's dream matchup against Michigan at Ohio Stadium.

OSU can play any style, and so far the Buckeyes have played at a higher level than their opponents.

Illinois, which had designs of handing Ohio State its first loss of the season, learned that lesson yesterday in a 23-16 overtime loss.

You can justifiably argue that the Buckeyes were fortunate to win. Illinois moved the ball up and down the field the entire second half. But that's the way Ohio State plays.

In outlasting Illinois, the Buckeyes followed a familiar script that also carried them to wins over Penn State, Wisconsin and Purdue.

If you watched Ohio State's seven-point victory yesterday, I'm sure you stepped away from your television wondering how they did it.

Yes, the Buckeyes survived. But they won because they did a little bit of everything.

They played tough in the trenches, they threw a bomb to score a clutch touchdown in the second half, they always seemed to be one step ahead of Illinois' players, plus they made a huge defensive stop on the final play to preserve the victory.

Before Tressel arrived last season, the rap on the Buckeyes was that they were supposed to be weak under pressure and lacking a fighter's heart.

Yesterday, the Buckeyes kept getting up and fighting. They made big play after big play, countering a gritty and emotional effort by underdog Illinois.

The Buckeyes matched Illinois' first two scores in the second half with scores of their own, never allowing Illinois to gain the upper-hand emotionally.

All game, Illinois stayed with Ohio State. Illinois trailed by just 6-3 at intermission.

But even in the first half you could sense that Illinois would have trouble beating the Buckeyes.

On top of everything else, on top of the talented players and the coach who always keeps his cool, on top of winning once again without freshman running back Maurice Clarett, the Buckeyes are blessed with an extraordinary measure of mental toughness.

Still, it's hard to watch the Buckeyes play and not wonder how they continue to pull out game after game as they did yesterday.

The Buckeyes didn't win because of some miracle play or magical coaching strategy.

They won because they did what all good teams do when the moment of truth arrives. The Buckeyes executed better than their opponent.

Call it superior coaching, good karma, luck - whatever. For better or worse, it's working in Columbus.

A couple more performances like yesterday's and the nation's No. 2 team may establish itself as the nation's best.



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