Upon destroying Illinois on a freezing and windy night, Ohio State’s attention abruptly and expectedly shifted toward a team it’s been thinking about for nearly a year. It almost happened immediately.
It’s finally Michigan State week and the Buckeyes are already reveling in it.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee might’ve put it best:
“It was right when we got in that locker room down there, we usually bring our coaches to talk about who did well on offense and defense and special teams. We skipped that. We know what this week’s about and it’s on, honestly.”
While it seemed like a crime to talk about the Spartans prior to a 55-14 blowout of the Fighting Illini Saturday, Ohio State’s players and coaches made it clear what next weekend in East Lansing means. Lee, who’s spoke with a certain kind of venom in his voice, was the animated:
“I feel like they stole something from us, that’s how I felt just watching it. I wanted a piece of them last year, honestly.”
Added redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett:
“Now it’s time for revenge.”
After Michigan State toppled the Buckeyes and their 24-game winning streak in Indianapolis, it went on to win the Rose Bowl and become the pride and joy of the Big Ten.
“It was just heartbreaking … I’ll never forget that because I thought last year we were gonna win it all. So this year, we’re trying to bounce back,” Curtis Grant said. “Nothing needs to be said, we already know what we need to do.”
Of course, next Saturday will go a long way in determining who represents the conference’s East Division in the league’s title game in December. The bout is also critical to both teams’ dreams of making the first-ever College Football Playoff.
“It honestly almost felt like life and death, we just made it seem that way down there. And that’s how I feel about it honestly. It’s a matter of life and death,” Lee said. Everything is on the line with this game.”
And for once, Ohio State — which has been favored to win every game it’s played this year — will likely enter Spartan Stadium as underdogs. The Buckeyes are finished with a long stretch of games in which they had to talk of a refusal to overlook opponents — no matter how feeble or overmatched they appeared on paper.
“I’m glad it’s here now that we don’t have to worry about overlooking any teams or something. I’m happy it’s here and I’m ready. Heck I want to play right now honestly,” Lee said. “I can’t wait for Saturday honestly.”
Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer was unsurprisingly less enthusiastic, but you can imagine he’ll try and push the right buttons this week during practice:
“Obviously the dream was ripped away from us, ripped away by a very good team, and we're going to face a very good team that we have a lot of respect for.”
The trick to triumph? Meyer said it’s a battle of who most prepared.
“That's what's going to win this game. And I don't think there will be a whole lot of necessary — we'll do our part about motivation — but this is a motivated team. And I think the most prepared team will win it.”
Saturday night against Illinois was far different. The Buckeyes, which handled the Fighting Illini from start to finish, were decidedly better in nearly all facets of the game en-route to amassing 545 yards of total offense and holding their adversary to 243 yards.
There was no looking past Illinois, Meyer said. Not a chance:
“I didn't feel it was hard at all. Partially because we didn't play very well the week before on offense. And defense is still a work in progress. They're playing pretty good. But offensively a week ago, we had hard practices. We expect much more out of our offensive line than we got in State College. So I didn't feel it one bit. But now I'll focus obviously on this week.”
Because eighth-ranked Michigan State is undoubtedly the best squad Ohio State’s played all season. But the Buckeyes remain relatively undaunted by the task at hand.
“I’m very confident; just because the team that I have,” Grant said. “I wouldn’t trade these guys for anybody.”
“I’ve played up there before, those guys are gonna bring it. If we go in there blind, we’ll get smacked in the mouth but if we go in there bright-eyed and ready to go, we’ll be all right.”