Never at a loss for words, Florida took the edge off Kirk Barton’s tongue last year. He and most of his teammates stayed that way for a month or so after Ohio State went to the BCS National Championship game and were embarrassed, 41-14, by Florida.
Profound words never found their way out of Kirk Barton’s mouth. He was too stunned, too disappointed, too ashamed to say anything.
“What was there to say?” Barton said. “Hide the razor blades, I guess.”
Never at a loss for words, Florida took the edge off Barton’s tongue last year. He and most of his teammates stayed that way for a month or so after Ohio State went to the BCS National Championship game and were embarrassed, 41-14, by Florida.
“You didn’t even want to leave your house. It was,” Barton said, searching for the perfect but so obvious word, “embarrassing.”
The loss so stung Head Coach Jim Tressel that he made the score part of the security code needed to enter the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex. It’s a wonder Tressel hasn’t shaved that score into the back of his head or had it stitched in his sweater vests.
Some of the Ohio State disdain around the country is embedded in the fact that the Buckeyes backed into the very game that exposed them a season ago.
Fast Florida beat the Big Buckeyes. A year later, the storyline hasn’t changed. Can Ohio State redeem itself by finally beating an SEC team in a bowl game? In The Bowl Game?
If not, some analysts will poke fun of Tressel’s Buckeyes for months to come. Some of the luster of Tressel’s legacy will be rubbed away. Still, OSU fans won’t complain with three national title games in six seasons. It may, however, be difficult to rationalize consecutive losses to the SEC.
“It’s an opportunity to go back and redeem ourselves when the rest of the country says we shouldn’t be there,” defensive tackle Todd Denlinger said. “We can show what Ohio State football is all about.”
If the Buckeyes are tired of the national ripping they’re taking, they have no one to blame but themselves, linebacker Marcus Freeman said.
“We knew it was going to happen,” said Freeman, maybe the steadiest voice of reason on the team. “If you sit back and think about it, we put ourselves in that situation. But we all believe in this team, and that’s all that matters.”
Tressel acknowledged last year’s season-ending whipping has fueled his team’s motivation. But only so much.
“I think any time you go into a big game, you see that all the time from the get-go until you get settled down,” Tressel said. “The excitement and the exposure and all that stuff ... you’re going to try hard. Then you’re going to get hit and see they’re doing something and say, ‘We’ve got to get on our feet.’
“I don’t know that I embrace redemption. ... This is 2007. I guess if we got to play again in 2006, you could have that thought.”
Players admitted they were too comfortable last year. Ohio State had lost its edge on arrival in Phoenix, an area that was all too familiar. Players knew where to eat. They knew where the clubs were. It was like they were visiting a vacation home.
Tressel has done as much as he can to change that.
The Buckeyes aren’t leaving for New Orleans until Wednesday, later than they left for Arizona. They wore their white jerseys against the Gators. They’ll wear scarlet jerseys against LSU. Junior-eligible NFL draft entrants became a distraction last year. Tressel handled that by sending in the names of anyone — 13 in all — who wanted the NFL opinion.
Suddenly, who’s leaving isn’t a distraction as much as what the league says about a player who still has to prove himself.
“I’m sure there was a lot of second-guessing by coaches, players — all the across the board — fans even,” Denlinger said. “We were maybe a little too confident last year and thought we were invincible. This year, with one loss, it shows we can be beat, and we have to get in gear, or it’s going to happen to us again.”
The pace and tone of practices, Tressel hopes, are different. Ohio State seemed to be country club mode last year.
“Everybody has a business-like mentality,” defensive back Malcolm Jenkins said. “Last year was kind of having fun and going back to Arizona. This year, everybody is serious about what we’re doing.”
Coming to the Big Easy will be anything but for the Buckeyes. Jenkins wrapped his head around Ohio State’s bowl game this year rather well.
“It’s pretty much us against the world.”
Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: email@example.com