OSU not sweating close game

By Rusty Miller The Associated Press

COLUMBUS – It was just one game, the Ohio State Buckeyes keep telling themselves. Everybody has a bad game, right? We’re still unbeaten. It was just a close call. No big deal.

Last week’s 17-10 squeaker at Illinois got the top-ranked Buckeyes’ attention, all right.

“It was just another game that we happened to not play well,” wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez said yesterday. “That will happen with all teams over 12 or 13 games. One of them along the way isn’t going to be the smoothest ride.”

The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten), who take on another prohibitive underdog at Northwestern (3-7, 1-5) on Saturday, built a 17-0 lead against the Illini (2-8, 1-5) by half-time. Then two things seemed to happen: Ohio State went into lead-protection mode and the Illini started becoming the aggressors.

The Buckeyes had to recover an onside kick in the waning moments just to hang on – to the game, to a perfect season, to their No. 1 ranking.

Needless to say, they prefer to say it’s an advantage to have weathered the game.

“I think it was good for us, to test our character,” defensive lineman David Patterson said. “Guys are going to need to handle that adversity because when we’re playing Northwestern or the rest of the teams we have, there may be a time that we do get down.”

(By the way, Patterson was straining to not say the word Michigan _ the only other team Ohio State faces in the season after Northwestern.)

Coach Jim Tressel made the case that he’s not so certain a close game can or does serve to jolt a team back to life for subsequent games.

“I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a magical wake-up call,” he said. “Reality is very important, and the biggest reality you have is that if you go to someone else’s place, you’d better play 60 minutes.”

That’s instructive when you’re again hitting the road against a team with little to lose and a season to gain by pulling off an upset.

Tressel was disappointed that his team seemed to have the game in its grasp but then backed off in the second half while the Illini regained their footing.

“I don’t want to infer that we didn’t play well at all there, because if you turn the film off at half-time, it doesn’t look much different than any of the four or five games prior to it,” he said of the series of routs the Buckeyes had strung together before Saturday. “Turn it back on, we didn’t do the things you need to do. So will it be good for us? If we learn from the reality.”

Four years ago, the Buckeyes ran the table in a 14-0 season to capture their first national championship in 34 years. While winning seven games by seven or fewer points, some people took to calling them the “Luckeyes.”