The mood is unusually upbeat in Columbus these days, following an extended period of gloom and doom. The Buckeyes have defeated two ranked opponents in their last two games, and managed to put themselves back in the title picture in the Big Ten's Leaders Division.
A road win over then unbeaten and flying high Illinois was followed by a stunning comeback victory against then No. 12 Wisconsin, the team many saw as the best of the Big Ten when this season started.
The Buckeyes trailed early, then surged and led 26-14 with less than five minutes to play, fell behind when Wisconsin scored two quick touchdowns, then got the game-winner in the final 20 seconds. The celebration was intense, but first-year head coach Luke Fickell made sure he brought his team back to earth quickly.
Fickell said that with a 1-8 Indiana team coming to town next, he wanted to make certain his team got back to business. There are four games left in the season and each one becomes a championship elimination contest.
"There will be no letdown," Fickell barked. "We've got a lot better chance at being able to push them now, too, when they're feeling pretty good about themselves."
Ohio State (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) appears to have made a dramatic turnaround after starting 0-2 in the conference and 3-3 through six games. Fickell, who has spent nearly 15 years total at Ohio State as a player and a coach, said that success is always the hardest thing to handle around the program, since so many people are passionately invested in the Buckeyes.
"Criticism, yes, it can drain you emotionally, but really to handle criticism it just makes you tougher," he said. "It's when things are going successfully and things are happening positively for you -- to me that's every bit as much as a distraction as the negative stuff."
Fickell said he and his team will ignore Indiana's record and the Hoosiers' struggles this season. Ohio State's focus is on where this game falls on the schedule -- at the start of the month that really matters.
"November is where the real games begin," Fickell said. "And we say it again -- how you start isn't exactly what they remember, but how you finish is the key. And November's always been a focus for us."
--DL John Simon has five sacks for 36 yards in losses and 10 total tackles for losses of 42 yards. He drew praise from his coach recently for his long-running high motor. "He is as good on the 75th snap as he is on his first," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said about Simon.
--Ohio State QB Braxton Miller ran for the first two touchdowns of his career in the win over Wisconsin, and then threw a 40-yard pass in the closing seconds to give the Buckeyes the victory. Miller won Big Ten freshman of the week honors for his biggest game to date.
--RB Dan Herron has helped lead the Buckeyes to 20 wins in the 21 games where he has rushed for at least 55 yards. Going into the Indiana game, Herron needs just 32 yards to reach 2,500 for his career.
SERIES HISTORY: Ohio State leads Indiana 66-12-5 (last meeting, 2010, 38-10 Ohio State)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Buckeyes are going to put the ball in the hands of senior RB Dan Herron and challenge Indiana to stop them -- the same way they did against Illinois and Wisconsin. The strong running of Herron, who had 160 yards against the Badgers, will open up the best opportunities for freshman QB Braxton Miller. The OSU line seems to have found its groove, making this look more like a traditional Ohio State power offense.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Ohio State got the attention of everyone in the Big Ten when it held Wisconsin to more than 150 yards below its average, and allowed the Badgers just 89 yards on 29 carries in the recent OSU win. After a somewhat shaky start, this unit appears to be maturing into another stout Ohio State defense. DL John Simon has been virtually unblockable at times, while LB Andrew Sweat is all over the field. The backside is still young and a tad too daring, but there are plenty of play-makers in the bunch.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the way we've kind of always done it here, is that you focus on yourselves and what you can do to get better. Whether it's Wisconsin or Indiana, you still focus on how you can get better as a team." -- Ohio State coach Luke Fickell on his approach to preparing his team to play.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Indiana at Ohio State, Nov. 5 -- The Buckeyes face the Big Ten's worst defense, one that has been allowing better than 36 points and nearly 460 yards per game. It could get ugly if Ohio State maintains its recent high level of play.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Ohio State will have to resist all the temptations to leap forward and ponder the critical upcoming showdowns with Penn State and Michigan. Indiana is likely the Big Ten's weakest team at this juncture, so the Buckeyes will work on tightening up their act. "It's about us getting better and we're going to make sure those guys understand that our preparation will match up with our performance," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Braxton Miller -- He had a career high 99 yards rushing in the dramatic win over Wisconsin and also passed for 89 yards, scored his first touchdown of the season against the Badgers. Miller hit freshman WR Devin Smith with a 40-yard touchdown pass on Ohio State's final play.
RB Dan Herron -- Had a career-high 33 carries for 160 yards in the win over Wisconsin. Herron has played in just the past two games after starting the season with six games worth of suspensions.
RB Carlos Hyde -- He was Ohio State's primary workhorse before senior Dan Herron returned from suspension and has been publicly grumbling about his reduced playing time since Herron came back two games ago. There are consistent rumors that Hyde, who did not play against Wisconsin, is considering transferring.
LB Andrew Sweat -- Had eight tackles against Wisconsin and made a key pass break-up on the game's final play to preserve the win. Sweat leads the Buckeyes with 57 tackles.