Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 10/11/11
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For Ohio State, things were different -- to say the least -- long before the 2011 season kicked off. Now, at 3-3 and on a two-game losing streak, things are very different. All any current Buckeyes player knows is winning. Often. The last time Ohio State didn't win at least a share of the Big Ten title was 2004. The last time Ohio State lost two straight games was 2004. The Buckeyes have played in three national championship games and eight BCS bowl games since 2002. After blowing a 21-point lead at Nebraska last weekend, the Buckeyes go to No. 15 Illinois this Saturday. Illinois is 6-0. It's not like the whole Big Ten has been turned upside down. It's just that Ohio State has established little rhythm or consistency in any area of the game -- including knowing which players will be available in the days leading up to games -- and that has led to anything but the dominance folks around Columbus are used to knowing. A loss Saturday in Champaign would put the Buckeyes under .500 in October for the first time since 1988, and that -- plus all of the above, really -- serves as motivation on the practice field this week. "The only thing that allows me to sleep a little bit at night (is knowing) that those guys are workers," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said. "They're fighting for each other. They believe in each other, and I don't think there's anything that can drive them apart." That's been tested for months now, as the Buckeyes might lead the nation in distractions and players who have had to retain attorneys. Through a coaching change, suspensions, re-suspensions, quarterback changes and two of the most difficult losses -- under very different circumstances -- in recent memory in the last two weeks, the Buckeyes are still trying to put four good quarters of football together and hope that can carry over into a strong finish. At 0-2 in the Big Ten, things seem bleak. But Ohio State's search for positives starts with the thought that the ankle injury that knocked quarterback Braxton Miller out of the Nebraska game isn't major -- Miller was fine at Tuesday's practice, according to teammates -- and that both losses were out of division in the Big Ten's new two-division alignment. Ohio State starts Leaders Division play Saturday, then has a week off before hosting red-hot and also undefeated Wisconsin. If the Buckeyes are going to get back to their winning ways -- and make sleep for Fickell come any easier -- it starts immediately. "We can't look any further ahead than today," Fickell said. "That's just where we are. You drive yourself batty trying to do anything else. So no, I don't give that (added pressure) any thought. I think about each and every day how we can get better, worry about those players and what's their mental state and how do we continue to motivate them and still have the energy, because it's the leadership role, and if you don't have energy, then how can the people around you have energy? "If you don't have confidence, how can the people around you have confidence? That's where you spend all your time focusing, not what can happen in the future." Fickell shifted that focus to the future by not dwelling on the Nebraska finish, which came after Miller lost a fumble, the Buckeyes got pass-happy with backup Joe Bauserman and Nebraska started finding holes for its runner and slipping tackles it didn't early in the game. This week's film study was short, and though it was anything but sweet, the message to move ahead quickly was received. "We watched a few cut-ups of Nebraska and then it was on to Illinois," senior center Mike Brewster said. "We looked more at the things we did wrong and cleaned those up. "Everything that's happened in the past, we can't dwell on it. We have to keep fighting to get better and not dwell on it." Said tight end Jake Stoneburner: "We learned from the negative Sunday and now we're on to Illinois. We have to stay positive."
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