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Big Ten Notebook: Ohio State-Nebraska game loses luster

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | OCTOBER 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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It looked like the Big Ten's game of the year back in April.

The conference's perennial power would be pitted against its newest — and perhaps strongest — challenger. Ohio State, which has won at least a share of the Big Ten title seven-consecutive seasons, was set to welcome back head coach Jim Tressel, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and the other Buckeyes suspended for the season's first five games just in time for its Oct. 8 matchup with Nebraska.

Now, though, it's safe to say that game has lust some of its luster.

Nebraska fell out of the Associated Press top 10 after an ugly loss to Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers' defense had shown signs of weakness against such lesser teams as Fresno State and Washington, but it hadn't cost the team a win until Oct. 1. The Badgers gained 231 yards on the ground and 486 total yards. Wisconsin also intercepted quarterback Taylor Martinez three times in beating the Huskers, 48-17.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the team's response to that loss could make or break its season.

"That's part of life — and football," he said in a Tuesday teleconference. "You're going to face some tough situations. You have to respond in a certain way; you have to step up and make plays. I thought we did that well early in the year, and I don't think we did that on [Oct. 1]."

The Huskers' opponent this weekend knows a thing or two about adversity.

The Buckeyes suffered an ugly loss of their own last weekend. A Joe Bauserman touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the game prevented an Ohio State home shutout for the first time since 1982, but in their 10-7 loss to Michigan State, Ohio State gained just 35 rushing yards on 39 attempts, and the quarterback was sacked nine times.

Ohio State's hopes for help in the form of returning players took a significant hit as well.

Four key Buckeye players were set to come back from suspension this week, but another off-field setback will keep two of them out indefinitely. Dan Herron and DeVier Posey were suspended again on Monday for receiving excessive compensation from a construction company.

Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith told the Columbus Dispatch the violation was "in regards to hours worked and dollars paid."

Interim head coach Luke Fickell struck tones similar to Pelini's.

"Don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses," he said when asked how the team needed to respond. "Start doing the little things right. It's a situation a lot of these guys have not been in."

At one time, this game looked like a matchup between potential top-10 opponents. Now it's No. 14 versus unranked, a pair of teams 0-1 in Big Ten play.

But both coaches say they aren't preparing for the game with any less urgency.

"We're focused and motivated. That's not an issue," Pelini said. "The next opponent is coming in, and that's a good football team."

Fickell said the Buckeyes are taking extra measures to prepare for the hostile crowd in Lincoln.

"We try to play loud music during practice to simulate it, but the pressure isn't quite the same," Fickell said. "That's hard to simulate."


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