COLUMBUS — Having fattened their win total and stats on Penguins and Zips, the Ohio State Buckeyes now get to pick on somebody their own size.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes travel to Washington on Saturday, a matchup between 2-0 teams that hope to use the game as a springboard to bigger things.
“Everyone in our building knows that it’s time to turn it up a notch,” coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday.
Ohio State hasn’t allowed a touchdown on defense and has overcome slow offensive starts the past two weeks to show some second-half firepower. Then again, the numbers from those performances may be skewed because the games were against Youngstown State (a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly I-AA) and Akron (a Mid-American Conference team coming off a 5-7 record).
Moreover, both games were played in front of 105,000 friendly faces at Ohio Stadium.
Washington used to be one of the college game’s premier programs. But the Huskies have fallen on hard times and have not been a national player since winning 11 of 12 games and finishing No. 3 in the polls in 2000.
A year ago, they won four of their first five but then turned around and lost the next six. Beating the Buckeyes could serve notice that the Huskies are back.
“They’ve got all the things in place. You can see that they’ve been working toward this goal,” Tressel said.
Even though Ohio State is a regular visitor to Bowl Championship Series games and is firmly entrenched in the rankings, the Buckeyes still are smarting from the last time they played in a big game. In the BCS title game last January, they were run out of the stadium in a 41-14 loss to Florida. They’d like to replace those dreadful images from the minds of those who watched them the last time they appeared on national TV.
The Buckeyes also feel some responsibility to defend the Big Ten, belittled by many national observers in the wake of the lopsided loss to the Gators and Michigan’s stunning 0-2 start this season.
“I think AP voters and coaches will look at this game and say, ‘Is this team for real?”‘ Ohio State center Jim Cordle said of the showdown with Washington. “It’s a statement game for both teams.”
A year ago, Washington was 4-1 when it took on then-No. 3 Southern California and lost 26-20, the spark that set off that lengthy losing skid. Before that, the most recent time that the Huskies had so much riding on a game so early on the schedule was in 2001 when they were 4-0 and ranked 10th and got blown out by UCLA 35-13.
The Buckeyes know that what they’ve faced up to now doesn’t compare with what’s coming up this week. They’ll fly for several hours on Thursday, stay in strange surroundings and then be playing before 70,000 fans dressed in and painted purple.
I think our fans walked into the stadium knowing they had a role to play,” Washington coach Ty Willingham said after Saturday’s 24-10 victory over No. 22 Boise State, snapping the nation’s longest Bowl Subdivision winning streak at 14 games. “
Willingham said he thought the crowd was worth six points to the Huskies.
The game is Ohio State’s final tuneup before opening Big Ten play next week at home against Northwestern.
“Washington’s going to be a great battle, maybe a little bit better than the last two teams we’ve played,” Ohio State defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. “So we’ve got to be focused and more prepared for these guys. Going into the Big Ten season next week, this is going to be a great test.”