Buckeyes put Big Ten stretch run on hold
"We haven't got 40 points very often, so ..." the Buckeyes coach cracked.
In other words, Ohio State hasn't been so overpowering all season - especially on offense - that it can spend much time thinking about how attractive it is to oddsmakers.
For the 17th-ranked Buckeyes (6-2), the game with the Aggies comes at an odd time. They share second place in the Big Ten with Penn State, a game back of unbeaten Iowa, with three critical games coming in November: at No. 12 Penn State, home with No. 7 Iowa and then at archrival Michigan.
Yet before they can throw themselves into that stretch run, they are confronted with a New Mexico State (3-5) team that is last in total offense among the 120 FBS teams in the nation. The Buckeyes had a hole in their schedule which the Aggies were happy to fill for an $850,000 appearance fee.
"If you just look at it, I think everyone can say that we've got them outmanned," Ohio State left tackle Jim Cordle said. "But it's not about them, as coach Tressel always says, it's about us and what we do. And getting better. When you have such a large November looming, you ... use this week as an opportunity to get ready."
The Buckeyes have recent knowledge about what happens to overconfident, unfocused teams. Just two weeks ago, they were riding a four-game winning streak to get to No. 7 in the nation when they traveled to Purdue, winner of just one of its first six games. The result was a stunning 26-18 loss which certainly got the Buckeyes' attention.
"We're not taking anybody lightly," defensive end Thaddeus Gibson said. "They can throw the ball and run the ball just like any other team. They have playmakers. We just have to play football and get better. We have a rough November and we need all the practice, all the reps we can get."
The New Mexico State game is a result of the Big Ten's rotating, eight-game conference schedule. Purdue and Wisconsin are the only two teams which play conference foes on eight consecutive weekends this season. The Boilermakers played all four of their non-league opponents at the outset of the season, while Wisconsin offered its players an early Christmas present by concluding its regular season with a trip to Hawaii.
The other nine Big Ten teams have dropped opponents such as South Dakota State, Eastern Illinois and Delaware State into the middle of their conference showdowns.
Tressel concedes that it would be easier for coaches to open by playing four teams to warm up for the Big Ten season and then playing out the string.
"Yeah, that would be the ideal thing," he said. "But when they went to 12 games and all the holes in your conference and the inventory for those first four weeks, there's only so many teams and only so many games available. ... You had to find someone who could fit perfectly into October 31st, 2009, and that was hard to do. So we're grateful for the fact that we could find a game."
The game affords Ohio State a chance to catch its breath one last time before embarking on the make-or-break part of the schedule. The Buckeyes' top two tailbacks - Dan Herron and Brandon Saine - are both coming off injuries, as are several offensive linemen.
Still, it must be difficult for the players, well aware of where they stand in the Big Ten, to take their minds off the quest for a fifth straight conference title.
"I hope that they do understand that the progress we make or we don't make will affect the next time we play when we get back in the conference," Tressel said. "They seem to be a group that is willing to take instruction. I don't think that this is going to disrupt us."
Gibson was asked if he ever looked at an opponent and figured that the Buckeyes would dominate.
"I can't say that I haven't," he said. "But there's always something new once you get into that game. It's like, 'Wow, I thought this guy was terrible. But is this the same guy?' You've got to be prepared for anything and know they're going to play as hard as they've ever played."