COLUMBUS, Ohio - Some people may call it a gut check while others may call it a flat performance. Any way you slice it the Buckeyes were taken to the limit with the Toledo Rockets and needed to hold on in the final minute to preserve a 27-22 win to avoid a stunning loss.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge," Fickell said. "We're excited about how the guys fought, how they battled, and how they kept their chins up. This team has been through adversity and will continue to be through adversity, but that is how you challenge yourself to get better."
Things seemed to be in hand for Ohio State after John Simon sacked Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin late in the fourth quarter but nothing came easy on Saturday. Freshman running back Rod Smith fumbled in Toledo territory with three minutes to go and forced the defense to get out on the field one more time to save the win.
"It was an ugly game," Ohio State linebacker Andrew Sweat said. "We made plays when we had to. Today we had to dig down deep and have toughness. These are the types of games you see what type of player you are and learn from."
The biggest play of that defensive series may have been delivered by Dominic Clarke who knocked down a long pass from Toledo backup QB Terrance Owens. But just to add to the drama the Buckeyes saw Toledo convert on a 4th and 14 to get into Ohio State territory. The game was finally put on ice when the Bucks turned Toledo over on downs after Owens was unable to hit Kenny Stafford inside the Ohio State 16.
"If you're going to win, man, you've got to eventually make plays," Fickell said. "That's one that you've got to hope your guy can make. Their guy made one heck of a play, I think it was a good ball thrown a little bit earlier. Same type of thing down their sideline, and he jumped up there and made a great play, batted the ball away."
Ohio State's pass defense was tested and then some with the Rockets for 292 yards via the air with Eric Page going or 145 yards on 12 receptions while Adonis Thomas had 111 yards on six of his own.. Conversely the Buckeyes had 189 yards, all from Bauserman with tight end Jake Stoneburner and running back Carlos Hyde each leading the way with four catches apiece.
Toledo's biggest nemesis of the game may not have been the Buckeyes however and would have been the officials. The Rockets were flagged 14 times to Ohio State's two for 102 yards.
"I think players realize that this is a game of football," Toledo head coach Tim Beckman said. "We have to respond and we have to get first downs. We've got to get a first down to get us out of those situations. Blunders on the specials teams were a big creation of that problem and we have to get those things straightened out for us to be successful."
The special teams first paid off for the Rockets however when Drew Basil had a punt blocked and returned to the six-inch line that resulted in a Toledo touchdown. On the other side of things a big punt return by Chris Fields ended up being a costly mistake for the upset minded road team.
"Everyone got their blocks," Fields said. "II felt like I couldn't be challenged by the punter."
Many armchair quarterbacks will question the decision not to play Miller in the game. Fickell had it in the plans for his freshman QB to see playing time but it just didn't work out that way.
"We were going to use him, we had a plan maybe to be in that second quarter, very similar to last week, but it just didn't work out the way we had probably planned it in our head, and we'll continue to move forward," Fickell added.
The Bucks were dealt a blow on Friday when the NCAA stated that three suspended players were not going to be cleared to play (Travis Howard, Jordan Hall and Corey Brown) and then the injury bug took Nathan Williams out of the picture as well with what is being called a leg bone bruise. There is likely no team in Division I football that is having to do it with less player than the Buckeyes are.
"We're not going to dwell on it," Fickell said. "We're not going to look at that. We never feel sorry for ourselves. We're not looking for pity. It is. The next guy's got to step up. That's what we said on the sideline. Adversity's going to happen whether it's a situation off the field or on the field."
The Bucks hit the road next week to take on the Miami Hurricanes (1-0, 0-0). How many scholarships players make the trip remains to be seen however with the rash of injuries adding to the numbers on the suspension roles.