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Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Buckeyes boost physical play in bowl practices

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Rory Nicol and his Ohio State teammates know they can't change the past.

They can't change the results of the last two BCS national championship games. They can't change the minds of critics who felt the Buckeyes looked slow and overmatched against Florida and LSU. But they can change how they prepare for their next opportunity on the national stage, which arrives Jan. 5 against Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

"The one thing we believe in here is if you do the same things, generally you get the same results," said Nicol, the Buckeyes' senior tight end. "So we tweaked a lot of things. That doesn't mean we changed the entire format of practice or the entire personnel, but we changed things.

"The world changes every day, every second, and we do our best to learn from our past mistakes."

To avoid similar mistakes against Texas, Ohio State has put a greater emphasis on physical play earlier in bowl preparation this year. The Buckeyes are going "live" -- full-contact hitting -- for more practice periods than they did in past years.

The idea is to maintain a game feel during a lengthy layoff. Ohio State will go 44 days between its regular-season finale against Michigan and the Fiesta Bowl. That's the longest respite for any bowl team this year.

"We've done a good job of getting into some live situations where the speed is back up there to that game type of speed, which can sometimes be hard to simulate at practice," Nicol said. "We've got a few periods where we're going full-go, the ones on the ones."

Maintaining the intensity level during bowl preparation takes on an even greater importance for Ohio State this year. The Buckeyes undoubtedly played their best football in November, winning their final three regular-season games by a combined score of 117-37.

Last year, Ohio State dropped a November game to Illinois. And even in 2006, when the Buckeyes went undefeated, they struggled at Illinois on Nov. 4 and beat Michigan in a shootout Nov. 18. You could argue the team peaked in September or October of that season.

The current squad is determined to continue its momentum to the bowl game.

"We're definitely doing some more live scrimmaging, trying to get each other better," senior defensive tackle Nader Abdallah said. "We need more live tempo to make sure we don't relax or anything. It's extremely important to make sure we end on a high note. We have to finish strong."