The question came to Ohio State coach Luke Fickell this week whether he had the authority to change the logistics of offensive play calling.
CHAMPAIGN -- The question came to Ohio State coach Luke Fickell this week whether he had the authority to change the logistics of offensive play calling.
An interim coach in everything but the official title, Fickell is the 37-year-old former Buckeyes nose guard with the weight of the Buckeyes' world draped on his shoulders.
"Who else would I have to check with, my wife,'' Fickell said.
Then came the laughter, but Ohio State football is no a laughing matter in the house that Woody built. Following a bizarre memorabilia-for-tattoo scandal that took down coach Jim Tressel, no one is laughing as the six-time defending Big Ten champs lost their first two Big Ten games for the second time since 1993. Ohio State (3-3 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten) plays at No. 16 Illinois (6-0, 2-0) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC).
The Buckeyes still talk the talk. Asked about Illini wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who leads the nation with 815 yards receiving, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby said, "He's decent, but he's nothing special.''
It's time to see if the Buckeyes can walk the walk in a transitional season that won't likely end with the dismissal of Tressel. Former Florida coach Urban Meyer's name gets thrown around in Columbus as the next in line with the Buckeyes. While Fickell is the fifth Ohio State coach in 60 years, his time as Buckeyes coach is likely measured in games rather than seasons, although he said he's not concerned with it.
"We don't look at it like that,'' Fickell said. "We told our guys we can't look at it like that. You drive yourself batty trying to do it.
"If you don't have energy, then how can the people around you have energy? If you don't have confidence, how can the people around you have confidence? That's where you spend all your time focusing, not what can happen in the future.''
Unlike the series with league powerhouse Michigan (Wolverines lead 66-24-2) or the relatively recent addition of Penn State (Nittany Lions lead 14-4), Illinois held its own with Ohio State over the past 21 seasons by winning nine against the Buckeyes. Coach Ron Zook's biggest win came at No. 1 Ohio State in 2007.
Ohio State appeared vulnerable after scoring its only touchdown with 10 seconds left in a 10-7 home loss to Michigan State and blowing a 21-point lead last week in a 34-27 loss at Nebraska.
"I'm sure when people are down, obviously guys go after them even more,'' Fickell said. "So I wouldn't expect anything different. I would expect (Illinois') best with the confident group that they are.''
Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller is expected to play. He threw for 95 yards and rushed for 91 in the first 2 1/2 quarters against Nebraska. Behind him, the Buckeyes built a 27-6 lead, but his fumble led to a Nebraska touchdown before spraining his right ankle later in the quarter.
He's listed at No. 1 on the depth chart. If the Buckeyes need more help at quarterback, they might go with sophomore Kenny Guiton, who will get more snaps in practice this week. Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman is 3 of 24 passing in two road games this season, including a 1 of 10 game down the stretch at Nebraska.
The biggest addition to the lineup is Dan 'Boom' Herron, a first-team all-Big Ten pick by the coaches last season after rushing for 1,155 yards and 16 touchdowns. He missed the first five games while under suspension for the tattoo scandal, then was suspended for the Nebraska for getting paid for hours he didn't work in a summer job.
"He's a fired up guy,'' said linebacker Tony Jackson. "You should have seen him at practice when he was on the scout team. Having that kind of spirit, that kind of emotion on the road is definitely going to help us.''
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.
A look at Ohio State
Record: 3-3 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten
So far: Defeated Akron 42-0, def. Toledo 27-22, lost to Miami 24-6, def. Colorado 37-17, lost to Michigan State 10-7, lost to Nebraska 34-27.
Coach: Luke Fickell, 3-3 in first year at Ohio State and overall.
Players to watch: QB Braxton Miller (186 yards total offense vs. Nebraska), RB Daniel Herron (1,155 yards rushing last season), DT John Simon, LB Andrew Sweat (43 tackles).
Did you know?: Ohio State lost back-to back games for the first time since 2004.
Quote: "I guess we got a little bit frantic and our tackling went down the drain.'' -- Fickell, on his defense late against Nebraska.