Dienhart: Defending national champ Ohio State now faces 'The Grind'

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Defending national champ Ohio State now faces 'The Grind'

CHICAGO – Adolphus Washington just shrugged his big shoulders when the Ohio State defensive lineman was asked the question. In fact, he didn’t seem too interested in the query.

Can Ohio State be beat?

“Sure,” he said. “Any team can be beaten if not prepared.”

The time to prepare is about over for the Buckeyes. The time on the clock is about to begin ticking for the defending national champions. All eyes are on Columbus for the prohibitive favorite in the Big Ten. Can anyone topple the mighty Buckeyes?

“They are going to be good, no doubt,” said Indiana nose tackle Adarius Rayner.

“We’re just focused on ourselves,” said Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun, whose Spartans play at Ohio State on Nov. 21 in what could be the Big Ten game of the year.

Maybe comments like that are all akin to whistling by the grave. After all, this is loaded Ohio State squad that welcomes back myriad starters from last year’s club. That’s why expectations for the 2015 Buckeyes would have a difficult time fitting in the cavernous McCormack Place, home of this year’s Big Ten media days.

“I think the team is handling it well,” said Washington of the target on their back. “We are putting the national championship behind us. We just have to get on out grind like last year and keep pushing.”

The grind. It has become a mantra for the 2015 Buckeyes. In fact, the Ohio State players wear “the grind” on the T-shirts they work out in, an idea spearheaded by strength coach Mickey Marotti. It’s a reminder of the hard work that’s necessary to stay on top.

“We wear it every day, it’s on the back of our shirts: The Grind,” said Washington.

It’s all about not being complacent. It’s all about staying hungry. It’s all about avoiding distractions. But Ohio State had a big one thrown in its lap on Thursday when it announced defensive end Joey Bosa, H-back Jalin Marshall, receiver Corey Smith and H-back Dontre Wilson would be suspended for the season-opening game at Virginia Tech for violating athletic department policy.

“There’s no perfect team,” said Urban Meyer. “There’s no perfect program. And everyone deals with stuff. You know, when you’re Ohio State or some of these other big-time programs, stuff becomes a major deal. And this is. However, the indicators that you look for first are academics. In academics, we had the highest graduation rate in the history of Ohio State football. I don’t want to just buzz right over that. That’s one indicator that our guys are locked in.

“Second thing is the weight room. I have the best strength coach in America. We evaluate everything. And then the social element, that’s obviously the one that you keep one eye open. And we’ve been relatively good. So you’re watching it.”

Not having those four players will impact the Buckeyes in that seasib0-opening game vs. the Hokies on Monday night Sept. 7. Remember, Virginia Tech is last team to beat Ohio State, surprising the Buckeyes, 35-21, in Columbus last season. Since then, OSU has not lost a game. A defeat in the season opener this year would not necessarily ruin Ohio State’s national title hopes, but it would leave the Buckeyes with no margin for error the rest of the way and put a big kink in their ability to earn one of four playoff spots.

“Some guys are good at self-motivation, so some guys needs something,” said Washington. “Look at the Virginia Tech game. That should be enough motivation. We have to come out and play, especially on the road.”

Bosa was the preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, while Marshall and Wilson are dynamic H-backs. Smith was being counted on in a receiving corps that lost some key players.

“Probably off the get-go would be arguably one of the best defensive players in the United States of America won’t play in that game. So that’s the one,” said Meyer when asked about the impact of the suspensions.

“I think if we stay healthy throughout training camp and continue to improve Braxton (Miller) and then you have Noah Brown. You have Michael Thomas. You have Nick Vannett. You have Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, and Parris Campbell, Curtis Samuel. We’ve recruited pretty good. Now we have to get them ready to go play. And I’ll know more as we get going. But I’m not overly concerned at that (receiver/H-back).

“Obviously, when you lose the big defensive end, that everyone knows where he’s at, that’s a concern.”

And then there is the issue of picking a starting quarterback. Miller reportedly has moved to H-back/receiver, leaving Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in the running.

“So, basically, we’re keeping score of everything,” said Meyer. “And everything, obviously, multiplied when you start adding 7-on-7 mini field, third-down periods, and all that. So it’s going to be — I probably — when I say there’s not a gut instinct involved, there will be. But there’s also going to be a lot of statistical data that we chart and watch very closely.

“And they’ve earned that right. You’re talking about two to three very invested people and incredible families that what they did — and I made this comment. This is — to think about this is not — I don’t want to say overwhelming. But when you talk about the history of Ohio State football, every one of their names has a prominent role in that history book. And that’s real.”

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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