There must have been times this season when Ohio State's starting defensive linemen found games to be easier than their own practices. That's because the Buckeyes had likely the best scout team left tackle in America for the first five weeks.
Mike Adams should have been with the starters, too, during that time. But he was serving his five-game suspension as one of the players involved in the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal. All he could do was try to provide his teammates with a good look on the scout team while he counted down the days until his return.
"That part of the suspension definitely makes you challenge yourself a little bit," he said. "I'd be sitting on my couch watching the games going, 'Man, I wish I was out there.' But it was nobody's fault but my own."
Adams was the first of the suspended players to return and have an impact, as running back Daniel "Boom" Herron had to serve an extra game, receiver DeVier Posey got five extra games and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was injured. Adams wasted little time in proving his value.
Stepping right back into the starting lineup, Adams helped rejuvenate the Ohio State running attack. The Buckeyes had only 35 net yards on the ground in the final game of his suspension. In his two games back, they rushed for a season high 243 yards at Nebraska and 211 versus Illinois.
Adams' return allowed younger offensive linemen to slide back into more natural roles and gave the offense a 6-foot-8, 320-pound lead anchor. He was a big reason why Ohio State could line up and run the ball all but four times in a victory at Illinois last time out.
"Eventually we've got to have some more balance," head coach Luke Fickell said. "But we can get away with a lot of things because Mike is a very good football player."
Adams said his work on the scout team, going up against starters like John Simon and Johnathan Hankins, kept him from getting rusty during his time away. And as one of the suspended guys who felt like he let his teammates down, he wanted to make sure he came back with a bang.
"You want to come back on the foot you left off on, and for me and Boom, that was the Sugar Bowl last year," he said. "Coming back, we didn't want there to be any dropoff. We want to be consistent and help this team get better and keep on winning."
Getting a first-team All-Big Ten left tackle back on the field was certainly going to help. Fickell said it's more than just what Adams brings to Saturdays, though.
"Mike is one of the guys who gives us more confidence," he said. "Just in the huddle, in the locker room, he's a guy who's naturally very confident. He brings us a whole lot of things, not just his game but his attitude and confidence level as well."
Adams admitted it pained him not being able to help earlier this season as Ohio State lost to Miami and Michigan State with a floundering offense. Now that he's returned, he's aiming to get the Buckeyes back to winning big games, starting with this weekend's showdown against Wisconsin.
"We have a little something to prove, as we have the whole season," he said. "We definitely have plans for a strong finish."