COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jogging up the tunnel, Ohio State made it clear it had no time to celebrate.
The Buckeyes had already had plenty of time to enjoy another blowout in Big Ten play anyway, essentially resting all the meaningful contributors during what amounted to a walk-through against Illinois. And it was what that warm-up session on Saturday night was leading to that already had their attention, with the last group of players filing into the locker room repeating one simple message over and over to get the point across.
“Time for that green team,” the Buckeyes said. “Time for that green team.”
They’ve been waiting for nearly a year since that green Michigan State team knocked off Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. And after crushing the Illini and keeping the roster healthy on a chilly evening at Ohio Stadium, the moment has finally arrived to seek a little retribution.
For once, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer actually seemed to be a in a hurry to get a game over with, and the weather surely wasn’t to blame for that. The clash with the Spartans has certainly been circled on calendars for both programs in what amounts to an unofficial East Division title game, and the hype was been building for the matchup all year with both teams tabbed as potential College Football Playoff contenders.
And thanks to early defeats for each program, the stakes are now even higher than anticipated since the loser will effectively be out of both the Big Ten and national title picture.
So while the Spartans enjoyed a bye week to prepare, Meyer rolled up an early lead behind his redshirt freshman quarterback and an expanding arsenal of young playmakers while a dramatically improved defense forced four turnovers and racked up 11 tackles for loss. And then he basically moved on to the biggest game on the schedule, giving J.T. Barrett the entire second half off and resting just about every other starter by the midway point of the third quarter, getting the revelry out of the way before the win over the Illini was in the books and instantly shifting gears to focus on Michigan State.
“There’s a lot on the line, and November is when you chase championships,” safety Vonn Bell said. “We’re on a mission, this team is on a mission ... [and ] at the end of this game, it started getting out of hand so we started thinking about them then.
“Coach Meyer, the big man, at the end of the game he just said, ‘This is the week, fellas. It’s time to go.'”
The Buckeyes probably didn’t need the reminder anyway, and a couple players had already admitted before the game that it was difficult to keep their focus solely on Illinois knowing what was looming next on the schedule.
But they don’t have to worry about that anymore. And considering what happened a year ago in Indianapolis, there’s no chance Ohio State won’t have its attention fully locked in this week.
“Just looking at our seniors [from last season], all the work they had done for that game and that moment and not pulling it out, it was definitely a learning experience then,” Barrett said. “Now it’s time to go take care of business in East Lansing.
“Now is the time to talk about it, and there definitely is excitement there being that last year they got us in the Big Ten championship. Now with that, it’s kind of time for revenge.”
First, though, the Buckeyes had to get through one more blowout victory. And after waiting so long for a shot at redemption, they didn’t waste any energy enjoying the win, instead setting their sights quickly and directly on the Spartans.
For the reigning Big Ten champions and the top threat to the crown, a defining moment has finally arrived.
“In the offseason, our strength coach did a little bit of motivational stuff about how that dream was ripped away from us, ripped away by a very good football team,” Meyer said. “We’re going to face a very good team that we have a lot of respect for. It’s all about the most prepared team, that’s what is going to win this game.”
For the Buckeyes, that preparation started even before they got back to the locker room on Saturday night.
The green team is waiting for them.