FIESTA BOWL Ohio State's Hartsock ready for the real thing



Practices have gotten old and the days leading up to the game seems endless.
By ROB TODOR
VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- After seemingly countless days of practice, film sessions, lifting weights and answering questions from the media, the Ohio State Buckeyes are ready to play for the national championship Friday night in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
"I've lost all track of time, really," said tight end Ben Hartsock on Wednesday, who proved it by asking if it was Thursday. "Once you get down here, the day after Christmas, you really start losing track.
"It's Groundhog Day, over and over. It's kind of like preseason camp -- you wake up the same time, do the same thing, see the same guys. You kind of get lost in it all."
Hartsock, a junior tight end for the Buckeyes from Chillicothe, is one of the team's offensive leaders. He was Ohio State's third-leading receiver, with 17 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. He had at least one catch in 10 games this season and his 3-yard scoring catch provided the winning points in the Buckeyes' 19-14 victory over Wisconsin.
He's also a three-time selection on the Big Ten's All-Academic team.
Plays down hype
Perhaps one of the reason's Hartsock is more than ready to play the game is because he isn't one to get caught up in the pre-game hype and trash talk.
"I'm not overly concerned about watching what goes on on TV, what's being said about the game," he said. "I think why this team has had success is because they haven't been too concerned about what's happening outside the immediate family of the team.
"I think that's the way we have been handling things right now," continued Hartsock. "We've shut ourselves in, gone to practice, come back home, goofed around in the hotel a little while. That's about it."
The monotony hasn't taken away from Hartsock's preparation for the game, however. And he's not the only one feeling that way.
"We do the same thing every day," said Miami offensive lineman Vernon Carey. "We just practice and lift weights and it's just repetitious. We're getting tired too but we know on game day we've got to play our best game."
"I believe it's been that way this week," added Ohio State defensive end Darrion Scott. "We want to wrap up things.
"But, we don't want to go out there and go for the physical game. We're [already] a physical team. Basically, we want to take these last couple of days and take it as a mental practice."
Buckeyes' place kicker Mike Nugent, though, said he's liked what he's seen.
"I've actually been impressed with the way everyone's been acting lately," he said. "With such a huge game, everyone has been doing a really good job taking it as just another game."
"Everyone's been focused," added defensive end Will Smith. "Everyone is relaxed, but I know once game day comes, everybody is going to focused."
Scott said while Miami's offense is impressive on film, "they can be stopped."
Counter plans
"They're just like any other team [in that respect]," said Scott. "That's why you have game plans and whatnot. You make game plans to stop a team. You put in different defenses or blitzes to prevent the quarterback and not give him time to pick you apart. They're a great team and have great weapons. We also have a great defense."
"They have a lot of great players on offense, a great running back, quarterback, receivers," added Smith. "But I think we have some great players on our defense, and I just think that both teams, we have to go out and play them hard and physical and play fast like we know we can and be confident."
Smith said the Buckeyes aren't planning any major changes in the way the defense will play.
"We're going to keep the same game plan we have been keeping for other teams," he said. "You've just got to hit them before they can get in the open field and show their speed."
todor@vindy.com

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