Not only do the Buckeyes need to continue winning if they have any hopes of earning another conference crown and a possible trip to the Rose Bowl, but Tressel said Tuesday at his weekly press luncheon that the test at Kinnick Stadium has been important for some time.
"I'm not sure you could heighten this one any more or less," Tressel said of the rematch of the 2009 game that was won by the Buckeyes 27-24 in overtime. "All summer long and all fall long, people have circled this game. … They know what this game, and we know what this game, is all about. I don't expect their loss or our win this past week to have much effect on that. I expect what goes on in the game will have the effect on the emotion of the game."
The emotion of the game got to Tressel in Ohio State's win last weekend against Penn State. After watching his team fall being the Nittany Lions 14-3 at halftime, he gave an impassioned speech that sparked his team to score 35 unanswered points en route to a 38-14 victory. Tressel said he was disappointed in his team's effort in the first half – other than the crucial fourth-down stop deep in OSU territory by his defense late in the second quarter.
"I was disappointed that we weren't playing like we were capable of playing," he said. "We've all been in games where you played as well as you could play and you lost. It happens. … I didn't think we were playing anywhere near where we were capable of playing. We were playing against a team that they knew was good. We play them every year. It's not like we hadn't played them in a while."
Early struggles have been a common theme in some of Ohio State's games this season. Illinois and Penn State all held first-half leads before falling to the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin never trailed in its win in Madison. Tressel said the Buckeyes need to avoid what happened to the last team to face the Hawkeyes after a loss. Following a home defeat to Wisconsin on Oct. 23, Iowa crushed previously undefeated Michigan State 37-6 after the Spartans got off to a terrible start.
"They're going to be lights out," Tressel said.
Tressel said it is up to the individual coaches and players to make sure a slow start does not happen in Iowa.
"I don't know if it's anything collectively you can do as a group," Tressel said. "I've got to take the responsibility of having myself ready to do whatever it is that needs to be done as well as it needs to be done against some very, very good people and bring along with it the emotion that needs to be there. If you don't have that, it's not going to happen. I think you can encourage one another and make one another accountable and all those things, but ultimately I hope we have a group of individuals that collectively bring it."
Injuries, which had been a major topic at many luncheons this season, were a footnote. Other than giving an update on injured back cornerback Donnie Evege, who dressed for the Penn State game but will likely not play again in the regular season, Tressel said there were no ailments to update.
"We're good," he said.
Tressel also talked about the play of one of his former quarterbacks, Troy Smith. The Heisman Trophy winner led San Francisco to a second-straight victory in his second start at QB for the 49ers. Tressel talked about a conversation he had with Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome when Smith was with the Ravens.
"He told me without question Troy was the finest natural leader that maybe he'd ever seen and that there was no doubt in his mind he was going to be a starter in the NFL," Tressel said.
Smith's opportunity did not come in Baltimore, but he is making the most of his shot with the 49ers. Tressel, for one, is not surprised.
"I thought he had the arm. I knew he had the toughness. I knew he loved studying the game. He had grown to enjoy that," Tressel said. "And the rest is sometimes a little bit of luck here and there."