Fickell Not Breaking Much From Tressel's Plan

Jim Tressel's greatness at Ohio State was summed up by the way his teams had success against Michigan. With Tressel gone, will much change at Ohio State? New head coach Luke Fickell says no. The Buckeyes have tried to follow Tressel's playbook in many ways as it heads into the rivalry showdown Saturday.

Of all of the accomplishments of the Jim Tressel era, the one that might be most remembered when it's all said and done is 9-1.

That, of course, was the former head coach's record against Michigan, one that almost certainly will never be matched again. That it came after his predecessor's 2-10-1 mark made it even more impressive.

There was little question Tressel figured out the rivalry in a way no other coach ever had, which means his successor, Luke Fickell, has almost impossibly big shoes to fill.

But Fickell did have a front-row seat for Tressel's mastery the past decade, and the first-year head coach said he's not going to be overturning the apple cart when it comes to how Tressel would get his team ready to face the Maize and Blue.

"We have a foundation that's been set," said Fickell, who seemed more wired than usual during his Monday presser. "We knew going into the season that in the situation we weren't going to change a whole lot of things, not that I would change a whole lot of things. Obviously it's been very successful."

So heading into Ohio State's game Saturday with the resurgent Wolverines, who enter favored by more than a touchdown after starting the season 9-2, the general feeling is that not much is different around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

"You walk into the Woody and there's Ohio State-Michigan stuff from the moment you walk in until the moment you leave," senior left tackle Mike Adams said. "We're still the same family here. Coach Tress isn't here but we've still got all the same guys, all the same coaches. We're still doing things exactly how we used to. It feels very similar, he's just not here."

Of course, there's no reason to change anything when the Buckeyes have won the last seven meetings between the age-old rivals. That streak is the longest in the history of the rivalry on the Ohio State side and includes upsets (2004), historic 1 vs. 2 wins (2006) and a fair share of games in which the Buckeyes held serve.

As a result, most the current players are well-versed in what it takes to win the game, but it doesn't help to have reminders of what it might feel like to lose. That's why some of the new signs posted in the WHAC feature results from the games that haven't gone the Buckeyes' way.

"Some of the biggest ones are the signs from the years we lost, that give the scores," junior defensive lineman Johnny Simon said. "Fortunately, no one here so far has felt that experience. We see what it felt like, and we don't want to feel that experience."

Two people who unfortunately do know what it's like to lose in the rivalry are Fickell and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. Both were able to taste victory only once, in 1994, as players on the Ohio State squad and had to suffer through painful defeats to end undefeated seasons in 1995 and '96.

That led center Michael Brewster to say that the two will have this year's team more than ready to go come Saturday in Ann Arbor.

"(Fickell) and Coach Vrabes they've been in the rivalry like us, they know what it's like, so I know he'll have us ready and I know how much this game means to Coach Tress and Coach Fick and this program," Brewster said.

With that in mind, many of the same activities will be undertaken this week to keep Michigan week feeling like the Michigan week of the past few years. One of those took place Sunday night when the band arrived at the WHAC to perform Script Ohio for the team, which usually doesn't get to see the greatest tradition in collegiate band history while it is in the locker room.

"I think the guys enjoyed it," Brewster said. "Anytime you can give the guys some instruments they're going to go have a good time. It was the first time I've seen everybody get to relax and have a good time together in a while.

"I was in the front of the line with a trumpet or something, because everyone rushes for the drums. I didn't put my mouth on it. I was just walking around."

Another tradition that Tressel instituted that still stands are the "Maize and Blue" periods at practice. Each day, a few minutes are set aside for conditioning drills that will help the team come the final game of the year that also keep the game in the forefront of the team's mind.

This year, when the media was allowed at fall practice, the period was often accompanied by an ear-splitting recording of the Michigan fight song.

"It was more of a year-round thing," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said of Tressel's approach to the game. "It wasn't just this week, but he would start, shoot, in fall practice talking about it. He would show videos and spend time on it. Luke has pretty much done the same thing that Tress did."

One thing that will change this week is that former OSU head coach Earle Bruce did not address the team Sunday night, as he had each year under Tressel. In past years, team members had talked in awed tones about the boisterous speech given by the easily wound-up old coach, but the word is that the team is focusing more on itself rather than any outside influences this time around.

"That's just something that we're not too focused on right now," Adams said. "We're kind of focused on us. Having Coach Bruce in has definitely been something that in the past has woken some guys up. As older guys we can look back on those and we have plenty of memories of Coach Bruce coming in, and the whammies – you know how he is."

Adding intrigue this time around is that first-year head coach Brady Hoke appears to have restored the emphasis on the rivalry from the Michigan side.

Still, the Wolverines have to beat the Buckeyes to break the hex, and Fickell said his first crack at the rivalry will include him coaching a team that knows how important Saturday' game will be.

"It comes down to the mental side of things," Fickell said. "Our guys have to understand. And they know what the game is all about. They know what it comes down to. We stress it and we talk about it, whether it was in camp, whether it was a bye week, it doesn't matter. It's something that's always there and talked about. You just gotta believe in it."

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