Spencer Wants To See Running Game Work

Running backs coach discusses status of OSU's running game as well as Lydell Ross and Branden Joe on the eve of the showdown at Wisconsin. Plus, defensive end Will Smith shares his slant on the game at UW and the health of linemate Darrion Scott.

OSU running backs coach Tim Spencer covered a number of areas of interest with the media following Thursday's practice, two days before the showdown with Wisconsin.

"They have a couple of very nice, solid inside players," Spencer said of the UW defense. "Their linebackers are solid. Their corners are pretty good. It is a typical Wisconsin team.

"Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan typify the Big Ten with their big, physical play. Wisconsin likes to get a lot of guys around the football. They force you to pass it and they have good corners."

Spencer is eager to see the Buckeyes run the ball more effectively. OSU is ranked ninth in the conference at 127.2 yards per game on the ground.

"We know if we want to win the Big Ten, we have to be able to run the football," he said. "We have struggled running the football. This is a very important game for us."

Spencer believes the open week has helped the Buckeyes.

"Some guys have had a chance to get healthy," he said. "We've had a chance as coaches to go back to fundamentals and some technique things. We were able to go back to fundamentals and the basics and get physical. Then, for the guys who were hurt, they had an extra week to get healthy."

In terms of the tailback position, Spencer said he still plans to split the job between Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall.

"Both guys will play and they will probably play equal," he said. "Who steps on the field first, I don't worry so much about that. It's always nice to say you're the starter, but neither one has clearly separated himself yet. They will probably end up with the same amount of carries."

Spencer is hopeful that Ross, who left the Northwestern game with an ankle injury, will be ready to go.

"He got hurt last year and had some little nagging injuries," Spencer said. "He's getting better. I think that week has helped him. I know Lydell hasn't quite been himself. He's getting closer to where we would like him to be. I'm sure if you asked him, he would say he's not 100 percent.

"He has been unlucky. It has probably been more frustrating for him than for me, and I know I get frustrated when my guys are not where they need to be to help the team out.

"I think you saw from his freshman year that he is a pretty doggone good running back when he's healthy. Sometimes you've got to play with pain and do the best you can do. Sometimes you've got to suck it up and give it what you've got."

At the same time, Spencer wants to see freshman Ira Guilford get more of a chance to play as well.

"He's getting better," Spencer said. "He's running hard. He's learning what he is supposed to do. He is starting to get a good feel of what he is supposed to do. Hopefully we can get him into the game."

Spencer also believes fullback Branden Joe's return will help the offense.

"Branden is coming back," Spencer said. "He is not 100 percent, but we should certainly be able to use him. We've got guys coming back and when that happens you get continuity. We need to get some of these guys in there to help us out. We think we're going to be fine."

Spencer was asked about a comment head coach Jim Tressel made on his radio show earlier in the day. Tressel said that Troy Smith could get a look at tailback at some point.

"I look at him every day. I look at a lot of people every day I can't have," Spencer said.

When asked if Smith had been working out at tailback, Spencer smiled and replied, "I can't tell you those things. He played some quarterback this week, yes he has."

Will Smith Geared Up For UW

Senior defensive end Will Smith also met with the media Thursday afternoon. He said you can already feel the excitement in the air for this game at Wisconsin.

"It's a night game and the fans will be fired up," he said. "We're fired up because we haven't played nobody in two weeks. We're sick and tired of looking at each other. We are ready to play somebody else. We know it will be us against the fans. They will try and take us out of the game.

"This is my kind of game -- smash mouth football."

With Wisconsin averaging 222.5 yards a game on the ground, the OSU defense will be on the firing line.

"Our goal is to completely stop them (on the ground) and force them to pass," Smith said. "Then, we want to get after them when they pass."

Smith recognizes, though, that UW's running scheme requires the defense to be patient.

"They want you to chase it," he said. "That's when it opens up and they cut back. You have to be disciplined and stay in your lanes."

A year ago, Smith was suffering from a knee injury. But he gutted out the game and helped the Buckeyes win 19-14 in Madison.

"We had that drive and goal to be champions. We wanted to be Big Ten champions and national champions. Our guys were struggling so I got out there to try and help the team out."

Smith said he expects defensive tackle Darrion Scott, hobbled with an ankle injury, to be on the field Saturday night.

"Absolutely. Darrion is a tough kid," Smith said. "I know he wants to play as much as all of us. I know if he's 80 percent he'll be out there on the field, playing his best. If I know Darrion, he'll be out there."

And, Smith said the game -- nationally televised by ESPN at 9 p.m. Eastern -- is the perfect venue for the Buckeyes to stake their claim to a spot in this year's championship hunt.

"Any time you're on national TV, you always have a chance to make a statement," he said. "Everybody is watching to see how you'll do. We're the defending national champions. I know we'll be watching the other games to get fired up."

In another defensive note, linebackers coach Mark Snyder commented that middle linebackers Fred Pagac Jr. and Mike D'Andrea were eager to play a team that excels at running the ball. That means they won't be leaving the field as much in favor of the nickel back.

"I can see the look in their eyes," Snyder said.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories