Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman met with the media after Thursday's practice.
First up, Dantonio was asked how much pressure is on OSU's defense to play well when the offense is not getting the job done.
"Well, I don't look at it like that," he said. "We just play. We have to play every play. I look at last week in terms of: it's 10-10. It's 10-10 and we didn't get it done. Then at the end of the game, it's 3rd-and-2 and I make a bad call not bringing it off the edge. It was either stop them up the middle, or stop them on the edge and I made the wrong decision and we've got to take responsibility for that as a defense. So, we go every play and we'll try and compete and worry about our end of things."
Dantonio knows that Iowa has an offense similar to Wisconsin's, but might be even more physical than the Badgers.
"I think they are a very physical team, much like Wisconsin," Dantonio said. "For the last couple years, we've watched them. They are a team that plays with great effort and they emphasize toughness. I think that's what they bring to the table. They are one of the most physical teams in the country."
Running back Fred Russell is obviously a big concern for the Buckeyes. He is third in the Big Ten with 726 yards and can break a big one at any time. And calling the 5-8 Russell and "scatback" just doesn't do justice to how strong he really is.
"The tailback is a lot like Anthony Davis. A lot of people say he's better. So, it will be a challenge for us. (Russell) is a very good football player. I think that he takes a lot of plays when he doesn't have anything and makes something out of it. Whether it's cutback and he's going to find the open hole, and he's got great acceleration, and he's got good toughness and he's strong. For a smaller guy, he's strong."
Iowa quarterback Nathan Chandler is a first-year starter and seems to be a immobile guy that can only do damage in the pocket. But, Dantonio says that's not completely true. He says the 6-7 Chandler can move around from time to time.
"They will move him with the pass and he'll sprint out and things like that," Dantonio said. "But, certainly we didn't have to play against (Brad) Banks last year, but Banks was a difference maker. I think this guy (Chandler) makes plays. He's put the ball up and he's done some good things for them. And they've got some good receivers – I know they've been banged up a little bit.
"They play-action, and they'll set up deep, and they'll roll out and things like that. When it is a passing situation, (Chandler) has been OK. He's done the job. They are just like any other team. They have their weaknesses, but they also have their strengths in that area. He's a 6-7 guy that will compete and throw it down the field. He does a great job of checking off on zone pressures and things like that. So, he knows what he's doing."
Coming off a loss, the mood at practice has actually been pretty upbeat according to Dantonio. The practices this week have been intense and it's gut-check time for a lot of the Buckeyes.
"I think we're refocusing on what's important," Dantonio said. "We challenged ourselves like we do each week – whether we win, or not – we challenge ourselves. I've always said that our guys are goal-oriented people and they're going to try to play as hard as they can. They're always going to look for improvement in their game and I think that's what our coaches do to. We're always going to look to get better in some capacity. You're either getting better, or you're getting worse. So, we're going to try and improve."
What was discussed this week regarding the Rob Reynolds issue? What can be learned from it?
"We talked about poise," Dantonio said. "Keeping our composure and poise. Because when things happen – and there are a lot of things that go on like that throughout college football – it's how you handle yourself that's important. You need to be able to keep your poise and be able to respond in a positive way, whatever that is. You can't lose sight of the fact that this is a physical game and you have to play with toughness and effort, which we talk about a lot. But at the same time, you know what's right and wrong and you have to do the right thing."
With Reynolds out, Dantonio thinks that Bobby Carpenter is ready to step up and prove he is a big-time player.
"Well, Bobby has played a lot and he played a lot last year," Dantonio said. "He's a very explosive player. He's a very intelligent player. You saw him come in last week and make some plays and I think he's ready for this. You know, one window gets closed and a door gets opened. So, this is an opportunity for him to step up and show where he's at as a football player and I think he's excited about it."
There have been some concerns about the middle linebacker position, but Fred Pagac and Mike D'Andrea are still atop the depth chart.
"Yeah, they are still bracketed and they'll both play," Dantonio said. "And then as the game progresses, one of them will probably get to play more than the other. But, they'll both play and they're both aggressive football players and they're getting an opportunity as well because they should get more plays, being it's a two-back team and that type of thing. So, I think they'll be ready to respond."
Jason Bond's experiment at fullback seems to be over.
"We moved Jason back over from fullback a little bit," Dantonio said. "He can play the Mike linebacker and he can also play the Sam linebacker."
Fortunately, it looks like tackle Darrion Scott might be getting back towards 100 percent.
"Yeah, Darrion has practiced this week, so he'll be ready," Dantonio said. "Obviously, he's a great player for us and he's a difference-maker. An impact guy. I expect him to start. But, that will be coach (Jim) Heacock's decision at game time. But he was out there practicing today and I think he's ready to go."
Cornerback Chris Gamble is coming off a rough outing, but Dantonio hasn't lost any confidence in him. In fact, Dantonio thinks that Gamble played a good game, except for his two huge miscues.
"Well, those things happen to all players," Dantonio said. "Chris has certainly made a lot of plays for us in this past year and he can't hang his head. If the guy throws the out, he picks it and goes the other way and he's the hero. The thing that we need to do is play within our technique and he should have been on the upfield shoulder – towards the goalline – and bang it and roll in with it. We just happened to be in a coverage where he didn't have any help up top. And I look at that and say, ‘What could I have done better?' So, no one is down on Chris Gamble. He'll rise up on Saturday and I expect he'll have a good game. He's a great player and he'll bounce back. If you watch his play throughout that game, he shut (Lee) Evans down – it wasn't even close. Wasn't even close."
We asked Dantonio who the third corner is right now.
"Ashton Youboty," he said. "But we can move Donte (Whitner) over there and play a little bit. He's a speed guy who's aggressive. And then Harlen Jacobs and Steven Moore have been also working there. Those are the guys, but Ashton will be first in the game."
Dantonio is not sure when corner E.J. Underwood will be back. The word a couple weeks ago was that he would have to miss the rest of the season, but that might not be entirely accurate.
"I wouldn't even know that at this point," Dantonio said. "I know he's got a thing on his thumb."
With Youboty – a true freshman – as the top corner off the bench, Dantonio has been using a safety as the nickel back. Namely Brandon Mitchell.
"It's important to keep Brandon in there," Dantonio said. "You know, we're just trying to play the guys and get experience and we're always going to try and play the best players. The best tacklers. It's a constant thing. Like I said before, you never stay the same. It depends on how people practice and how they come on."
As for Bollman, it's been a rough year for him. He doesn't call the plays, but as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, he has taken a lot of heat recently.
On Thursday, Bollman was first asked if the Buckeyes have finally come to the conclusion that they are not going to be a good running team this season.
"No, I don't think that will ever be an avenue that we go," he said. "I think we've got to keep working on it. Working on different things. Trying to get some of the same old things better. Anytime in any job when anything isn't working the way you want, you either have to try and fix what's going on, or do some things different. So, it's time to do a little of both."
The Buckeyes are 109th in the country in total offense. What hasn't been getting done on a consistent basis in Bollman's view?
"I'd still think maybe running the ball," he said. "But, 109th in the country is irrelevant. Remember, what our offense is about here is to win football games. It's never, ever – nor will it ever be – about statistics. I'm never going to come out here and say, ‘We're happy we did this and this,' if we lose the football game. It's going to be about what's best for the football team. So, I could care less about those stats. We never had any good stats last year. You could sit there and argue about that last year. So, who cares about that in my mind."
Bollman usually is a mild-mannered guy, but you could tell the "what's wrong with the offense" questions were getting to him.
"There has to be a threat of balance and we're not running the way we'd like to be doing it right now," he said. "So, we've got to keep working to improve. Believe me, when you're sitting around here all week in our situation… what do you think we sit around all day and try and figure out? Am I going to sit here and tell you everything that we're going to do to change things? No. No, I'm not. I'm telling you we are going to keep working at different things and fixing some things. So, there will be some new things, like there always is some new things, and there'll be some old things, like there's always some old things."
Bollman was asked to assess the play of the offensive line.
"You know, it goes in individuals," he said. "You know what I mean? Last week, Shane (Olivea) played a really good football game. And Nick (Mangold) was adequate. Since Nick's been in there, he's done a pretty good job. I think Adrien (Clarke) has been overall pretty solid. It's nice to get Alex (Stepanovich) starting to get back into the act a little bit more. It's just good to have him back with us. He adds a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of intensity to the group. He's just a good old-fashioned football player."
(Not mentioning Rob Sims and Bryce Bishop there speaks volumes.)
Iowa's defense is one of the best in the Big Ten and no one knows it better than Bollman. He's watched a lot of film on the Hawkeyes this week, trying to find any cracks.
"Their defense is really, really good," Bollman said. "Their defense is really, really good up front. Their defensive line is outstanding. They've got three starters back and the fourth guy who was not a starter last year is an outstanding player. Those guys are really, really good and they make everyone else on the defense better. They are good in all phases of the game: great technique; very tough; quick; physical. Everything you could say about those defensive linemen is good.
"On top of that, their linebackers run very well and they are always very well protected by those guys up front. And they are experienced everywhere too. So, it will be a great challenge to go out and play these guys."
Bollman was asked one more time to pinpoint what's wrong with OSU's offense.
"We've got to be able to move the ball and get first downs," he said. "I mean, how you go about fixing that is consistency. We've got to be able to have some threat with the run. But, again, every game, you talk about how a game goes. What are the things that are involved in the game? Just like the N.C. State game, we got into overtime. You know, we had trouble running the ball, so we got in the overtime and threw three touchdowns. I think we ran one quarterback draw and that was it. So, it's how the game goes. It's the same old thing: offense is about not making mistakes. You can sit and talk about what you have to do, what you have to accomplish, but the bottom line is that if we don't make mistakes, we have a chance to be pretty successful on offense. Pretty successful as a football team."
Like head coach Jim Tressel always does, Bollman stresses the importance of eliminating turnovers.
"Earlier in the year, some of our biggest problems were turnovers," he said. "Again, we had a couple this week, but that's a thing that you keep working on. So, if I was going to change one thing, it would be not turning the ball over. We can go back to the history of some things. Last year in the Penn State game, we turned the ball over four times and still were able to squeak out a win. The bottom line is: don't make mistakes and score points. However we can do that – however it happens – we've got to keep working towards those things."