"We had a heck of a ball game last weekend… we had not played the Spartans for a couple of years. Coming into the game I was certainly a Jeff Smoker fan; I think he's done an extraordinary job. Now after seeing him live, I'm even more of a Jeff Smoker fan. He's an outstanding player, a tough kid. It was a hard-fought football game… we felt very good about coming away with that victory."
Q on how proud the coach is that everyone has been able to get to the point where they are now and in a position to possibly defend the national championship:
"Well, we're really proud of our guys. We've had excellent leadership in us from a group of seniors… they're first-class guys. I've really appreciated the time I've spent with them. They were here as we had the transition in here three years ago. They've just been a joy to work with. They've been through a lot of things, and they've kept us headed on course. We've got some tough waters ahead; Purdue is awfully, awfully good. But as you say, we do have at least a chance at this point in time."
Q on what's been working better and what Lydell Ross has been able to do:
"I think we're a little bit healthier right now than we were maybe midseason. Craig Krenzel missed a few weeks there in the middle, and you need to practice. You need to play to maintain. Alex Stepanovich is back for us; he's one of our leaders on the line, and we missed him there in the middle of the season. I just think that they've worked together; they're getting a feeling of what they can get done. Now, we face Purdue and one of the top defenses in the country, so we better understand that what we do is really going to be tested this weekend, but I think our guys have improved slowly, and hopefully we'll keep doing that."
Follow-up on Stepanovich and if the center is the guy that can least afford to be lost:
"You know, I think that's right. The center's kind of the quarterback of the line, makes a lot of the decisions, and a lot of the calls, and Nick Mangold had to play so much with that injury to Alex and got a good handle on it after being in there a while. But we have found that we're probably better served to leave Nick right there and let Alex help at both guards and allow us to have a little rotation and play six or seven linemen, and I think that has helped us as well."
Q on how he feels about the current overtime format in college football:
"I love the format. I just think it's exciting. It's fan friendly. There's no question about what needs to be done as overtime begins; it's equal opportunity for both teams. It's in my mind an exciting way to handle a football game that ended up dead even in the exciting part of the field, which is the red zone."
Would you change anything about it?
"I'm in favor of overtime because I don't think that ending in ties is the greatest thing, but I like the way we do it. I don't know that there'd be anything that I would change."
Q about if there is a correlation between academic and athletic success:
"I think one thing that's very real that every coach that I've ever been around at every school has had (is) passion for their young people to graduate. There are a lot of factors in this day and age. Certainly, guys going out early to the NFL is an issue. It's something that when a guy has a career opportunity maybe to leave early or something, it's hard for me to not suggest that they go ahead and do that, but we do urge them to come back. Just like Eddie George here at Ohio State just came back after about six years in the NFL and then slowly chipped away at his degree and he got it. Of course, that doesn't show on our graduation rate, but I don't know if there's a correlation between the top ten. I don't know if you looked at the bottom ten of the rankings of I-A if there'd be much difference perhaps in the graduation rate, but I know this – every place that I've been, every place that I've visited to learn more about football, every coach I've ever talked to understands and has a passion that we're best serving our players if we make sure and push and push and prod that they graduate from our institutions."
Q on how the #1 ranked run defense of OSU would fare against the #1 rushing offense of Minnesota:
"Oh gosh, I don't know. I'm sure that Ohio State's numbers might not be quite as good as they are right now, and Minnesota's wouldn't be quite as good as what they are right now because they're both pretty good at what they do."
Q on what problems Purdue presents to OSU:
"I think the first thing they present you is that their wealth of experience and maturity – there's nothing they haven't seen. They're such a veteran club. They don't have alignment mistakes. They don't make errors; that's what veteran teams should do… And then obviously their great defense; I felt going into the year that they were going to be one of the top defenses in the country, let alone the Big Ten, and they are. Offensively, where I think they are even more frightening maybe than they've been is the fact that I think you've better be able to stop their run and their pass. There've been years where they've been one-dimensional; this isn't one of them."
Thoughts on the job Joe Tiller has done at Purdue:
"Joe's done an extraordinary job. He stands for the right things in football and coaches the heck out of those kids and expects a lot out of them. He has great emphasis on the special teams; you can see that, and I have to be a fan of people who do that. There's no question about it – he has taken that program now to seven or eight straight bowls. That's more bowls in a row than we've gone to."
Q on comparing this year's run to the final two weeks of last season and if it is tougher:
"Much tougher. Our next to last game this year is a lot tougher than our next to last game last year, and we had to go into overtime to win that. It's going to be a heck of a battle. Purdue is an outstanding team, and they're just so tough and hard-nosed… I think the road is much tougher."
Is there a sense of urgency?
"Absolutely. They knew coming into the season that Purdue was going to be one of the top teams in the conference and in the country, and that's the way it's played out. They remember full well the game we played against them a year ago. It was hard fought, nip and tuck, and we were fortunate to stay alive, but I think there's no question that they understand the task at hand."
"We played a very good, physical Iowa team last week and came away with the win. We're pleased about that, but for some reason -- perhaps it's called the Big Ten conference -- it seems to never get any easier. This week, of course, we go on the road to play in Columbus against a really, really outstanding Ohio State team, so we understand that we've got a real task ahead of us."
Q on how much last year's game was revisited in the off-season:
"Not any more than normal in the sense that in the off-season, we did go back through every game and evaluate from a self-scout point of view what we had done. We didn't second-guess or play the "what if" game regarding that game this past off-season because we had so many like that. In Purdue's case, it wasn't just the Ohio State game. We had three games that were very similar to that, so if we got playing the "what if" game, it probably would've driven you up a wall and would not have wanted to come out of the shell this year, and of course, we couldn't afford to do that."
Will last year's game be used as motivation?
"We haven't brought it up and don't anticipate it because I think every team is different… I think that your situations change too. A year ago when we played Ohio State here, beating them of course would have been a huge win for our program, but it probably would not have impacted much for us with regards to postseason play. Whereas this year, playing them has some postseason implications, and it could be positive and could be negative, so we don't really reflect much on what occurred a year ago."
Do the players want to avenge what happened?
"I don't get that sense. I think it's a good question because I think it's a natural assumption that they were so close last year that they want to go out and prove something this year, but… I sense we have good maturity on our team. I think our team, rather than playing with a revenge factor, is simply taking the approach, rather, that this is an opportunity for us, our football team, and you don't often find yourself in this situation, and let's give it our best shot."
Q on RB Jerod Void:
"Jerod was a guy that started slow and then suffered a fairly severe ankle sprain, not so severe that it would keep him out of the playing rotation, etc., although it limited what he could do. I really quite frankly thought that he was having an average to below average year until last week. I think that last week, number one, for the first time, I think he was 100% healthy and I think that had a huge impact on his play. I think number two is that like all guys at this time of the season, he's getting more comfortable with playing because he's playing a lot, and I think he's handling it better from a maturity point of view, and of course his experience is beginning to show up now too. But I think the primary difference for Jerod throughout the course of the year for us here at Purdue… Now he seems to be healthy for the first time since training camp."
Does it almost feel like sort of a playoff atmosphere in the Big Ten?
"Yeah, it does. It's a situation where you've got to be successful each week out. If you're not, you're eliminated, and we all know when we play each other that somebody's going to get eliminated, and that's the way a playoff goes, so it certainly has become that type of an atmosphere in the league this year, at least we're involved in it. Maybe it's been this way in the past, but we've never been involved in it. But it does have that flavor to it, certainly."
What is your feeling on someday going to a playoff?
I've been an anti-playoff guy. The reason for that is not necessarily from a conference point of view or what have you, but I've always been a traditionalist. I like the bowl games and the bowl situation. I think a big problem with a playoff is right now, I think college football really has an edge on the rest of the sport from a competitive point of view in the sense that every game in the regular season really counts. I think many sports any more, it's all about positioning, it's not necessarily what occurs in any given week. College football, there's a sense of urgency every week out, and to me, from a competitive point of view, that's the best possible situation you can be in.
Q on the challenge of facing OSU's run defense:
"We think Ohio State has the most physical front that we will have played against, certainly this year. They're very experienced; their linebackers are really tenacious guys that get to the ball well, and their secondary does too. When you watch this Ohio State team play defense, you get a real appreciation of exactly how talented they are and also with the type of passion that they play the game. I think it is an unusual defense in the sense that there's no weakness in it. When you get ready to put a game plan together, you always hunt around and try to find some type of weakness somewhere, and for Ohio State this year, it's impossible to do from a defensive point of view."
Q on if having a similar offense to Michigan State helps in preparing for Ohio State:
"It does and it doesn't. I was asked that just earlier today by our local media, and I said there's good news and bad news. The good news is it gives you a little bit of an indication of how they may choose to defend you. The bad news is they did such a good job of defending them, you're not sure you can make anything go against them. Defensively, they're very, very sound. Michigan State actually picked up some yards by running some deceptive-type stuff, and typically speaking, if a team resorts to that, it's usually because they're really being controlled by their opponent and they have to turn to something very, very unconventional to have success. Although we are not alike exactly – us and Michigan State – there are similarities, and the similarities do help you in terms of predicting what might happen, when you see the results, you sit there and cringe and say ‘I don't like what I'm learning', so it's bittersweet to say the least."