Players talk about The Game, more

A.J. Hawk, Tim Anderson, Darrion Scott, and Mike Kudla met with the media to discuss the OSU/Michigan rivalry. Dave Biddle brings us their thoughts on The Game and more.

Sophomore linebacker A.J. Hawk leads Ohio State in tackles with 88 (43 solo) and is second with 11.5 tackles-for-loss.

He is in line for first-team All-Big Ten honors and has quickly established himself as one of the top young linebackers in the nation.

But what was Hawk expecting entering the 2003 season? Did he think he was on the verge of such a big year?

"I couldn't even tell you," Hawk said. "I didn't know what to expect coming in exactly. I just wanted to come in this year and get on the field and see what I could do and help the team out a little bit. Luckily, with all the great players around me, they kind of make it a little easy on me. I just get to run around and try to have fun. That's what we like to do as a defense is run around and have fun and hit and create turnovers and do stuff like that. So, I don't know exactly what I was thinking coming into the season, but I just wanted to get out there and play."

Hawk is a humble young man, but it's safe to say that he's pleased with his play up to this point, right?

"I guess, at certain points," he said. "But, you know, the last couple weeks, of course I've made mistakes. People make mistakes. But, we're just looking forward to going up to Michigan. That's kind of the end point of our regular season. We knew at the end of the season we'd come up to Michigan and everyone needs to have a big game this week."

Hawk and the team are thirsting for their first outright Big Ten championship since 1984. The BCS standings is not a factor right now.

"We want to get the outright title so it's up on the wall and stuff like that," he said. "Of course it would be a special thing. I've only been here one year and I know how important all this is in the tradition and everything that's going on. If we have a chance to be outright Big Ten champs, that's our No. 1 goal right now and then everything else is after that. We'll let that take care of itself."

Heading into "The Game" Hawk thinks the Bucks are in nearly the same situation as last season. He doesn't feel any more, or less, pressure to win.

"Well, of course it's pretty similar to last year," he said. "We're going into the Michigan game and people are saying, ‘If you win, you go to the national championship, and if you lose, you're definitely not going.' So, last year I think we had the same pressure on us. This year it's a similar type thing and we know that and we'll be ready. We've been in games like this before and we're looking forward to it."

Hawk was asked why he thinks OSU is able to win so many close games.

"Our great senior leadership keeps us going all the time on the field and it just helps out so much," he said. "We have 26 seniors, I think, that are just always out there helping us. They've been around and they help the younger guys out a lot.

"We have so much experience everywhere on the field. We have a lot of depth at D-line and linebacker and in the secondary. We rotate guys in and keep them fresh and we have a lot of experience. Us younger guys, we're trying to learn from the older guys that have been in more pressure-type situations. We're just trying to follow their lead all the time."

Hawk says that the team does not do anything drastically different during Michigan week.

"We know the media hype is a little more and it's the 100th game between us and them, but we don't really do anything different as a team in terms of practice," he said. "We have a couple traditions, like the band comes and we walk Script Ohio with them and stuff like that. But nothing really football-wise changes."

* Nose guard Tim Anderson was asked what makes OSU-UM such a great rivalry.

"What makes it a great rivalry is that teams beat each other on a regular basis," he said. "It's not lopsided. A lot of times people say, ‘Oh, that's a great rivalry,' when in actuality, it's one team always winning. To me that doesn't really make a great rivalry. Both teams have to beat each other back and forth. One of the great things about this rivalry is one year it's Ohio State and one year it's Michigan."

The Buckeyes are riding a rare winning streak over the Wolverines and Anderson wants to be part of a senior class that beats Michigan three straight years.

"It would be huge," he said. "Beating them would obviously help our chances at making it to New Orleans, it would give us an outright Big Ten championship and just give us a lot of confidence going into the postseason. I mean, it would be great. We'd be remembered for winning back-to-back Big Ten titles, for winning an outright title and beating Michigan three times in a row."

The team was treated to a speech from Earle Bruce earlier this week. If some of the players weren't already fired up for the game, Earle took care of that real quick.

"He's great. He gets everyone fired up," Anderson said. "He's obviously been around this tradition for a long time and it's pretty amazing. You can see the excitement when he talks about this game and when he talks about football in general and how much it means to him.

"He's a grandfather-type guy, but at the same time, you can see how serious he takes this and how it really goes to his heart. It definitely helps us to stay focused and motivated."

* Defensive tackle Darrion Scott couldn't think of a better way to end his college career. A game at Michigan with everything on the line.

"Yeah, I think this is the best way," he said. "For us and Michigan to be playing for the Big Ten championship and having a national championship riding on the line and having (ESPN's) GameDay and it being the 100th time that we've met… it's huge. This game is huge just like it was last year. Every game is going to be bigger than it was the year before."

Like some of his teammates said, no one is talking about the BCS right now in the locker room. Winning an outright Big Ten crown is the goal.

"Yeah, the outright is the one we want," Scott said. "It's been a while since we've won an outright Big Ten Championship (1984). We sit in our team meeting room and you look up and realize how long it's been. We've had good team in the past that had a chance to win it, but didn't win the outright. Now we have a chance and we're really shooting for that."

Since Michigan has lost two straight in the series, it's easy to think that most of the pressure is on them. But there will of course be pressure on both sides.

"I'm pretty sure there's a lot of pressure on them," Scott said. "I'm sure it's pressure on them and some guys on our team also probably feel pressure. But, it's the Ohio State-Michigan game and there's going to be pressure in big games."

Scott doesn't buy into the theory that Michigan is due. Just because the Bucks have won two straight doesn't mean they can't win three.

"We're confident," he said. "It's not like we don't believe it can happen. We've done it the past two years. We feel really good about our team this year. We've been playing well as a team. We had one letdown this year, but besides that, our team is playing really well together and we're getting the job done just like last year. No matter what the outcome is, we're able to get the W."

Scott was asked which game is bigger: this year's Michigan game, or last year's Fiesta Bowl?

"This is the biggest one," he replied. "I won the national championship, but then again, that was last season. This is a new season. This is going to be my last regular season game and we're playing Michigan and everything is on the line and this is the biggest one, definitely.

"We're hoping to go in there and do what we have to do and take care of Michigan, but it's going to be tough. It's going to be a dogfight. It's Ohio State-Michigan and it's going to be a smash-mouth type of game."

* Defensive end Mike Kudla made the play of his young career in the win over Purdue with a fumble recovery for a touchdown. It appeared as though Will Smith forced the fumble by ripping Kyle Orton's arm down.

"It was great," Kudla said. "Right place at the right time."

Despite a serious illness to his immune system after the Fiesta Bowl last year, Kudla's body was able to bounce back and withstand the long schedule this season. In fact, he says he is bigger and stronger than ever.

"I'm 20 pounds heavier than last year and a lot stronger," he said. "Last year I played at about 245-250 and this year I'm playing at about 265-270."

Kudla has received a decent amount of playing time this year. On such a talented and deep defensive line, that's no small accomplishment.

"Yeah, it's been a great year rotating in with Will and Simon (Fraser). I've been pretty happy with the way I've been playing this year and the way I've improved. So, I think it's been a great season so far."

Kudla likes learning from Smith, one of the best rush ends in the college game.

"It's been awesome. I definitely idolize Will," Kudla said. "When I came in here, he definitely took me under his wing and showed me everything basically that I know how to do. So, coaches work with me and Will's always there pushing me, so it's just been great to be able to play with him and learn the little things from him. It's going to be tough seeing him go this year, but he's left me with a lot of knowledge about the game."

Kudla's sophomore class is 24-1. Prior to his arrival at OSU, did he ever think it would go this well?

"I didn't even really think about what it would be like down the road, but it's been great to get all these victories," he said. "You play so hard and to see all your work that you put in during the offseason and during the season all culminate and come through with victories is great. It's why you want to come to these places: to play in big games and see everything happen around you. The atmosphere and the environment is unbelievable."

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