Tressel: Team Didn't Get `Difficulty Of Challenge'

This report has been updated to include comments from OSU head coach Jim Tressel's weekly press luncheon. Plus, we have comments from Tressel and Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez from earlier today during the Big Ten teleconference. Click here for all the details.

Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel faced the music Tuesday afternoon, making his first public media appearance since his team's stunning 33-27 overtime loss at Northwestern.

In his opening remarks, Tressel cast blame on himself for not properly preparing his team for the Big Ten opener in Evanston.

"I consider the primary responsibility of the coach to make sure that we prepare ourselves to do what we need to do to be successful each time we take the field and I guess before anyone would ask what is it that I'm most concerned about, I always like to start with what I'm most concerned about that I can do something about," Tressel said. "I was disappointed that we did not have that preparation to play the best we were capable of playing and do the things that we needed to do to win.

"I think the other responsibility that, as I sit back and analyze and think what can we do better is, I think it's important that we be able to make it crystal clear what the difficulty of the challenge is, and I don't know that we did as good a job of that. I think Northwestern can be a very, very good football team and proved that on Saturday night and I'm not sure that I did as good a job of getting the point across as to how difficult that challenge was going to be as we took the road against a good, solid Big Ten football team. So that's obviously a concern."

Tressel said the Buckeyes did not excel in any of the three phases of the game, so "When you put together all of the parts, it was not a mystery to me why we didn't get the job done."

Reporters tried to put Tressel on the spot regarding the performance of the offense (ranked 84th nationally at 327.5 yards per game) and particularly the running game (90th nationally at 115 yards per game). Tressel was asked about the job performance of offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and if he was comfortable with the techniques the linemen use.

"I would say I am not an expert on offensive line technique," Tressel said. "I have never spent a day in my life (with that). Am I confident in them? Absolutely."

The coach was also asked about who calls OSU's offensive plays and how those play calls are generated.

"As far as the final line of command, the buck stops here," he said. "That's the way it should be. I give it to the person who communicates it (to the quarterback)."

Tressel did say, however, that offensive game plans are constructed as a staff, affording for every contingency and down-and-distance situation. Specific play calls are debated by the staff via their headphones before he makes the final decision.

In terms of the running game, Tressel said, "Obviously, we are lacking consistency there. We haven't had any of those breakout runs, other than the first game where we had that 68-yard run, the kind of run that gets the ball rolling and gets your confidence going."

Tressel said he expects all of his running backs – Lydell Ross, Antonio Pittman and Branden Joe, most notably – to share the load going forward.

"If you look at the good run teams, they have multiple backs," he said. "We anticipate that and look forward to that.

"I think we have good competition there, but not enough production there. That's not a slam on Lydell or Antonio or anybody. Production happens to be a universal issue. Branden Joe brings an added dimension. The rest of us have to do our part – the coaches, the receivers blocking. There is no part of this game that isn't important."

The coach looked ahead to Saturday's game with No. 15 Wisconsin as a chance for redemption.

"The great news is we have a tremendous opportunity here to play the first-place team in Wisconsin," Tressel said. "They are coming into our stadium. Wisconsin is a tremendous veteran team with 18 or 19 starters back. Twelve or 13 of them are seniors.

"It will be a challenge for us to see if we match up and understand the difficulty of the challenge and try to climb back into the Big Ten race."

Tressel shared more comments and opinions on:

* The play of Justin Zwick -- "Justin Zwick, I thought, progressed well. He did some things to show me that every day he is learning more of what it takes to run the show and get the job done. We all know how talented he is. Experience is a great teacher. He has done a great job of learning from his experiences. We know he will continue to have tough experiences – Wisconsin has only allowed two touchdowns in five games.

"And I guess the other thing I better say, especially because Justin's here, to me, one of the greatest things that is evolving and has evolved and I don't know if it's part of the run game or the pass game, is Justin Zwick stepping up and making things happen with the football in his hands. That's why (Purdue's) Kyle Orton's so good. That's why (NU's Brett) Basanez is so good. That's why (John) Elway was so good. That's why Joe Montana was so good. That's why (Brett) Favre was so good. And to see Justin recognizing opportunities and to go and hurt the defense, there's nothing more frustrating, I'm sure Quinn (Pitcock) could tell you, to have the good pass rush, have them all covered and have the quarterback leak out of there and get 17. That is as devastating on the defense as anything, so I think that's a step in the right direction."

* The inability of the defense to stop Northwestern in the second half -- "I think part of it was things they did well and part of it was we didn't do as well as we need to do. I don't think we were terrible. They did a nice job of doing what they do. They mixed in running straight at you with the misdirection and their passing game."

* Wisconsin's ability with a healthy Anthony Davis to run the ball -- "This will be a good indication and answer to that question (stopping the run)? This will be the first run-first team we will have played. Cincinnati did an excellent job with balance. Marshall started off passing and did a good job of mixing in the run. This team will make you stop the run."

Also Notable

* Tressel was joined at the luncheon by Zwick, Bam Childress and Quinn Pitcock. We will share some of their comments in upcoming updates.

* The coach indicated that few players, obviously, graded a winning performance against NU. However, some that did included center Nick Mangold, right guard Mike Kne, linebacker A.J. Hawk and Pitcock at defensive tackle.

* Sophomore fullback Stan White Jr. and freshman receiver Ted Ginn Jr. each made their first starts Saturday at NU.

* The Big Ten just shared that ESPN2's telecast of Northwestern's 33-27 overtime upset over then-sixth-ranked Ohio State Saturday, Oct. 2 was the network's most-viewed college football telecast ever, averaging 2,028,000 households and a 2.3 rating. The game is also the fifth most-viewed program (behind last year's four Major League Baseball playoff telecasts) and second highest-rated college football telecast in the 11-year history of the network.

Saturday's upset victory will also be re-aired on ESPN Classic this Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern as an Instant Classic.

* OSU's games this week with Wisconsin and next Saturday, Oct. 16, will each be televised by ABC with a 3:30 p.m. start.

* Below is our report from earlier today on appearances by Tressel and Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez on the Big Ten teleconference.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel talked with the national media today at the weekly Big Ten Teleconference, and not surprisingly, the topics of discussion included the Northwestern game, the running game, and this week's game against Wisconsin.

"We started Big Ten play last weekend and we traveled to Northwestern and were unsuccessful," Tressel began. "Northwestern did an excellent job of doing the things that you need to do to win the game, and we did not do that. We have an opportunity though to come back home and play against Wisconsin, who's an extraordinary team, 5-0 and got things going on all cylinders. I think our guys are anxious to go out and play a lot better than we did this past weekend."

Tressel was asked about OSU's problems running the football and if it was a legitimate problem or if people were overreacting.

"I think it's a legitimate problem," Tressel said. "I don't use that word that often, but it's something we certainly need to get better at. We would like to be a balanced team, just like nearly anyone you talk to would like to be a balanced team, if you're going to have a chance to be a real, real good football team. In order to do that, I think you need to run the football well. I think it has an impact on your passing game when you don't run it as well, so there's no question -- we need to get better running the football, and it's something that I promise you we work at every day."

Ohio State isn't the only team in the Big Ten having problems running the football as only two backs are averaging over 100 yards per game as of now. Tressel commented on possible reasons this was happening.

"I think the Big Ten is a good defensive conference," he said. "It's tough running the football. Things kind of trickle down from the NFL, and it's very, very difficult to run the football there. People do a lot of studying together and so forth, and big, strong defensive linemen, and I think as you mentioned, people are doing a good job throwing the football and dispersing the ball to receivers.

"Sometimes, some of the throws we make are like run plays and designed to be that type of thing. If you add all of those things together, it's not surprising that we only have a couple 100-yard rushers."

Tressel was also asked if there were as many good high school running backs these days as there has been in the past.

"I think there are," Tressel said. "With the way that football that has been brought to the homes of all these young kids, they see so much football. They get to watch it every day, and their coaching staffs in high school do a great job of studying. There's videos now, and there's a lot better teaching instruments maybe than we had in the past. So I think you're finding plenty of good running backs, plenty of good receivers -- maybe more receivers now. The high schools are throwing the ball a little bit more than they were. I think you're finding better and better football players at all positions."

Ohio State is a team that has had much success stopping the run in the past, but they have seen their ups and downs in that department this season. Tressel was asked about the importance of stopping the run defensively.

"That's real important," he said. "I think if you look at all the good defenses over the years -- the good Michigan defenses, the good Purdue defenses, the good Wisconsin defenses, Penn State, on and on and on -- you'll find that they can stop the run and kind of made teams play left handed, and know when they were going to throw, and all of a sudden you can get pressure on the passer, which is the key to stopping the pass game. So that's very important to us, to be able to stop the run and not allowed someone to be balanced against us, just like our goal is to be balanced against our opposing defenses. We cannot allow people to balanced. We need them to be somewhat one-dimensional."

The upcoming game against 5-0 Wisconsin will be another tough one for Ohio State. The two teams have played some hard-fought ball games in recent years, and Tressel was asked if the Badgers happen to match up better against Ohio State than other teams.

"I think Barry's done a great job," Tressel said. "I don't know exactly how many years he's been there, but it's probably been 12, 14. He's done a great job of building a program. He knows exactly what he wants from his team.

"As for the matchup against us, I don't know. I hear what you're saying, and there are teams that coincidentally sometimes are good matches for one another or aren't good matches. Wisconsin has played five teams, and they've been the right match for all five of them. They have an extraordinary team this year."

Wisconsin's defense is giving up less than six points a game this season. Tressel discussed why they have had such success.

"The thing that they do so well is that they are in great concert with one another," he said. "The front and their linebackers, their secondary, they do a great job of getting extra people around the ball when you'd like to run it. They do an excellent job of rushing the passer. Their front four are veterans.

"They remind me a lot about the front four we had a year ago in that they have so much experience. They haven't seen a run they haven't stopped before. They haven't seen a pass section that they haven't been able to get after a little bit. They just play with great confidence, great knowledge and great experience."

The BCS is not the first thing on the mind of the Buckeye nation right now, but Tressel was also asked about the BCS today and how he feels about the new emphasis on the polls.

"I'm sure that there's no perfect way to do things," he said. "We have really a simple approach to the BCS, and that's you need to win all your games. Then if you deserve to have a chance to be the best team, you will. Once we have that understanding, hopefully back in April or August, we put that aside and say, 'Ok, now let's work on this game and then this game and then this game.' We happen to be 3-1; I haven't heard anyone talking about BCS, and quite honestly I hadn't heard anyone talking about it when we were 3-0, so I hope that we're talking about 'What do we have to do against Wisconsin?'

"Whether the emphasis is on the polls or on the computer things and all that stuff, I guess that's out of our hands, and we don't worry about which it is. We need to worry about winning games."

With Wisconsin, they have had a motto of taking one game at a time. Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez talked about the team's focus this year and how it has worked so far.

"It all boils down to focus," Alvarez said. "So many times, football teams and players and coaches can get a little ahead of themselves, and this is one way for us to say, let's just concentrate on today. Regardless of who you play, let's just be 1-0 this week. Stay focused on the job at hand and not get any further on that."

Alvarez said that Wisconsin's recent history of starting strong but finishing with a whimper did not play a role in the team's new philosophy.

"That never really came into play when we initially talked about this," Alvarez said. "We sat down at the beginning of the year during two-a-days, and talked about goals and what we want to accomplish... how close we've been and where we've been in the past and how we want to get to our ultimate goal.

"We thought this really made sense, and it's just more about focus and not getting ahead of ourselves and not so much what has happened in the past."

Wisconsin has won their first five games with star running back Anthony Davis not playing in three of them, but Davis returned with a bang on Saturday, running for over 200 yards. Alvarez was asked if he felt Davis would have that kind of performance.

"I did," he said. "He's been running probably for the last two weeks. I knew he was in good condition last week when he got clearance. He had a full week of practice, and in our practice early in the week, we go against our own defense in a couple different drills, so we allowed him to get banged a little bit. I saw his legs were there. I was just more concerned that he didn't get too anxious. A year ago, he did that after missing two games. 

"My advice to him: 'Let's not try to pick up the yardage you lost in those three games. Let's not try to make it all up in one carry. Let's just play the game and let the game come to you.' I really did feel as though he'd have a really good game."

The Wisconsin defensive line of Erasmus James, Jason Jefferson, Anttaj Hawthorne, and Jonathan Welsh has been praised for their play so far this year. Each one of them has developed over time to become a success.

"They've all got their own story," Alvarez said. "Erasmus had only played one year of football and I'm guessing was probably 215 pounds. He always could run and is very athletic, but he's put on so much strength and become a total football player. Jason Jefferson was really raw when he came on campus and maybe has improved as much as just a total football player as any of them. Jonathan Welsh was a thin athlete, probably 205 pounds when he came on and just really improved as a technician and got so much stronger. They've all got their own story. None of them were finished products. Probably the closest finished product was Anttaj."

Has not enough credit been given to the back seven on defense, or has the defensive line praise been warranted?

"Our secondary is playing pretty well, our linebackers are improved, but it all starts with them," Alvarez said. "I've said that since the first or second game that we've been able to get pressure in some games with just those four rushing. We haven't had to rely on the blitz. When you can do that, it allows you do some other things on the back end. It keeps your linebackers alive with the D-line attracting more blocks. They certainly deserve everything thus far. They've played very well."

Alvarez was also asked about his thoughts on the lack of running success for many teams in the Big Ten.

"I think there are probably less teams that really want to establish the run first," he said. "I think most teams try to balanced. You see a lot of spread-type teams, but yet, they are running the ball well. I think defenses really -- if you study defenses -- load up now against the run. You see defenses now that several years ago, you didn't see. It's very common to see eight or nine in the box where it's very difficult to account for all defenders in the run game, so I think that always played a part in it."

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