Offense, Quarterback Key Topics For Tressel

This story has been amended at 2:20 p.m. to include comments from Jim Tressel's weekly press luncheon. There, the main topics were the play of the quarterback and the OSU offense. Plus, this story includes comments from Tressel and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz at the Big Ten teleconference. Click this free link for more.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel made his weekly media luncheon appearance at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café. The coach reflected on his team's second straight loss, a 24-13 defeat at the hands of Wisconsin, and looked ahead to this Saturday's game at Iowa (3:30 p.m., ABC).

"All of you who were there on Saturday, we talked after the game that at first glance our players played with excellent effort and they banged around with a pretty good football team," Tressel said. "When push comes to shove, we didn't make the plays we needed to make to win a football game like that.

"Wisconsin, to us coaches, seems like a while ago. You better not dwell too long on a game like that when you have Iowa out there at Kinnick Stadium this week. They have won 15 or 16 in a row there. Last year, they went through their Big Ten schedule undefeated at home."

Tressel fielded no fewer than 10 questions about Justin Zwick's status, Troy Smith's status and the quarterback position. Tressel was asked that since Zwick has gotten all of the work over the last three games that it would be impossible for Smith to unseat him.

"I don't know if I would go that far," Tressel said. "Once you see separation between two people performance-wise, until there is not so much separation you're set."

When asked if the team was divided on the quarterback issue, the coach responded, "I haven't seen or heard or felt that."

Tressel was asked when Zwick made the initial separation from Smith.

"When that came, I don't remember putting a gauge or barometer on it," he said. "Our goal isn't quite the same as people looking in from the outside. Our goal is to get adequate quarterback play, the same as it is to get adequate tight end play or linebacker play, so we can be successful."

Tressel was asked if Zwick, who is 75 of 146 (51.4 percent) passing for 946 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions, is providing that type of play.

"At times, we have that and at times we haven't," he said. "That's why we're 3-2. But it's not just (the quarterback). You could go down the whole list of all of us. I would say we need to develop consistency of performance."

Tressel was asked if Smith's diatribe in the media about not getting to play was being held against him.

"No, I don't hold things against people," he said. "That's why I come (to the luncheon) each week.

"We don't reward playing time. Playing time is earned by your performance on the practice field. Do you do the things you need to do within the scheme we're going to use? Guys have to earn what they get."

OSU utilized some shotgun and empty backfield sets almost exclusively against Wisconsin in an effort to jumpstart the moribund offense. Tressel was asked whether those sets would remain.

"I think you get into a feeling of who can we get the ball into who's hands and what can we do the best," he said. "That's what you try to evolve to. Then, each week, you add in who are we playing? That's what's going on."

The coach was asked about the offense's inability to get anything going in the second half against Wisconsin.

"I think it was three things," he said. "One, we've got to stay away from minus yard plays. On one three-and-out, we had second-and-6 and then third-and-12. That's tough duty.

"The second thing is are we on target. Are we getting what we need? If it's second-and-6 and then third-and-2, we need to convert on third down. I'm not saying we're going to hit 100 percent on third-and-10. But we need to get nearly all of our third-and-4 and less situations.

"The third thing is we lost a possession. We turned it over (on the Santonio Holmes fumble) as we were going to get it back.

"And the fourth thing I would add is they had a 12-play drive to end the game. It's not a complicated game. All of those things are why that happened. We didn't consistently execute."

Also Notable

* The coach discussed the challenge posed by Iowa.

"They were off this week and I think they thought that was a good thing because they were banged up at the tailback position," Tressel said. "They are a younger team offensively and a veteran team defensively. They have seven back on the defensive side. They have some excellent players in (defensive end Matt) Roth and (linebackers Abdul) Hodge and (Chad) Greenway. They have a lot of veteran players back on a very tough defense.

"Their quarterback (Drew Tate) is an exciting young guy. Each game, I see him getting better. He had an outstanding game against Michigan State, really against Michigan and Michigan State. I see him growing into the position. He has a lot of movement. He's a guy we need to contain."

* Tressel was asked about the inability of the defense to get to opposing passers.

"Some of that has to do with the quality of the protection," Tressel said. "Some of it has to do with the quality of getting rid of the ball. Some of the guys doing the pass rush are doing it for the first time in their career."

* The coach was asked about the status of cornerback Dustin Fox, who has missed the last three games with a broken arm.

"As I hear our medical people talk, Dustin's cleared to play," he said. "He'll be excited about that. He'll be full of enthusiasm and have fresh legs. I'm sure his presence will be felt. He was selected as a captain of the team. I don't know exactly what he'll do and what circumstances he will be in, but I know he's excited to be back."

* Tressel seemed pleased with the play of redshirt freshman Kirk Barton, who replaced Tim Schafer at right tackle.

"Kirk earned the right to have an opportunity," Tressel said. "He did a pretty good job."

* Tressel was joined at the luncheon by linebacker Anthony Schlegel and tight end Ryan Hamby. We will have reports on those players in the hours ahead.

However, in discussing Schlegel's ascedency to starter in place of Mike D'Andrea at middle linebacker, the coach revealed that John Kerr would spend the year as a scout team player. Bobby Carpenter would back up Schlegel, with Marcus Freeman backing up Carpenter at the boundary linebacker spot.

* Below is our coverage of today's Big Ten teleconference featuring Tressel and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz:

*****

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media for today's Big Ten Teleconference a short time ago, discussing a number of issues in addition to this week's game between the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes. Tressel started off with some thoughts on Wisconsin.

"We just finished a tough weekend against a very good Wisconsin team," Tressel said. "Wisconsin came in and made the plays that you need to win on the road. They had an excellent plan across the board and played very good, tough, aggressive defense, and made plays on the offensive side and did some things on special teams that allowed them to win.

"Ohio State, we didn't do enough of the things across the board. It was a hard-fought, well-fought football game. We've got to make sure we head out to Iowa an improved football team."

For a team that has lost only four games since the start of the 2002 season, losing has been a new experience to many of Ohio State's players. Tressel was asked how the team is reacting.

"It's obviously been difficult for them," Tressel said. "I thought they reacted well as they came into the Wisconsin game. We played very hard -- didn't play very well all the time, but played very hard and did some good things and had opportunities to turn the ball game in our favor. At about the nine minute mark in the fourth quarter, we made a fatal error that allowed Wisconsin to go from being up four points to being up by eleven points, which was very difficult for us. But I thought the kids have played hard, and there's no one sitting around pointing the finger at anyone. We all know we need to get better."

Tressel was then asked if struggles were expected this year, given Ohio State is still a relatively young football team.

"I think that we coaches always expect struggles and hope to not have struggles," he said. "Realistically, we know you earn what you earn, and there have been some times this season when I think we have earned the right to win ballgames and a couple times this year where we haven't. We just work everyday. Sometimes as coaches we're so close to the situation, working on that incremental everyday progress and evaluating that, trying to figure out ways to get better. Fortunately, we have good kids, and they'll keep working at it."

Ohio State has had tremendous success against Iowa in recent years, winning 15 straight games in Kinnick Stadium. Tressel was asked if the past success might help the team's confidence.

"Our guys, I hope, are focused on what we need to do," he said. "Our guys haven't played Iowa a whole bunch of times, the ones that are here right now, because in 2001-2002 we weren't on each other's schedule. So we played once, really, in the lifetime of these players. It was a knockdown, drag-out... it was a tough football game that our guys know full well that either team could have one. I hope, number one, they're focused on what they have to do to get better, and I hope number two, they remember those black helmets hitting them like they did last year because Iowa's an excellent football team."

The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, have also seen their share of struggles this season, particularly in the injury department. Three running backs are out for the year, and the Hawkeyes are down to Nebraska transfer Marques Simmons, who moves from being low on the depth chart to being the starter, walk-on Sam Brownlee, and true freshman Damian Sims. Sims was originally slated to redshirt, but Ferentz announced the redshirt would come off Sims this week.

Other positions have been hit by the injury bug as well, and Ferentz was asked if Iowa, coming off a bye week, would have any players play this weekend that wouldn't have last weekend.

"We'll probably have a couple, but that being said, we lost a couple too," Ferentz said. "We lost two players last Tuesday. Jonathan Sanders, who's a backup safety/special teams guy, fractured his clavicle. We lost somebody else too, I forget who it was.

"It's given some guys a chance to gain ground. I don't know if they'll be ready this week; obviously the guys with the ACLs won't. We didn't waste a week where guys couldn't have played for sure, one of those deals. At least we're moving in the right direction."

The Hawkeyes, like Ohio State, are a young team. Ferentz said that the bye week helped in terms of getting the team to improve.

"I told the team Sunday I thought overall we practiced pretty well through the bye," Ferentz said. "I was pleased by that. Bye weeks haven't always worked out to be great things. It's just a personal experience, and it's probably true as long as I've been in football. At least we did some things this past week where we've become a little better football team, and we really need that because we're so young and inexperienced right now. So I think any opportunity to go out and maybe learn and work on some areas, that's a positive for us."

Iowa has a first-year starter at quarterback for the third straight season in sophomore Drew Tate. Ferentz was asked if Tate, being from Texas, had any similarities to Lone Star State product Drew Brees.

"I hope in the end he does," Ferentz said. "I think they wear the same number, I think; I'm not very good with that stuff. They're both from Texas. They're both under 6-2 and both like to throw the football.

"Drew Tate grew up throwing the football in high school and had a little savvy. I think they both obviously have a good head for being the quarterback. He's a competitive guy, a tough guy, but all that being said, he's still a young player. He's making mistakes, but the good news is he learns from them and takes a lot of pride trying to improve his performance."


Some more quotes from OSU head coach Jim Tressel on topics unrelated to the game:

On the Big Ten conference this year as compared to other conferences: "I think our league's very good. We've got some very veteran football teams that are doing great things. We've got some outstanding players. Our league is big and strong and fast and has got smart kids. I don't know exactly what our out-of-conference record was after our first three games, and I don't know too much about how the other conferences are doing. The only team we played in a major conference was North Carolina State, and they're a very good football team. I haven't seen much of their league, but I think the Big Ten can hold its own against anyone."

On what it meant as a program to appear in the national championship game and what it would mean for another Big Ten team to make it: "I think if you're ever fortunate enough to be a part of those types of events, those are memories for a lifetime. Those are experiences you'll never forget. Then there's some realism tied to them as well. It makes the road after those even more difficult and the challenges even greater, but that's the fun of it. No one here would trade the experience that we had. It would be great for our league if we could have someone there every year."

On the proposed five-for-five rule, giving players five years to play four, and if it has affected his choice to play certain freshmen: "It hasn't affected our decision at this point. I'm kind of for it. I know there's a mixed review. There are some coaches who are saying, 'What if there's a guy we don't want here for five years and we have to?' or whatever. I happen to think that it'll do a number of things for us. I think it will make our graduation rates even better. I think it will make the maturity of our teams even better. If indeed we do go to a twelve game schedule, I think it will allow  us to have some of those young kids helping out a little bit on the grind of an extra game in the fall. I think there are a lot of upsides to it. Even a fifth-year kid that's not contributing that much on the field -- my experience has been over the years that those kids have matured to the point that they're contributing good things on campus or in the locker room or on the practice field, so being "stuck with them" or whatever, I wouldn't look at it that way at all. So the long and the short, I would say I am for the five-year rule." 

When asked if he thought the rule would pass: "Gosh, I don't know. If indeed a twelfth game passes, I think it would have a better chance of passing. But on the other hand, we all have different views. There are faculty, athletic rep views, there are presidential views, there are administrative views, there are coaching views of which we don't all agree from our standpoint, so I would hazard a guess."


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