Jim Tressel met with reporters following Wednesday's practice.
Ohio State's defense often bailed out its offense the last two seasons, but this year the defense is struggling as well. The Buckeyes couldn't stop Northwestern two weeks ago. They played better against Wisconsin last week, but still gave up big plays at crucial times and allowed Anthony Davis to go over 100 yards.
Simply put, offenses are doing to this OSU defense what they wouldn't have dreamed of doing the last two seasons - namely running the ball.
"If teams can be balanced (they can run on us)," Tressel said. "I thought what both Northwestern and Wisconsin did was establish a little bit of balance. I don't know that Wisconsin ran as much - if you really break it down - until they were up by 11. I don't know that their rushing per attempt (3.7) was significant. But they did hit the one 31-yard touchdown run, which we can't have. But, yeah, if a team can be balanced against us, you can be a very, very good defense and still have a tough time. That's why that's what you seek on offense, to have some balance so even when the defenses are very good you can have some indecision in their minds."
Wisconsin made two impressive touchdown catches. The Badgers were able to make big plays at crucial times and the Buckeyes were not.
"That's how you separate games," Tressel said. "We can go back through, all the way to 1950 - we were just talking about it - and dissect games where Ohio State made plays if they won and Ohio State didn't make the plays and their opponent did when they lost. That's why you have to tip you hat to those couple of catches. Now that's our problem: we need to make the plays and that's what we're working on doing."
Tressel was asked when things are not going well defensively for the Buckeyes if there is a tendency of players trying to do too much.
"Oh, absolutely," he said. "Probably if you went back and studied the Northwestern game on defense a couple plays happened that hadn't happen to us, so someone tried a little extra to make a play and weren't in their area. It's a natural human instinct when you have good people to want to help. And the veteran who's been there before and who's had some yards run against them, probably made that mistake two years earlier, probably doesn't make that mistake. You know, that's one that we've learned from. Stay in your lane, or stay in your pass zone, or whatever it is."
Like it did against Wisconsin, Ohio State will face another tough defense this week. Tressel has been impressed with what he's seen from Iowa on film.
"They've got seven guys back from one of the best defenses in the country last year," he said. "They're veteran up front. Where Wisconsin was one style up front and very, very good, Iowa is a little different style, little different technique, so we've got to adjust to that and handle that. Linebacker-wise, (Chad) Greenway, (Abdul) Hodge and that whole thing, they're veterans and they diagnose well. You are going to have to play a mistake-free game. If you're on an eight play drive down at the 20 yard line you better not turn it over because it's hard to get down to the 20 (a possible shot at Roy Hall?). We have to seek that balance that we always seek and handle a good defense."
The Buckeyes will get a huge boost if senior cornerback Dustin Fox plays this week as expected. He has been cleared medically, but is still not 100 percent.
"I would expect him to play significantly," Tressel said. "But I think we have to be smart. He hasn't played a football game since the second week of September, so I don't know if we can get carried away and hope he plays 70 plays. But, I think he'll help us."
Tressel was asked if Fox will start.
"I don't know," he said. "You might want to ask the defensive expert tomorrow. I know he played a lot today. But we just finished the practice with some ones against the ones and twos against the twos and he wasn't in there in the live situation, but he was sure in a lot of stuff today."
The Buckeyes do not have a big senior class this season, but Tressel does not think the team is lacking leadership.
"Well, I've had some senior classes that didn't have 50 percent of their people as starters - which is kind of what this one is," he said. "I think there's six or seven starters out of 18, something like that, but have been extraordinary leaders and these are the times when you measure leadership. I don't know exactly those leadership roles that they play when we're not around. Those are crucial and that's what you hope happens quite a bit.
"I think too, when you have a large junior class and a smaller senior class, kind of like 2002, sometimes your juniors have to assume some leadership roles and I think they're ready to do that."
"I think Anthony has stepped in and went from a role of playing a half a game to a whole game, which is different," Tressel said. "Playing against a team like Wisconsin, that was probably his first experience of that type. I know he was a two-year starter in the (Mountain West) but there aren't teams like Wisconsin there. I thought he held his own."
Iowa's top three running backs are out with injuries. True freshman Damian Sims - who the Hawkeyes were hoping to redshirt - is expected to get a lot of carries. Tressel was asked if it's tougher to prepare for a back that OSU has not seen on film.
"We will assume that they will do what Iowa does," he said. "That's their style, to build on what they do. But we won't be shocked and we'll have to adjust to anything new. As you say, we haven't even seen the one fellow in uniform. So, it will be a challenge for us. They've had two weeks to try and get a young guy ready and he'll certainly have fresh legs, so we have to be ready for him."
Iowa sophomore quarterback Drew Tate has played well for a first-year starter.
"They threw every down in the first half (against Michigan State)," Tressel said. "He has mobility, escape-ability, keeps the play alive so you've got to cover longer, a concept of what they're doing and he's got a pretty quick release. When he sees the pre snap he has an idea of where he'd like to go and then he lets it go and I'm sure he gets better all the time."
Tressel and Kirk Ferentz faced off last year, but the two also coached against each other when Tressel was at Youngstown State and Ferentz was at Maine. Tressel was asked what he expects to see from a Ferentz team.
"He'll just work on progressing," he said. "That's why his teams have gotten good over time. When he was at Maine, it was just a solid, good-building program. Then he left to go to the NFL and then came back as the head coach at Iowa. It took two or three years, but he built and built and got better each year and had an extraordinary year (in 2002) and lost some guys and had a very good year and lost some more guys and is building again. Fundamentals, kicking game, tough defense, all the things that you should do if you want to win."
No question Ohio State quarterback Justin Zwick is struggling. A win this week in Iowa City would do a lot for his confidence.
"That does a lot for you, as long as you're willing to study what you did in the game - whether it was a win or a loss - you still need to study each play," Tressel said. "Hopefully we grade kids the same whether we win or lose and hopefully they view themselves the same, whether we win or lose.
"But, I think anytime you go in and do what you're capable of doing, that does a lot for you and builds a little momentum as to what you think you can accomplish down the road."