Tressel's Focus Is On Purdue

There hasn't been much discussion among Buckeye fans about the game this week, but there still is one, and that's what OSU head coach Jim Tressel would like to focus on. Tressel did not address any of the Maurice Clarett allegations this evening, but he did discuss Purdue, talked abbout the quarterback situation, the health of Donte Whitner, and more. Dave Biddle has a report.

Jim Tressel met with reporters following Wednesday's practice.

He made it clear that only football questions would be answered, but a few Maurice Clarett questions were still fired his way.

One reporter asked Tressel if anything that came out Tuesday caused him to re-examine any of the ways that he approaches his dealings with his players.

"In regards to Purdue? We're working on Purdue," Tressel said.

Tressel was quizzed on why he doesn't want to comment on the Clarett allegations. Shouldn't he be in a hurry to clear his name?

"Because we're working on Purdue with the guys that are on our campus," he said. "That's the responsibility we have."

Tressel was asked if he will have the same policy after the Michigan game. Will he be more open to talk about Clarett in two weeks when there is not a game to prepare for that week?

"Well, we won't be sitting around eating bon bons," Tressel said. "We'll be going out recruiting and that type of thing. There may be a little more time (to talk about the Clarett allegations) but we have a lot of tasks to take care of."

It would be easy for Ohio State's players to be distracted this week. But Tressel says he has not spent any additional time reminding his players to focus on the task at hand.

"Well, we talk about that constantly, regardless of what is going on, or what isn't going on," he said. "That's something that we all need, no matter what age we are. But, no, we haven't talked any more, or less."

Yes, there is a football game this week. The Buckeyes will travel to Purdue - where they will face a Boilermaker team that would like nothing more than to pay back Ohio State for some narrow losses the last two seasons.

Purdue's defense likes to be aggressive, and it might blitz even more than usual with a young quarterback at the controls in Troy Smith.

"Purdue pressures everybody," Tressel said. "They do a great job with their blitz package - you never know when it's coming, or where it's coming from - and they do a great job with their base defense. You're going to get a little bit of both. The chess match becomes: When do you get what? If you look at the number of times they've pressured the younger quarterbacks they've played, it's been significant."

The Buckeyes have done some shuffling on their offensive line the last three weeks and it's paid off. The group is playing better than it has all year. True freshman Steve Rehring has really given the team a nice boost at left tackle, which allows Rob Sims to shift to left guard. Tressel spoke more about the shakeup on the offensive front.

"Well, we've been rotating a lot of different combinations," he said. "Robbie, I think, will play both left tackle and left guard. Tim Schafer will help at both tackles, whereas Steve and Kirk (Barton) will play at left and right, respectively. Doug Datish has played some guard and center. Mike Kne has played mostly right guard and Nick Mangold has played a little guard at times. So, I think getting more guys in the game and so forth creates competition, but I think it creates excitement and freshness and I think it's helped us."

Tressel has been pleasantly surprised with Rehring's play.

"He's played very well all along," he said. "He came in before spring and got a little bit of a head start. We talked a lot - really throughout the whole course of the preseason and early part of the regular season - about, you know, 'Should we take a redshirt off of him?' And we're really glad we did."

Tressel seems somewhat pleased with OSU's running back situation.

"Well, it's healthier than it was a week ago," he said. "We've got Mo Hall and Branden Joe - who I think are healthier than they were at the beginning of the season. Lydell Ross, Antonio Pittman. Brandon Schnittker is healthier than he was a few weeks ago. So, I think it's better than it has been."

Pittman was thought to be in Tressel's doghouse last week for missing class, but the coach hinted that Pittman might have been a little banged up as well.

"I think he's ready to go," Tressel said of Pittman. "This is Wednesday talking with no live scrimmages, or no one splattering him or anything, but I think he's ready to go."

Tressel was asked about the irony of having the hotter quarterback (Smith) going into a game against Purdue and Kyle Orton. That's something that would have been unimaginable a month ago.

"Well, 'hot' starts over again," Tressel said. "It's not like a continuous situation. We've got to be hot on Saturday. But I think Troy has come along and done some good things. I think Justin (Zwick) has shown that he'll be able to give us the backup support that we'll need, which will allow us to keep Todd (Boeckman) redshirted, which we've been working to do. Yeah, we feel good that Troy is progressing. I'm not sure I'm using the word hot, but I think he's doing well."

Zwick is dealing with a new role as the backup. He was the starter for the first six games, but now the job seems to be Smith's to lose. Tressel has not had any conversations with Zwick in terms of mentally dealing with his new role.

"I think his focus has been on making sure that he's prepared and healthy enough to do whatever the team needs," Tressel said. "I haven't had any discussions in regards to what his role will, or won't be. This really was the first week that you'd say I have no hesitation from a health standpoint to put him in. But, no, we have not had those discussions, nor do I think we will here in the next day or so. We're just trying to get both guys to become as good as they can."

So, is Zwick's shoulder 100 percent?

"I don't know that I'd go that far, but he sure looks… you know, I don't think you know about being 100 percent as a football player until you're out there live playing football," Tressel said. "But, from what he's been asked to do this week, we're pleased."

Some of OSU's players have talked about Smith's strong leadership abilities. He will get in the huddle and fire up the Buckeye players with some of his comments.

"Well, I can give it from my perspective," Tressel said. "Occasionally he'll come over in between series, or even during a series and talk about he needs the play in quicker, 'I need to talk to my guys.' You know, and Craig (Krenzel) used to say, 'I want the play in quicker cause I can change it.' So, everyone has their own personalities. But yeah, I think what you are seeing is accurate (Smith taking command of the huddle)."

The Buckeyes earned a big come-from-behind road win last week over MSU - giving them a nice boost of momentum heading into the stretch run of the season.

"I think it gives you a little more confidence," Tressel said of finally winning a league game on the road. "Hopefully it doesn't take your perspective away from how difficult it is, because we've lost twice on the road, which was difficult, and we won a tough one on the road that was very difficult to win. But I think we know a little bit more definitively of what it takes and now we're going into an even tougher situation than we faced last week."

Ted Ginn came to Columbus billed as one of the best defensive backs in the nation. Obviously, he has made his mark on special teams and as a receiver this year. But have the Buckeyes talked about using him at DB in special situations?

"No, we really haven't," Tressel said. "I think someone asked the question a week or two ago about, 'When you do think Ted will be ready to help on defense?' I said, 'Next season, or in a year.' I still feel the same way."

What about Ginn at tailback?

"Well, a lot of people have asked to get it to him 25-30 times and I think that's the only way you could do it is to put him at tailback," Tressel said. "But no, he's a return man, he's a receiver. That doesn't mean that he's not a ball carrier, because he's obviously been a ball carrier. But he's not going to line up and run the ISO or anything."

The Buckeyes will need all the offensive weapons they can muster against Purdue. Despite losing six of their 2003 starters to the NFL, the Boilermaker defense is stout.

"Well, nobody has scored a whole bunch of points on them," Tressel said. "They've been knock down, drag out games. The Michigan game was 16-14, Northwestern was 10-7, Iowa was 23-21, but Iowa was helped from five turnovers from Purdue to get down in there. Wisconsin was 21-17 and they got a defensive touchdown as well. Illinois probably scored the most points against them (30) and they had balance."

This will be the final home game for Purdue's seniors. Tressel thinks that will give them an emotional boost.

"I think that's real when you're playing your last game in your stadium," he said. "I think there's a realistic emotion that people have. I don't know how long it lasts - I don't know that it lasts all game, or lasts much beyond your focus and preparation - but every little increment of increased focus and preparation helps you, so I think that's real."

Tressel is no fool. He knows that Purdue senior quarterback Kyle Orton will play, despite injuries to both hips. Purdue says he's 50/50, but no one is buying it.

"We expect him to play," Tressel said. "This is the final game in the stadium for him. He's a competitive kid. He doesn't like not being successful as much as anyone else does. So, I would expect - as long as it's humanly possible - that he'll be in there."

Purdue's offense will dink and dunk you to death from its shotgun spread attack (think Northwestern). Therefore, one school of thought would be for OSU's defense to scrap its soft zone and play some bump and run on PU's unphysical receivers. But Tressel doesn't care if the Boilermakers get first downs, he just wants to stay away from the big-yardage plays.

"You can't give up big plays," he said. "They are going to gain yards and they're going to move the chains and so forth, but you can't give up home runs and they've done a good job with that. They've probably hit more home runs this year than I can ever remember. You really have to minimize those."

One player that will not be helping OSU's defense the next two weeks is sophomore safety Donte Whitner.

"Donte is out for the rest of the regular season," Tressel said. "The guys that have been kind of waiting in the wings are getting more reps. Sometimes you even have some emergency guys that might surprise people in the game if need be. You look at the pool of resources and you use whatever you have."

Tressel elaborated on the safety situation.

"Brandon Mitchell, Tyler Everett and Nate Salley will be the ones at safety," he said. "Dustin Fox has even played some safety - played a little bit of safety (against Michigan State). So, those are the ones that could maybe draw up a coverage on the board."

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