Tressel Looks Toward The Game With Michigan

OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr both have plenty on their mind this week as they prepare their teams for what is routinely the biggest game of the year. Both discussed the game as well as how their seasons have progressed in today's Big Ten teleconference. (This story was updated with comments from Coach Tressel's weekly luncheon as well.)

Here are some of the notable comments from OSU head coach Jim Tressel at today's press luncheon in relation to last Saturday's loss at Purdue and this week's season finale against Michigan (1 p.m., ABC):

* On Purdue -- We played last week and didn't play as well as we were capable. We went on the road and lost the turnover margin decisively. You're not going to win games on the road. You're not going to win big games if you don't win the turnover margin or at least be even in the turnover margin and we were unable to do that.

"We had opportunities to get things done and we didn't take advantage of those opportunities, but to me, the greatest thing as I viewed the game from the sideline and then viewed it again in the staff room is that our kids played hard and they kept going and they kept believing in each other. As our defensive guys were coming off the field after Purdue, to their credit, went down and scored, our offensive kids were just telling the defensive kids, hey, get ready for overtime because they had confidence and they had belief in themselves and in the kids that play on the other side of the ball."

* On Michigan -- "As we approach Michigan, who I think is a fantastic football team, I think all you have to do is look at a lot of the statistics now that you've played so many games, seven of which are in our league we've played, you can see that they do the things that you need to do to win. I think in four or five of the special teams categories, they're in the top three in the conference, whether it be top three in net punt, top three in kickoff coverage, top two, I think in both punt return and kickoff return, they're in the top two in the conference. They do the things you need to do on offense. They do the things you need to do on defense. They obviously have an excellent coaching staff. They have great players. They get after it. They play their best game of the year in the Ohio State/Michigan game. We need to play our best game of the year in the Ohio State/Michigan game.

"All of you know a lot about Michigan. You know a lot about Ohio State. You know a lot of the people that are going to be called upon to make a difference in this game, and what's great in my mind about the Ohio State/Michigan game is you never know going into the game who on which team is going to rise up and make the difference and that's what -- preparing for it is exciting and playing in it and coaching in it is beyond, and we can't wait to get to work this afternoon and get ready for the greatest game that there is."

* On different wrinkles for the offense against Purdue -- "Purdue was really very solid up front on defense. The guys that they had returning happened to be there. As you watched them against other teams, there was no one pushing them all over the field the entire year, and we thought that our best deployment was going to be one that stretched things out and maybe see if some of those young guys who now have some experiences could make some things happen, and I think we saw some evidence that we did and some times that we didn't. But I think it was an evolution, a little bit of who we are and what we're trying to be, but it also has a lot to do with who they are and how they deploy and that's the fun of getting ready for Michigan."

* On what he aspires to get from the offense -- "You'd like to be a big-play offense. I think if you look at -- well, we're studying Michigan right now. If you look at the impact plays they made, the big plays they made, that's been the difference, that's why they're leading the Big Ten from their offensive consideration standpoint. If you looked at the Michigan State/Michigan game, the big plays that Michigan State made were the ones that made the difference in all of a sudden having a good sized lead and that being an overtime game. So I think you always want to be able to strike, but you always want to be able to possess the ball.

"You always want to be able to have some balance, have a little bit of doubt in your opponent whether they think it's a run or a pass moment or a run or a pass down. And then I think you look at the people you have and you say, okay, what does this person do best, and you try to highlight that. So if you look at our lineup from nine weeks ago, it looks a little different than our lineup from today, and we're probably not as consistently the same deployment as Michigan is. They've had virtually the same cast of characters throughout the course of their 10 games that they've chosen to go with, and we've had some changes."

* On his team's injuries -- "The Michigan week has unbelievable healing powers. There's guys running around faster than they've run for a while. We sure expect Nate (Salley) to be available and I mentioned to that group, and I would say the same to you, we may even have Donte Whitner back, which we did not expect, but the last thing I've been told on the questionable, doubtful, out, in, whatever barometer, he's, I think, somewhere between questionable and probable. So obviously you don't have Mike D'Andrea and you don't have Marcel Frost and Rob Harley and some guys that have had major things, but I expect, you name them, Rory Nicol, Rob Sims, anyone that's missed any time, they'll be ready this week."

* On Justin Zwick's health -- "Justin's good. Justin could have gone in the ball game Saturday. We still don't know if he gets banged, but he'll be even stronger this week. He threw well all week long in practice and someone asked me today, how's Justin's attitude, and I said, all I know is he doesn't have class until noon and he was in watching film at 8:00 this morning, so I think his attitude is excellent and he's ready to go."

* On whether coaches should be measured by The Game -- "Because it's people, there are going to be a variety of ways that they evaluate your tenure. There are going to be some people who evaluate based upon Michigan. There are going to be some people that do it based upon your graduation rate, some based upon your overall record, some based upon how many times you throw the football or whatever it happens to be. And that's -- I guess you just accept that and that's everyone's freedom as to how they evaluate it. But are there more that would evaluate it based upon how the Ohio State/Michigan game comes out, probably, than some of those other categories."

* On the importance of finishing 7-4 instead of 6-5 -- "7-4 would be a great year when you're sitting 6-4. Would you have rooted for it at the start of the year? No. But we're not at the start of the year and it'd be extraordinary for us. Would 6-5 be a good year? The way you feel right this moment, it'd be a horrible year, but we've got that big one to play."

-----

For the final time this season, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr met with the media for the Big Ten teleconference.

After some early technical problems that made Coach Tressel sound like an inaudible Darth Vader, Tressel was asked about Dustin Fox and what it has been like to coach him.

"Dustin's a great young man, obviously a captain of our football team, great citizen, and great student," Tressel said. "He's going to go on to the next level and have a lot of success in the NFL, I'm sure. He's just the kind of person you love having in your program. He's been tough.

"This season, he's had a couple unfortunate situations with a broken arm and he was out this past weekend, but I think he'll be fine this week. I know he's excited to play in his fourth Ohio State/Michigan game. You wish you had a million guys like Dustin Fox."

Fox will be playing in his fourth Michigan game as he carries on an Ohio State tradition that was started and continued by his uncles.

"No doubt, and that makes it even more special for him," Tressel said. "He's so proud of that fact and proud of his uncles and proud of his brother, who played in the Big Ten. Dustin's one of those grateful people that really knows that he's been blessed and has had good fortune and had some wonderful opportunities."

Of course, Ohio State has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons due to the much-publicized off-the-field allegations. Tressel was asked if the coming of the OSU/Michigan game was actually good for the team since it would take away from the focus of the allegations.

"It's an exciting time on our campus and on Michigan's campus," Tressel said. "People choose to go to Ohio State and Michigan I think in part to be a part of this game, this spectacle (with) all eyes of the football world on you. It's an exciting time, and I think it is fun for the kids. Sometimes distractions aren't fun. Playing the Ohio State/Michigan game is fun, and it's something you dream about and think about constantly, and I would have to say that that's a real plus that that's what's going on at this moment."

Later in the conference, Tressel was asked how he was able to keep his players from being distracted during times like these.

"Fortunately, we have great kids," Tressel said. "They have a lot of confidence in themselves, and they know they do the right things. They get to play against Michigan on Saturday in Ohio Stadium. That in itself gives you the opportunity to be excited about being focused, especially when you're confident from the standpoint of who you are and what you're all about. We're very fortunate here to have great kids."

It could be argued that one way to attack Michigan would be with the run as the Wolverines gave up well over 300 yards on the ground to Michigan State two weekends ago. Tressel, however, said that the stats from that game were misleading and that Michigan's run defense will still be very difficult to move the ball on.

"Michigan State hit a couple big runs," he said. "I think a little bit of that yardage is skewed because there were two runs I think of over 60 yards. All of a sudden you throw 130 or 40-plus yards on to someone's total just with two snaps, it skews it a little bit.

"They're very physical. They're big, strong kids. You have to be at your best, and you have to hit a couple long ones because I don't know that you can four- and five-yard Michigan to death. No one has. The teams that have put up any kind of run numbers have been the teams that have had some good fortune and hit some long ones."

A theme in this version of the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry is the youth on both sides of the ball. Michigan starts true freshmen at both quarterback and running back in Chad Henne and Michael Hart, while OSU has had huge contributions from true freshman Ted Ginn.

Tressel was asked if he could remember an OSU/Michigan game with this many important true freshman contributors.

"I really don't," he said. "I guess I would have to go back and really comb the statistics and rosters. I've been really focused on the four Ohio State/Michigan games I've been a part of here, and I don't recall there being as much and as many freshmen who have had quite the role that you see our kids having and their kids having. It'll make for a very exciting time for those young kids."

The question was followed up with one asking Tressel why freshmen seem to be contributing more than ever these days.

"I think the fact the fact that football has been so visible and they can see it nearly every night of the week on TV," Tressel said. "They see replays and they see how people do things. Their coaches in high school and in college have got extraordinary video opportunities that are great teaching aides.

"I think you've seen the advent of football camps and combines and things that the guy that really has a passion to be good at this game has a lot of opportunities to learn it and to grow. I think you're seeing that there are some very motivated kids that have taken that opportunity and grown to know the game well and be good at it."

Tressel was asked if OSU's freshman star would be getting more touches in this game.

"We would certainly like to have Ted Ginn touch the football, really as many times as it's, I guess, intelligent to do, whether it be on the return game and the passing game and that type of thing because he's a kid that loves to compete and he can do special things with the ball," Tressel said. "I'm not sure exactly how times this season he's touched the ball, but whatever it is, his touch to production ratio is very, very good. He's a big part of who we are."

The topic of the failed sale of the name rights to the OSU/Michigan game came up. Tressel was asked if he played a part in the decision-making and once again voiced his support for OSU on the matter.

"It was brought to my attention, and I understood where the administrations were coming from," Tressel said. "For instance, here at Ohio State, we sponsor 36 sports, and it might give the opportunity for us to continue to do so at the best level we possibly can. I've been an athletic director before, and I understand the importance of taking good care of every program that you sponsor, so I understood that.

"As far as being a part of decision making, when it was apparent that it might become the case and then apparent that it was not going to be, I was not part of those discussions, but I'm certainly for whatever the Ohio State team needs."

It's been a roller coaster season for Ohio State, filled with emotional victories, blowout defeats, and plenty of distractions. Tressel was asked how this season has been different for him.

"The one thing - this is my nineteenth year as a head coach, and I've had all shapes and sizes of seasons," he said. "I've had a two-win season, I've had a couple different 14-win seasons. They're all rigorous; they're all full of some wonderful times, and they're all full of some hardships. You're dealing with young people, and you're dealing with a very visible game that we play.

"I've just found this season to have some tough moments because we've had some young players, and we've had some injuries, and we've had some off the field distractions. But on the other hand, I've found it to have some wonderful times as well. I guess as I reflect back, it's very similar to most every season I've coached as a head coach."

Lloyd Carr opened his portion of the conference with a statement on the upcoming game.

"We are looking forward to going to Columbus to play in the greatest of rivalries in that great old stadium in front of that partisan Ohio State crowd," Carr said.

Like Tressel, Carr was also asked about the sale of the naming rights to the OSU/Michigan game. Carr was much more vocal against the sale than Tressel.

"I was really not aware of the process or the negotiations," Carr said. "I was very happy that it ended up not being a part of this game."

Carr was asked why he felt that way, and his feelings on the subject echoed those of many fans and observers of college football.

"I think one of the issues that we're constantly faced with in intercollegiate athletics is the influence of the corporations and the money and all of the things that are attached to those issues," Carr said. "I just think that in my own judgment, the pressure that is being placed, particularly on the young people who play the game of college football, I think it's far in proportion to what it should be. I think we should be going the other way.

"I understand that we have to pay for all these other sports and we have to pay for this huge bureaucracy of administrators and the NCAA and the conference offices. I understand all that, but I think somewhere we need to take a look at where we're headed, and that's why I'm opposed to it."

Carr seemed impressed with the ability of OSU quarterback Troy Smith. He believes OSU has changed a lot since he has taken the quarterback spot.

"I think that they have evolved since he became the quarterback to a much different style of an offense," Carr said. "I think they've really taken advantage of the things that he can do. In my opinion, Troy Smith is a great athlete and he's a guy that can create when things break down. I think he is a guy that has great movement, great athletic ability. He's got an extremely strong arm. Anytime that you have the speed that they possess at the receiver position, his scrambling ability creates opportunities for big plays. I think they've done an excellent job of taking advantage of the things that he does well and spreading people out, which creates a lot more running room in there."

Michigan has faced some spread out attacks, but Carr is still wary of the possibility of OSU tightening things up offensively.

"The issue that we have - they still have, you know, Lydell Ross is sitting down there," Carr said. "They've got some outstanding backs. Ryan Hamby I think is an outstanding tight end, so they've got the ability to go back and do some of the things that they did earlier in the season.

"Coach Tressel has always been a guy that likes to run the football, and he's always been successful at running the football, so the question is how he's going to choose to try to do that. I'm sure there are some things we are not going to find out until we get there."

Michigan has not lost a football game since losing to Notre Dame in September. Carr feels the team has shown great growth over that time.

"I think we've improved dramatically as an offensive football team from where we were the first of the season," Carr said. "I think that has to do with the fact we had some uncertainty in our offensive line. We had a young guy - Michael Hart - step in at some point in the Big Ten season and became the starter. Of course, we had a freshman quarterback that had the opportunity to start early.

"I think all of those issues have been resolved in a positive way, I think, from where we started. I think that's a positive. I think our kicking game has improved steadily throughout the year as well."

Carr was also asked about some topics that are of interest to fans, including instant replay and how he'll vote if USC, Auburn and Oklahoma wind up unbeaten. Carr came out as a fan of the instant replay system.

"I think it's been an unqualified success," Carr said. "In terms of my own personal position, I don't see any withdrawing from it. I think it's here to stay. I think obviously there's going to be some discussion. There's going to be some things that came up that coaches are going to want to have clarified. I'm not sure how the rest of the coaches in the Big Ten conference feel, but I personally feel like it's been a great success."

On voting for No. 1, Carr said that he wants to see what the teams have done throughout the entire season, not just recently.

"What I'm going to do is go back and look at all of the schedules," Carr said. "To me, when you have that many teams that are undefeated, you really have to look at, my judgment, the schedules and who played the most difficult schedule, who had games over the best opponents, at least people that were ranked higher or were playing very well. Those are the two, I think, major things that I'm going to look to."


Buckeye Sports Top Stories