Suspense Continues Surrounding OSU's QB Position

OSU head coach Jim Tressel stopped short of naming either Justin Zwick or Troy Smith as the starting quarterback for Saturday's game with Texas (8 p.m., ABC). We share comments from Tressel's media luncheon and Big Ten teleconference appearance on the quarterback situation as well as the Texas game. Plus, we have comments from several players on the quarterback situation. (Story updated at 3 p.m. Eastern.)

Following his team's 34-14 win over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel refused to name either Justin Zwick or Troy Smith as the starting quarterback for this Saturday's showdown with No. 2-ranked Texas (8 p.m., ABC).

"I want you guys to have a mysterious weekend so when we get together again (Tuesday), we'll talk about it," he said.

Well, the coach met with the media at the appointed time today and there were plenty of questions regarding the quarterback situation with the Buckeyes. But the mystery remains: Tressel said both Zwick and Smith figure to play against the Longhorns, but he stopped short of naming either of the juniors as the starter.

"We're going to play both Justin and Troy," Tressel told a large media throng, including several visiting reporters from Texas as well as national outlets like ESPN. "Exactly who will play when, obviously we're not going to outline for you today.

"But I think Troy's performance in the '04 season, his performance in the spring and his performance in preseason warrants him deserving to play. I think Justin's performance in last season and this spring and this preseason and now game one of this season warrants that he should play, and they'll both play."

Tressel said that keeping the quarterback decision secret until gametime should not be a big advantage for the Buckeyes.

"I think it doesn't give us a great advantage," Tressel said. "We're going to play both, and we will do that. They both deserve to play. They both had excellent spring practices and excellent preseasons. I thought Justin played well; he needs to play even better on Saturday. I thought there were times last season when Troy played well, but he needs to play even better Saturday. I don't know if it's an advantage that we have two different guys coming at you, but that's who we are right now.

"I don't think they'll all of a sudden change which defense they'll call. Like you'll hear our defense out there, they'll always want to talk about who's the quarterback, when we're working against them, 10's at quarterback and that type of thing, because they know the idiosyncrasies of each guy, what they like to do, that type of thing. I don't know that it's a huge advantage. Vince Young is going to throw the ball like anyone else does and he's going to run the ball too, and our guys are going to throw it like anyone else does and run the ball too. So I don't look for that to be a huge issue."

Tressel was asked if the starter gets hot if that player could play the whole game.

"No, we're planning to play both guys," he said. "We haven't practiced in pads this week, we haven't had all of that to evaluate. But our intentions are to go in -- but let me give you a good example. Our intentions were to play Todd (Boeckman) last week on the fourth series. On the third series, Justin threw an interception. To me, that would have been the wrong message to Justin to say, ‘Hey, let's take you out of there.'

"And so it didn't work that way and it worked that Todd didn't get in until the middle of the third quarter or thereabouts and then played the rest of the way. We had kind of planned on playing him a little bit in the second quarter and a little bit in the third quarter and see how things were going. But our plans are to play both Justin and Troy."

Tressel added that he does not see any players hoping for one quarterback over the other.

"I really don't," he said. "They're both in the same class, so the same guys have been here the same length of time with them. They're both good kids. All they both want to do is help our team win. They both prepare accordingly. I don't sense anything from that standpoint."

Tressel admitted that factors both on and off the field will factor into his decisions on playing time.

"I think everything is a part of everything," he said. "I think you take all things into consideration when you make decisions, and at a given moment you say, what's all involved. So you say what's the best thing for all involved. You put in all the data you can from a year ago, from spring, from preseason, and make decisions from that standpoint, so I'd say, yeah, everything's in."

Media members got to discuss the quarterback situation with several of the upperclassmen following Tressel's presentation.

"I'm excited," said left guard and co-captain Rob Sims. "I think anybody we put out there is going to get the job done for us. I'm glad to see that Troy is back and able to play. That should do nothing but help us right now. We'll be in a groove anyway. Whoever is back there will complete passes and the guys will make plays and we'll go about our business."

Sims sat in for Tressel's portion of the press conference. He said that was the first he heard both quarterbacks would play and that Tressel has not told the team yet, either, who would start.

"That was the first time I heard it," Sims said. "Coach Tressel really doesn't tell us those kind of things. He just kind of springs it on us. I'm happy about it. I'm excited to see what both of them can do on Saturday."

Sims discussed Smith's role of the past week.

"He was all over the place," Sims said. "He was working with the scout team a little bit and he was working with us. He worked with the twos and threes, too. He's a guy who is ready to be back with us. I know he is excited about it and I know he can't wait to step on that field and play ball."

Split end Santonio Holmes talked about the two-headed monster at quarterback.

"Pretty much, we don't have a number one quarterback," Holmes said. "We have two quarterbacks who are capable of making plays and leading our team.

"Troy has been working hard since day one. He took his lumps and we still accepted him no matter what. No one looked down on him because he wasn't our starter. We knew he was still going to play regardless.

"I've seen him walking around. He has a little pep in his step. He's ready to go. This is going to be a big game for our program and when Coach calls his number, he needs to be ready to go. He's been practicing with the ones and also against the first-team defense. He's been working on what he needs to do, which is throw the ball well, run the ball well and make the proper reads."

When asked what the rest of the offense needs to do to prepare for two quarterbacks, Holmes simply said, "Be prepared for the unexpected."

Center and co-captain Nick Mangold said Zwick and Smith, at least behind the scenes, have not shown any personality change as this situation has unfolded.

"I think it's a testament to their character that they are still the same people," Mangold said. "When we're sitting at dinner or something. In talking with Justin, he's just the same guy. The same with Troy. That shows how much they care about this team and how much they want to win. They'll do whatever it takes, whatever is asked of them."

When asked when he expects to hear who will start, Mangold said, "Saturday, about 8 o'clock or 8:05, whenever. We've worked real hard in the off-season with two guys getting about the same amount of reps. When we have worked so hard with two and then say we're going to play two, it's really not that big of a deal."

Mangold did make light of the lingering quarterback "controversy." He was asked if he'd like to see it solved once and for all.

"Nah," Mangold said, "because then I wouldn't feel like I was at Ohio State, and I don't ever want to leave Ohio State. I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

"People do always want to try and stir the pot. It's something that we have been working with as a team and we're pretty comfortable with it. No one ever wants to seem to let it go and say, `They've got two quarterbacks and that's how their going to play.' "

More Discussion

Here are more comments from Tressel's luncheon:

* On playing Texas -- As we move forward to play Texas, we don't need to say much more than we're playing Texas, one of the great programs in the history of college football. They've got things rolling there right now extremely well. They have an outstanding coaching staff. I've known Coach Brown for quite some time and what he did at North Carolina and what he's done at Texas have been two programs that we've studied.

"We've tried to pick their brain and pick their methods and so forth and happen to know their defensive coordinator who just came over from Auburn, Chizik. I remember back when he was at Steven F. Austin, played against him when he was at Central Florida, and just an outstanding coach. All of you who watched Auburn's defense last year know that they'll be picking up a great coach there and have known a lot of their coaches. Cleve Bryant happens to be on their coaching staff. Many of the Ohioans remember him, a former Ohio University football coach. They've got an outstanding coaching staff and outstanding players.

"They've had outstanding recruiting classes and sometimes you don't know how those rankings are until you see them play in college and now that you've seen them play in college on Texas' team, they were ranked right where they should be. Excellent size. Great speed. Tremendous effort. A thing I like to gauge is when you watch the special teams and you see the kind of speed and intensity and concentration that is put in their special teams, you know that's a talented football team. Their specialists are back, their punter and their kicker, their snapper and their return guys and so forth, so they have a tremendous group of specialists."

* On the Texas defense – "If you talk about their defensive football team, it's speed and size and depth. They'll rotate guys in up front. It will be as big and strong a front as we've, perhaps, ever seen. Their linebackers have great speed. Their corners are excellent cover men. Their safeties come flying into the box and they're very sure tacklers and so forth. They are what they should be, an outstanding defensive team."

* On the Texas offense – "Then when you talk about their offense, you know, it starts with Vince Young. He's a guy that every time he's got the ball in his hands, something's going to happen. He may run with it. He threw the ball extremely well in their opener. I know he's worked hard on that. It's been much talked about that as he's grown in playing the position that, like any great player, he wants to get better at everything he does and he's not just a runner, he is a quarterback. And it starts there in the leadership category. You can see the type of leader he is.

"They did graduate the great back in Benson. Selvin Young has come along and stepped in, they've got a freshmen that came and rushed for 135 yards. Their receivers are young, but I think very, very talented, and when you've got a lot of attention on the run game, you've got a lot of attention on the quarterback. The receivers can make a difference, then their big guys up front, veterans, All-American candidates, huge, talented, a good football team. They're what a top-five football team should look like, extremely well schooled and they play with class. They play hard and that's just -- what more could we ask for than to play a football team like Texas in our stadium in front of the nation, and I know our guys are excited to do that."

* On teams scheming against Ted Ginn Jr. -- "Well, you know, the beauty of anytime someone does something different within their package toward one phase of your game, then that's going to open up other things, and Santonio Holmes lived through that. All of a sudden they were doing things and maybe if they're going to change what they do on Teddy's side, all of a sudden Anthony Gonzalez has got opportunities, Antonio Pittman, Justin Zwick, Troy Smith, Santonio, you know, so we've got to be astute enough to know what people are trying to do to take away what people are doing and then make the proper calls and execute that. But I like having guys that they have to take a special look at because I think that helps us."

* More on the Texas as a veteran team -- "Well, the Texas guys, to me there's two things they have going for them. One is that they're tremendous at what they do at their positions and they're veterans. Those guys in the back end, they've been there forever, unless for like four years everyone's been wearing the same number type thing. So they're not going to change who they are as they come in to play Ohio State, just like we are not going to change who we are. We still have to be Ohio State and then do what Ohio State does best to see if we can handle Ramonce Taylor and Vince Young and the backs and all that stuff. And they'll do the same. I don't think you'll see any tremendous change in what either group does."

* On watching tape of Texas' 60-3 win over Louisiana-Lafayette -- "It reaffirms what you thought you knew. Lafayette couldn't match up, but you could tell there weren't that many mistakes, so they were focused on what they were doing and that's the mark of a mature team. They had a game to play. It was on the schedule. It was Louisiana Lafayette. I'm sure in some ways they'd rather it was Ohio State and they were anxious to do that. And our guys the same, but the mature group says, hey, today we've got to take care of this, and I thought they did that well. And that just shows you the type of team they have."

Below are snippets from Tressel's appearance on the Big Ten teleconference earlier today:

At today's session between OSU head coach Jim Tressel and the national media at the Big Ten teleconference, the focus was on the big game between OSU and Texas. Tressel started off with a comment on the Miami game and then shifted the focus to this weekend's game.

"We got off to a good start," Tressel said. "We played a very tough Miami of Ohio team who was extremely well-prepared and anxious to play in our stadium. Many of their players are from the state of Ohio, and this is the greatest facility in Ohio. They came in fired up to play and did a good job.

"I thought our guys kept their focus right where it needed to be. We did a lot of good things; obviously there's a lot of things we need to do much, much better, but we felt good about the football game and now we're prepared for another contest here at home with the University of Texas, and our people are excited to be a part of this on behalf of the Big Ten against the Big XII, and it will be a great evening."

Ohio State unveiled a passing-oriented attack against Miami (Ohio). Tressel stated that the influence behind this offense is to play to the team's strengths.

"I think you have to figure out what your players are capable of and build your head coach around it," he said. "I've been a head coach for 20 years, and I've had all kinds of different (approaches). I've run predominantly option football at times. I've run predominantly dropback pass, I've run predominantly power offenses. I think this day and age, with as good as defenses are and how well-schooled players are, I think you have be able to be very diverse, and so you want to be that.

"I think we have to feature talents that our guys have. Teddy has talents that we need to utilize, so does Santonio, and Tony Gonzalez, and Troy and Justin and Antonio and all the rest. Our personality, if you went way back, has been many faceted over the course of 20 years."

Tressel was asked how the number of times Ginn touches the ball in a game is determined.

"What we try to do is work hard on our distribution," Tressel said. "Teddy Ginn is a guy that we've got to have touch the ball as much as possible. I don't know if we'll ever limit ourselves. We also want Santonio Holmes to have his hands on the ball; we want Antonio Pittman to be carrying the ball; Tony Gonzalez is a guy; we like it when our quarterbacks run. So we work hard on distribution and making sure we attack across a broad front. But no question about it, we need Teddy Ginn to have his touches."

It is rare in this day and age of college football to see a nonconference series that matches up two high-profile programs like Ohio State and Texas, but Ohio State's schedules will be similar in the future. Tressel discussed the team's scheduling philosophy.

"What we are philosophically going to do, if we can pull it off, is we are going to have a home-and-home with a team of great interest to our fans and our state, like Texas," Tressel said. "We've got Southern Cal coming on home-and-home in I think '09 and '10; we've got Miami (Fla.) coming '11 and '12 home and home. Philosophically we would like to do that, and then every other year have eight home games, and the years where we travel to the intersectional rivalry, have seven. That's our goal. We fund 36 sports, which I think is the largest in the country. I know our budget that we have to raise is the largest in the country, and we think we can still do that by every other year having seven home games and in the good years financially having eight."

As for the first version of OSU-Texas, Tressel thinks the game will be something the participants will remember for a lifetime.

"I think it's going to be very exciting," Tressel said. "I think it gives college football a great jump start into the '05 season. We're two huge universities that have alumni all over the world. We have the good fortune that a lot of people know who we are and who the Longhorns are, and I think it's a great thing for college football. It's a great thing for our two leagues. It's a great thing for both of our alumni. It's a tough football game for all of us to be playing so early, but who knows -- maybe our kids and coaches turned it up a notch in their preparation in the summertime preseason so that we can see if we can compete.

"There's pros and cons (to playing in a game like this)," Tressel added. "Obviously, it's a difficult ballgame, but I don't care who you play -- you always run the risk of not doing as well as you'd like to do, and that's a con I guess. I think the pro is it is it helps you get ready for a very difficult conference schedule. I think maybe the biggest pro to it at all is this will be something -- these two games, Ohio State and Texas, and then down in Austin, Ohio State and Texas -- will be something that our players and coaches will remember for a lifetime. Those will be things -- they'll cherish those memories. Memories are a big part of what is good about this game I think, and this will be a special memory for both groups."

While this will be the first time the two storied programs meet on the field, it will not be the first time the two head coaches have had contact.

"Mack Brown I know very well," Tressel said. "There are some guys, as you're coming up in coaching, that you study, because you see that they do things well and they're successful and they just have something about them.

"I can remember when he was back in North Carolina, sitting at the national convention listening to his presentation and then having a chance to interact with him a little bit because I really enjoyed some of the things that he was talking about and he thought those could help our program. And of course when he went to Texas and the great success he's had, I've had a chance to be with him. Off-and-on, not a whole bunch because we live a long way apart, but he's a fine guy and obviously does a great job, and he's got a great, great job going on."


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