Tressel, Players Reflect On Texas, QB Decision

We have comments from Jim Tressel at his weekly press luncheon as well as from the Big Ten teleconference. Tressel discusses rebounding from Saturday's tight loss to Texas as well as his decision to name Troy Smith as the starting quarterback for this Saturday's game with San Diego State (3:30 p.m., ABC). Plus we have comments from various players on coming back from that tough loss. (NOTE: Story updated at 2:45 p.m.)

Speaking at his weekly press luncheon, OSU coach Jim Tressel confirmed what he announced on the Buckeye Roundtable radio show Monday night – that Troy Smith would start this Saturday's game with San Diego State (3:30 p.m., ABC).

Tressel also recapped the heartbreaking 25-22 loss to No. 2-ranked Texas.

"Our initial impressions after the ball game were our kids played extremely hard and played tough and we didn't do some of the things that you need to do to take advantage of in a tight ball game and have a chance to win a hard-fought ball game," Tressel said.

"As you watch the film, there's a lot of the same emotion, but you get to see it from even more detailed fashion. You get to see it from the end zone and sideline and get to replay it and ask yourself, `Why and how could we have taught it better?' and ‘What could we have done from a planning standpoint better?'

"But I would say that there's no question, as we mentioned Saturday night, our kids played hard. Both teams played hard. I think both will end up being good football teams at the end of the year. I think there will be people saying, those are two good teams, those are two tough teams, and I think our guys will learn a lot from this."

Tressel got into the decision to start Smith over Justin Zwick, who started the first two games.

"Troy's going to start," Tressel said. "We've made a decision to have Troy get the bulk of the work and probably 75 to 80 percent of the reps in practice with preparation being the key word there, and not making reference to the fact that Justin did poorly and there was a big difference in grades from the standpoint as you watched the film and watched who we are and what we accomplished and how we can go about it. We think the best decision is for Troy to be the quarterback and get the bulk of the work.

"Obviously you have to have more than one guy ready to go and we've said many times that we haven't been around many championship teams that two quarterbacks haven't had a significant impact in the course of the season, but as we move forward today, actually as we moved forward yesterday in practice, that was the direction we went."

Tressel said he expects Smith to utilize all of the weapons in the offense.

"I don't think we're going to change who we are and what we would like to be," Tressel said. "I think the number one thing that a quarterback needs to be, as you look at the make-up of our offense, is make sure that guys like Santonio (Holmes) and Teddy (Ginn) and Gonzo (Anthony Gonzalez) and Antonio (Pittman) and Roy (Hall) and so forth get the ball in their hands to make plays, and of course the quarterback has to make plays. That's a major task.

"The second major task, and maybe more important than the first one I discussed, is they've obviously got to make good decisions. Now, that helps get the ball in the right people's hands and so forth, but they've got to make great decisions with the football and get it to the people that we think can do good things with the ball. So, no, you won't see a difference -- we're not all of a sudden going to come out and run a different offense or something like that. I don't know that it was that different when the two of them were in. There might have been a couple more quarterback design runs, but there were only two or three of those."

Tressel said neither Smith nor Zwick graded a winning performance against Texas.

"I don't think you can lose sight of the fact he hadn't played in two games," Tressel said of Smith. "Troy's a competitor. He was excited out there. He's the kind of guy who wants to make something happen and wants to -- I don't know if the word is make up for the time he missed and give back to his teammates for the time he missed and those kind of things.

"He was fired up. I just thought based upon who had had preparation over the course of time and where we were and what we were doing that both guys could contribute to a win. And as it turns out, you know, if you put the film on, that could very well have happened, but it didn't."

Tressel lamented the fact that Ginn only had three touches on offense against Texas.

"We've got to get the ball to people who can make plays with it. Teddy's certainly one of them," Tressel said. "The beautiful thing about Teddy is, he would have liked to have touched it more, but what is most disconcerting to him is that he sees the guys that he loves like A. J. (Hawk) and Nick Mangold and Robbie Sims and Bobby Carpenter and them not have an unscathed senior year. That's what he wants for them. Is it going to be a conscious decision to give Ted Ginn the ball? Of course. And it is Santonio and it is Antonio and it is Gonzo. We want to get it to who's open."

Tressel was asked why he inserted Zwick back in the game with OSU trailing 23-22 and 2-1/2 minutes left.

"It just felt like that was the best thing to do at the time," Tressel said. "Very seldom do I like to make a decision based on one play, like, `Oh, gosh, so and so angled to the wrong gap, get him out of there' type thing. So I would say in both cases, as we talked, we have the luxury of having three or four people on the communication at one time is what's the best thing that the team needs right now, and that's how you make those decisions."

Reporters then asked if the same logic applied today to the decision to start Smith.

"Oh, absolutely," he said. "Gosh, I hope that's how we always make those decisions. You sit down and you say, okay, what is it that our team needs right now. We always keep in consideration the individual. There's no question feelings and all those kinds of things, but ultimately what's most important is what does the team need and that's how you go about it."

Tressel said he believes Smith has earned this opportunity over time.

"I think that throughout the course of time, it's demonstrated," he said. "We've had lots of practices, lots of games. It's not like we're guessing on some people that haven't been around for a while."

Tressel said he expects Zwick to handle this change and stay ready.

"He's interested in our team," Tressel said. "He wants to do all he can to help and it's harder to do it when you're not in the game, obviously, but watching his immediate reactions or what people say, quite honestly I don't put a whole lot of credence in. I like to watch their long-term. I thought his practice demeanor and habits and intensity was just fine."

More Quotables

* Tressel on playing San Diego State -- "We get to play against a team who's 0-2, who is young, and we've played San Diego State twice, and the thing that our guys will tell you about them and I know our coaches will tell you about them is they play the game. I mean, they come out and get after you. They don't care if they're in Ohio Stadium. They don't care if it's the Big House where they could have won last year. They'll go anywhere anytime and play like crazy. They're very physical, very skillful. They lost a number of guys off their defense, I think three or four of them are in the NFL right now, a couple of them starting, and they're younger in some areas, but they're very talented.

"Offensively, they get the running back back, Lynell Hamilton, who was a 1,000-yard rusher. You remember him from our stadium a couple years ago, a very, very good player. The guy that filled in for him last year is also back. (Jeff) Webb, the good receiver is also back. Their quarterback (Kevin O'Donnell) is young, big, tall, strong, does a lot of the quarterback run things that you're seeing throughout the country, which makes you account for him just like you had to account for Vince Young. You have to account for our quarterback when you're defending Ohio State. You have to account for their guy. They throw it all over the place. Their specialists are back, their kicker/punter/long snapper, so they're going to come into our stadium not happy about being 0-2 because they're competitive kids, you can see that.

"(OSU assistant) Tim Beckman told us as he was talking to (former Utah head coach) Urban Meyer, who he had worked with at Bowling Green. Urban thought that was the most talented team on their schedule a year ago, and as you watch them on film, you can see that type of thing. So our guys have to focus in on who it is we need to be and how we need to best do it and what we need to correct and go out and play a much better game three than we played a game two or one."

* On his team's psyche after the loss -- "You know, I wouldn't use a word as strong as deflated. I think they're disappointed and what I like about them is every person from coach to player is disappointed about maybe what they could have done that would have made that one little bit of difference that could have turned it into a game that we were capable of winning. Those types of things, if you're a competitor, irritate you, that you didn't do everything.

"So I wouldn't call them deflated. I think they care about each other too much and care about becoming a great team to be deflated. At least I know this, with what, 30 seconds to go, the ball's on the half yard line, we're down by a point, looking like the game's over, and our guys on defense played as hard as I've ever seen the defense play, flying around, and kept them out of the end zone. That's not deflated, and I think that's the way they'll keep playing."

* On how hard it may be to get this team back up to play -- "There were two teams out there playing with great emotion and great passion, and great respect for one another, and to me, that's the secret of playing. That's why this game's a little bit different than baseball or the NBA where they play 82 games or that type of thing.

"You only get so many chances and that doesn't make it easy to be at the best emotional position you would like to be, but that's the challenge and that's the fun of it. And I think that a lot of that has to do with your leadership, and I feel really good about our captains and our seniors and our older guys. It's about their team that's important to them, and they're disappointed. I don't know if it's deflated, but to me that's the fun and the challenge is to make sure that you play this game, which needs to be played with emotion every time you go out there."

* On the play of Big Ten defensive player of the week A.J. Hawk -- "No surprise that A.J. Hawk was the defensive player of the week. He had a great performance and Coach Bruce used to always say that the great players step up in those types of environments, and A.J. Hawk did, 10 tackles, four assists, 10 tackles for loss, sacks, interception, leadership. When you're standing in A.J. Hawk's huddle, you're not going to do anything other than play because he's that type of leader and he's going to bring that out of you."

* On it being a team loss – "We did not have enough performance across the board to win a football game. Some people like to point to this guy or to that guy or to this play or that play and that's, to me, what's beautiful about football is we know that that's not the case. It's a collective thing and how everyone can contribute their role or maybe contribute a little bit better, that's how you win, and we feel good about our guys and their passion to become a great team, and what's beautiful about it is that we get to play again Saturday."

* On settling for short field goals in the red zone -- "I think two things. The obvious is we have to execute better, but maybe the less obvious is that we've got to do a better job teaching and conceptually help ourselves so that we will execute. It's easy to say we should have seen that guy open or should have protected better or should have cut the guy so he couldn't block the pass or all those things, but you better, especially down in there, get real good at some things, and right now I would say that that's not necessarily the case.

"The field shrinks. If you're playing against a good defense, it is harder. Playing against our defense, I think Texas had some moments in the red zone that weren't as nice as moments out in the field. When you're playing against a good defense, it is tougher in the red zone, the field shrinks, they're running forward. I have heard that criticism, you know, versus the spread. I don't know if it's warranted or not, but I think you have to run the ball to win and most especially if you can run it in the red zone, then I think you really have a chance and that's why we would like to be both. We would like to be a team that can be a spread team and a conventional team."

* On players out with injuries -- "We won't have Marcus Freeman back probably until next week. It doesn't look like Rory Nicol or Jimmy Cordle are still a ways. I think somewhere in between Marcus Freeman and Jimmy (Cordle) and Rory (Nicol), we'll get Mike D'Andrea back soon."

The Players Take

More players will be available later today, including, presumably, Smith and Zwick. Three players appeared at the midday event – defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, offensive tackle and co-captain Rob Sims and wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

Pitcock said the Buckeyes are still holding out hope of getting back into the national title picture.

"Every game counts," he said. "Each week counts. Teams will lose, so there is a chance for anybody.

"If people still consider strength of schedule and they're considered No. 2, maybe we should be considered close around there."

Pitcock said it doesn't do any good to get upset over the loss.

"The game is over with," he said. "We can't do anything about it. It's time to get on to San Diego State. That's the next game we have to worry about. It was a what-if game."

He also predicted it will not be hard for the team to bounce back this Saturday.

"By Saturday, we'll have a little fire behind us from last week and feel like we need to prove something this week," he said. "We had a decent game against Miami and felt like we played well against Texas, but not good enough. This week, we need to show who we are.

"I don't think there is much of a bad carryover. It's just a lesson to learn from."

Holmes also sees the Buckeyes bouncing back after the loss.

"We just need to come out and make a statement next game," he said. "And at the same time, a lot of those teams that are ranked ahead of us, they play each other. I think that's going to play a big part on our end, that they can knock each other out and we can move up.

"We know it's a long season and anything can happen. We're disappointed, but we're going to come back stronger and see how it plays out."

Sims believes OSU can still play for a Big Ten title and possibly the national title.

"It's not over," he said. "If we run the table – which is what we planned on doing two weeks ago – it didn't work out for the second game, but it can work out for the rest of them and we'll see where we stand at the end."

In fact, in 2003 OSU would have qualified for the national title game with one loss if it would have defeated Michigan.

"Yeah, being here for four years, I know that it's not really over until it's over," he said. "A lot of things can still happen. It takes a little bit of luck to win the national championship, too. Sometimes we could have won every game and not went to the national championship, you never know. So, we're just going to go out and play every game and see what happens in the end."

Sims admitted that the tight nature of Saturday's loss is grating.

"It was crazy," Sims said. "Just a mistake here or a dropped ball here or a missed block there, we could be a lot happier right now. It's disappointing, but we just have to go on."

Sims admitted it is somewhat of a relief that Tressel has named a starting quarterback.

"I think the controversy thing is a lot less," Sims said. "Coach Tressel has a knack of having us focus on what we need to focus on. Whatever decision he makes will be the right one. He makes good decisions for us. Now we just have to go out and work hard and get it done."

Below we have our story from earlier today with Coach Tressel's appearance on the Big Ten teleconference.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel opened this week's Big Ten teleconference with a statement about his team's loss on Saturday night to Texas.

"Both teams played extremely hard," Tressel said. "Texas is a good football team. I think Ohio State will be a good football team, and we didn't make the plays that you need to make to win those tight ball games. But our kids played hard to the final whistle, and we're proud of that. Now we've got to get better at some of those things that you need to do to become a good team, and our guys went back to work and are working on them hard."

The big news to surface over the past 24 hours was Tressel announcing on the statewide radio show Buckeye Roundtable that Troy Smith would be the team's starting quarterback. Tressel discussed why he made the decision at this point.  

"I mentioned to them -- I guessed I prefaced it with saying that we were not inferring at all that our quarterback play was the reason we didn't win the football game," Tressel said. "It was one of the reasons; we could have played better there, without a doubt. The thought process, really, was from a preparation standpoint of giving enough repetitions so that we can be more consistent in our performance at quarterback. Troy was the guy that we think we need to do that with. We think he'll do an excellent job. That's not taking away anything from Justin; some of the things he did very well. But from a practice time standpoint and a preparation for a game standpoint, at this (point), that's where we feel we need to go."

Tressel was then asked if he was worried that the move could hurt quarterback Justin Zwick's confidence.

"You always worry about your kids, and you wish that all of your players could do everything they would like to do," Tressel said. "You wish everyone could start at right tackle that is a right tackle, or whatever, but you have to make decisions. I think that the challenge that Justin has or Todd Boeckman or Robby Schoenhoft -- the guys that aren't getting the snaps -- is to learn by observing, which is a very difficult thing to do but I've seen people do it, and make sure we do what we feel is the best thing for the team."

This week, Ohio State must rebound and refocus on the San Diego State Aztecs, a team that has given the Buckeyes a battle each of the last two times they came to Columbus. Tressel was asked if the team might be overlooking SDSU due to the Aztecs' 0-2 start.

"One thing we talk a lot about is the things that we can control," Tressel said. "We can control our performance and we can control improving on the areas where we weren't as good last week. And the other thing I think you talk a lot about to your young people is you only have so many opportunities to play games. This isn't baseball where you have 162 games or basketball in the NBA where you have 82, or the NFL where you have 16. We only get 11 opportunities to play the game, and we only get X amount of opportunities to play at home -- this year it happens to be seven, but some year's it's only six -- and taking advantage of every opportunity irregardless of how someone's doing.

"The advantage I think we have this week is that we've played San Diego State before. In 2003, they could have beat us. In 2001, it was a slugfest. In fact, it happened to be the 9/11 weekend and we had to postpone it until later in the season and it was a tight ball game. So our guys have a lot of respect for how San Diego State plays the game, how well they play it, their athletes, their scheme -- they've come into our stadium twice with an excellent scheme that has given us a lot of problems and we hadn't seen, and that type of thing. So there's an amazing amount of respect that our guys have for the Aztecs."

Some have wondered if Ohio State still has a chance to play for a national championship despite the loss to Texas. Tressel was asked if the team was thinking about any postseason positioning as losses this weekend by the Big Ten's top three teams may hurt the Big Ten's BCS chances in the long run.

"We really work hard before the season, during the season, regardless of how the record's going as to focusing on what's going on right this second," Tressel said. "You can't worry about what's going to go on at the end of the year or are we going to get a chance for this opportunity or that opportunity, so that's something that we work hard to have guys understand. Now, that's a hard concept to really internalize, especially for young people, but just constantly work on that. I think that's a great life lesson, to focus on today. I think there's a lot more people outside of our building that talk about that than inside of our building, as to what's going to go on in January or whatever, and our guys, at least what I saw of them at Monday's practice, they were back at it trying to get better."

The question was followed up with one about whether or not Tressel thinks there is more focus these days on winning the national championship than there might have been in previous years.

"That's an interesting question," he said. "I suppose when I was here 20 years ago, I don't remember much discussion about anything other than winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl, because that was kind of the ultimate. On the hand, I do remember hearing about the fact that the Ohio State 1968 team won the national championship by winning the Big Ten and winning the Rose Bowl, and that was certainly on everyone's radar screen. I know when we got here in 2001, at the height of the BCS going on and I think the height of more coverage of college football in general, it was discussed, maybe more, because there was a poll specifically for that. So I think anytime there's more discussion of things, people think more about them."

Both Troy Smith and Justin Zwick saw carries last week for the Ohio State offense. Tressel was also asked during the teleconference about running quarterbacks and what the advantages and disadvantages of using the quarterback to run the football might be.

"The advantage is when defenses start talking about having enough hats in the box to stop the run and giving you no place to run, all of a sudden now the guy that all those things were designed for, the running back, now becomes a blocker for that extra hat, and now the offense is back to the advantage again," Tressel said. "I think that's one of the upsides. And there's some skillful young people that can run the ball. We're playing San Diego State this week, and Utah is one of the films that we have, and you watch Alex Smith running, and here's a first-round NFL draft choice probably carrying the ball as much as he's throwing it. The downside probably is what's your depth at quarterback if all of a sudden you lose your guy that perhaps might be the offense's leader and potential playmaker and the guy that you've given a lot of repetitions to, and all those kinds of things, and then you lose him, obviously there's a downside to that. But I think it's part of the college game."

Tressel also commented on whether or not he has seen an increase in running quarterbacks based on that success.   

"Us coaches always steal from one another," Tressel said. "I always, in the last year or so, have chuckled when people say that was an innovation. When we played against Miami (Fla.) in the national championship, the leading rusher in the game wasn't Maurice Clarett and it wasn't Willis McGahee, it was Craig Krenzel. It's not like it's brand new, but I think what you're seeing in offensive football now is many, many people do everything. They're running their quarterback, they're lining up in two tights and two backs and pounding, and everything in between, and that's just, again, I think a little bit of a function of kids are coming to college now with more experience. Their high schools have video setups, they're going to camps, they've been on TV more, they know more about the game, and maybe you can do it a little bit more is why we're seeing everything from A to Z."

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