At his weekly Tuesday press luncheon, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel reviewed the offense's shaky performance in the 27-6 win over San Diego State and looked ahead to Saturday's Big Ten opener against visiting Iowa (noon, ABC).
"We had a victory over San Diego State, which gave us a lot of opportunity, I think, to learn and study and so forth," Tressel said. "There was, I think, a decent amount of good news and maybe some not so good things that we better get good here before we play again.
"From the defensive standpoint, after that first play, we held them to 100 yards or less. We had eight three and outs and the defense played hard and I thought controlled the tempo of the game and dominated the line of scrimmage and really was a no contest once our guys got going.
"Offensively, I thought there were some things we did well that were real positive, one is having 82 plays, which at this point in the season, every opportunity you get to learn about yourself and get better and test people, Jim Bollman made a commitment as he went into the game that he was going to play a lot of different offensive linemen early in the game. I think it was the third series, he had nearly a brand new line in there and a lot of guys got a lot more snaps than they've been getting. Troy Smith had, I think, 71 snaps, which is a great opportunity for him. Justin (Zwick) still got to throw 10 balls, which came in nine for 10, so I think on the numbers of plays, opportunities, it was a real positive thing. I think on the drive lengths it was real good. We had five drives of eight or more plays with an eight play and an eight play and a nine play and an 11 play and a 13 play, and those types of drives I think help you get a little continuity and give you experience, and that was a positive thing.
"I think on the downside, despite having good, long drives and so forth, we weren't as consistent as we need to be. We didn't do all the things you really should do when you get a chance to have those kinds of drives and have that type of field position, you need to score more than 40 points. And obviously seven of our points, the defense gave us on the half yard line. Seven points we didn't get, we gave to them as we fumbled going into the end zone, so a little bit of a wash there. But in my opinion, that should have been a game that we should have been more consistent and scored more points than we did."
Tressel and his staff were so disappointed in the play of the offense that they decided not to hand out offensive awards this week.
"I mentioned our lack of consistency on offense," Tressel said. "Interestingly enough, that resulted in the fact that the offensive staff didn't feel that we had a player of the week because there was really no grade consistent enough to say, ‘Hey, this person was the player of the week.' Nor did we have an offensive lineman of the week. And again, it was a lack of consistency, not that anyone did horribly, but no one did out of this world and so our offensive guys didn't really think that it would be a good thing to reward less than excellence."
But the same was not true on the defensive side of the ball.
"Defensively, Bobby Carpenter, with all the disruption he did as an end and the plays he made as a linebacker, just had an outstanding production game, was the defensive player of the week," Tressel said. "The attack force player of the week was Mike Kudla, who really had his way with those offensive tackles for San Diego State and just really dominated his edge of the defense."
Other awards went to Roy Hall (Jack Tatum hit of the week), Josh Huston (special teams), Anderson Russell (scout team special teams), Trev Robinson (scout team defense) and Rob Schoenhoft (scout team offense).
Tressel then gave his scouting report on the Hawkeyes.
"As you look at Iowa, you look at quality," he said. "You look at excellent teaching. You look at physical play. They tackle so well. I just love watching their film because they tackle. They have great leverage, great team defense.
"Offensively, you'll see that their run game is much improved over a year ago where they had all those injuries at the running back position. Drew Tate continues to grow. Obviously they've lost a game, but it was a game that they didn't have their quarterback, their leader, their playmaker (for most of the game after suffering a concussion)."
Despite the blowout loss last year, Tressel is not concerned about seeking revenge.
"I don't know if revenge is the right approach," he said. "I think remembrance of how good you better be because you have to play a lot better than the last time you played them. If revenge becomes a factor, I'm afraid you lose sight of what it is that you're trying to square away. It's our performance that we need to square away, but all of us have lived with our lack of performance that day, whether it was coaching performance or playing performance, and you would hope anytime you have shortcomings that that serves as added incentive to do better."
Tressel was asked if he's frustrated with the lack of production from OSU's offense through three games.
"Well, I guess frustration on where we are doesn't jump up as much as what we try to do, constantly sit as a staff and say, ‘OK, what are the things that we can help our guys be successful with?' And then secondly is we better have an understanding of these defenses we're getting ready to face. We have to have great execution, great precision, give ourselves a good chance to take advantage of opportunities when they're there. But I don't know if I'd use the word frustration because I don't know what good frustration does. If you're frustrated and work better at it and harder at it, then maybe frustration is good, but our people work pretty hard and I feel good about that."
Tressel was asked if he's comfortable running the spread offense and if he ever ran a similar offense while at Youngstown State.
"Well, one or two years at Youngstown State we were an empty group; that just happened to be what we were good at," he said. "One year we were a split back pass team. I don't know if we've ever been a three-by-one or a two-by-two team like we are right now. And Coach Bollman keeps reminding me that it's OK to pass it on third and two, which the old-fashioned part of me says, ‘How can we pass on third and two? Woody would be killing me.' But I think it's an evolution and a transition for everybody."
At the heart of the problem offensively is the lack of a running game. Pretty much the same story as the last two years.
"Not as consistent as we need it," Tressel said of the rushing offense. "I think if you get to the point where you have a consistent running game and then all of a sudden when you have three by one, they can't have four by three and two over one, but I don't know that we've been consistent enough to take people out of guessing which we're going to be doing and that type of thing. When all of that comes together, when we can become a consistent run team … and I didn't think we did as good a job as we should have back side blocking last week. A bunch of threes could have been sevens, some fours could have been six or eights. If we'd have just been a little bit better back side, those types of things, and all of a sudden, you're going to have to … kind of like what happened in our game with Texas, there was a point where they were running it well enough with both our back and the quarterback, we had to bring an extra guy in the box and all of a sudden that opens up the world in the back end and you need to get to that balance to really be good and that's where we need to get."
Tressel gave a quick rundown of OSU's players that are hampered with injuries.
"Marcus (Freeman) won't be back," he said. "Rory Nicol and Jim Cordle won't. Trev will be out for a couple weeks. Curt Lukens won't be able to play. (Devon Lyons has) had an ankle since the start of the season. We've got to let him heal. To his credit, he went on a gimpy ankle for, gosh, four weeks. It's probably not the best thing for him or us."
The Players' Take
Sophomore wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez is as frustrated as anyone about the lack of offensive production. But he's a realist. He knows that the season is young and the Buckeyes have plenty of time to prove they can be an effective offensive football team.
"I think we're just trying to find our way," Gonzalez said. "It is only the fourth game of the year. It is taking a little bit of time, but we all realize that come Big Ten time, we all have to step it up a lot. I feel confident that we will."
Gonzalez was not taken aback that there was not an offensive player of the week, nor an offensive lineman of the week.
"It didn't surprise me very much at all," he said. "I personally didn't think we played very well and the score kind of showed that, given the opportunities and the fact that the defense was so outstanding. You look at the score and we didn't do that much. So, it didn't surprise me very much at all."
Gonzalez was asked if it's a relief that OSU finally settled on one quarterback last week.
"Well, for me, honestly, since forever, it really hasn't mattered to me," he said. "I have the same rhythm and the same thought process no matter who's in the football game. But it is nice, I suppose, to have one guy that you can sort of develop a chemistry with."
One thing that separates Smith from Zwick is the velocity in which Smith throws the ball. Sometimes he puts too much mustard on his passes.
"Yeah, he throws a hard ball sometimes," Gonzalez said. "But I love the way he throws, personally. I know Coach Tressel mentioned that sometimes he would like to see a little more touch. But if you watch him throw that deep ball, it's a thing of beauty. That thing is the tightest spiral you have ever seen."
But Gonzalez would like to see Smith tone it down a little bit on the quick slants.
"Yeah, catch it or wear it on your shirt, I guess," Gonzalez said with a laugh.
Smith is a natural leader and players seem to respond to him, but he doesn't go overboard in terms of chewing people out in the huddle.
"Well, he has a fiery personality when get to the sidelines, or when we get to the locker room, things of that nature," Gonzalez said. "But when we're actually on the field, he's a pretty calm guy."
Gonzalez was asked if he think Smith was pressing a bit against SDSU, it being his first start since his now-legendary performance in the 2004 Michigan game.
"As far as him pressing, I don't know that he's pressing necessarily," Gonzalez said. "He's trying to make plays, as we all are. Sometimes the defense gets the better of you and that might have happened a little bit more than we would all have liked against San Diego State, but that wasn't just Troy, it was all of us."
As the Buckeyes prepare for Iowa, they can't help but think of last year's 33-7 drubbing in Iowa City.
"Well, last year, I remember leaving very disappointed," Gonzalez said. "And that was the first game that I ever really got into and that was my first catch, but I've never been more embarrassed in my life. Despite the fact that I should have been feeling great about myself, we were just so terrible that it certainly is a motivating factor this year, for me anyway, just to go out and show people across the country that the 33-7 game was not us."
Ted Ginn Jr. received most of the publicity coming into the season, but another OSU receiver is stepping up with a big season. This might be the final season in a Buckeye uniform for junior Santonio Holmes and he is making the most out of it.
"I think he's the best receiver in the country," Gonzalez said of Holmes. "He's an exceptional route runner, he's got great hands and he always seems to make plays. And you watch him and you think, ‘Man, it looks so easy when he does it. Why can't everybody do that?' But he just has a knack for making plays."
* Junior defensive lineman David Patterson is playing a key role this year, switching back and forth from tackle to end.
Patterson is excited to being Big Ten play. He wants to help OSU grab its first outright conference championship since 1984.
"Yeah, it's really special when you open up the Big Ten because you know every game is going to be a battle," he said. "Those guys are going to bring it as hard as anyone. When you're the Big Ten, there's so much tradition between these schools and when you're playing in those games you're playing for all the Buckeyes in the past. It's just a special feeling when you being Big Ten competition."
Patterson says the key to beating the Hawkeyes is containing Drew Tate.
"The key against Drew Tate is everyone doing their job," he said. "Guys can't run by the quarterback. You have to realize who you are playing. When you have a scrambling quarterback back there and you're rushing, you really have to know who you're playing. I was calling him a little Mike Vick when I was watching him on film because he's so elusive like that. Like when we were getting ready for (Texas') Vince Young, you just have to know and be aware of who is back there. Sometimes you might have to change up your moves because you know you have to keep him in the pocket."
But Patterson didn't just compare Tate to Mike Vick, did he?
"I mean, he's a great player," Patterson said. "I think he was Big Ten Player of the Year last year. So, I know he's a great player and we will really have to be on our ‘A' game to stop him."
* Senior defensive end Mike Kudla is having a solid season and knows that Saturday's game against Iowa is a big one.
"There are several factors," Kudla said. "It is the start of the Big
Ten and definitely because of what happened last year. It's another huge test.
With the Big Ten, we will see a lot of running teams and a lot of
right-up-in-your-face type stuff."
Kudla was asked what went wrong last year in Iowa City and how the Buckeyes were able to rebound from that loss.
"We just had a breakdown in all factors: special teams, offense and
defense," he said. "It's just one of those things that is hard to explain.
It was a low point for us, but it also kind of rebounded our season. We came
back and (Tressel) said, `We can go up or we can go down from here.' The seniors
kind of looked at us and said, `We want to change this around and make the best
of this season.' We responded to that."
As for this year's game, Kudla says revenge won't be a big factor. He just wants to emerge with a victory.
"It's not so much of a revenge thing," he said. "They're a good team
and we have to go
out and do our thing. If we think that it's about revenge or this and that, it will take away from our game plan and what we're trying to do."