OSU head coach Jim Tressel met with the media today after the team's tough loss Saturday night at Penn State. Tressel began his media sessions with the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference.
"As everyone knows, we traveled to State College and had a tough ball game with the Nittany Lions," Tressel said to open his portion of the conference. "To their credit, they came away with the victory and did the things that you need to do to win tight, tough ball games. That's what we've got to build on is the understanding of what it takes to play against great teams like we play against every week in the Big Ten, and we've got to get better in every phase."
The criticism surrounding Ohio State's offensive output against Penn State has been plentiful from fans and media over the past two days. Tressel was asked if he is tempted at this point in the season to change the offensive philosophy or if things would stay the same.
"I think you're always tempted to figure out better ways to do what you do," Tressel said. "I think it's tied into two things -- one is your own personnel and what we seem to be capable of doing, and two is what is the defense doing, because you might come up with the greatest idea in the world, but it might be the wrong defense to run it against. So I think there's a combination of both, but I think without question if you watch teams from the beginning of the season through the end of the season, you'll see a constant tinkering with what you're doing based on the more you know about yourself and obviously what you're facing."
Tressel was also asked by a reporter about Ohio State's low offensive numbers during the past few seasons and why the team hasn't produced more given the talent on offense.
"If it was that simple, I'd hope that we could figure it out," Tressel said. "I think everything that you do on on any side of the ball, there's a plan involved and then there's an execution involved, and you have to constantly evaluate your plan and say 'Is that the the right plan that's going to help our team win?', whether we're planning on defense or planning on offense or special teams. The same thing goes in 'Is that the execution we need? Are we asking Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes and Justin Zwick to do the things they're best qualified to do and equipped to do?' Obviously, you can't refute numbers, so I'm not refuting your statement about where we rank and that type of thing, but we probably don't look at that as hard as we look at some other things."
OSU quarterback Troy Smith has also received some criticism over the past couple of days for his performance against Penn State. Tressel was asked if backup quarterback Justin Zwick would possibly be mixed in to the game plan this week.
"He's mixed in in practice all week," Tressel said. "I don't know that we're going into the game saying hey, we're definitely mixing him in to the initial game plan. We haven't had that type of discussion, no."
Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn, who has not put up the numbers this season that many expected he would, was reportedly showing some frustration during Saturday night's game against Penn State. Tressel commented on whether or not Ginn is getting frustrated with the fact that he has yet to break out for big numbers this season.
"I think the only frustration Ted Ginn would have is that he loves to compete and he loves to win," Tressel said. "He's not used to coming out on the wrong side of the scoreboard. I would think he has some frustration there, as all of us at Ohio State do from that standpoint. You think there were probably a couple times that he would have liked to have seen ball thrown his way because perhaps he had position on the defenders and wants to do that for the good of the team. But beyond that, I don't know that Ted Ginn is that kind of guy to allow frustration to dominate how he feels and what he's thinking."
Tressel was also asked how Ginn is progressing since his move from wide receiver to cornerback in 2004.
"I think it's really coming along," Tressel said. "He has been working full-time as a receiver now for probably a year and three quarters, a year and a half as a starter now. His understanding of coverages and what we're doing and so forth gets better every day, just like every player. His skills have not diminished, that's for sure. He has great hands and great speed.
"There have been some times that I thought maybe we could have gotten him the ball, but it's easy from where I sit with the clicker in my hand playing the play back time and again, and I wasn't standing there with the football and those defensive lines chasing me and so forth. But I think Ted is really coming along, and he's going to end up being a great one."
Tressel also talked about Ginn as a return man and the blocking he has received during his kick returns.
"There have been times when Teddy has had big returns that I'm not sure we blocked as many people. There have been times when Teddy had great returns when we did an extraordinary job," Tressel said. "The past two games, quite frankly, I don't think we've done as good a job -- our Iowa game and our Penn State game. I'm not sure that we blocked as well as we need to and are capable of doing. That shows in your net result, but it's something we work on constantly. Let's face it -- the guys trying to cover our kicks and our punts are working like crazy too because they've seen No. 7 and No. 4 get out there and make big things happen, so we've got to get better without a doubt."
The Buckeyes face another big challenge this weekend as high-powered Michigan State comes to Columbus on Saturday. The Spartans are second to USC nationally in total offense.
Tressel discussed the diversity of the Michigan State attack.
"They bring two or three different backs at you," he said. "Obviously, (Drew) Stanton can run as a quarterback. They throw at the tight ends, they throw at the wide guys, they throw lots of screens, they throw lots of the jailbreak-type screens. They're anywhere from empty to having a back or a back-and-a-half in the backfield, and then you add Stanton to it from a run for standpoint. They bring you so much. I think their offensive line is very well schooled and do what they do extremely well. As the numbers show, they're a great offense."
Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton is a quarterback who can burn defense by both running and throwing the football, much like two other quarterbacks OSU has faced this season -- Vince Young of Texas and Michael Robinson of Penn State. But Tressel said that the Michigan State offense will not resemble those of Texas and Penn State.
"I think it's similar, but I would say what Vince Young and Michael Robinson do are probably paralleled more than what Vince Young versus what Michigan State does," he said. "There are some similarities, but I think it's a little bit different attack, quite honestly."
Michigan State head coach John L. Smith also fielded questions during the teleconference. He was asked about Ohio State's kick and punt return game featuring Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes and if his team would kick to the two players or if he would elect to kick the ball away from them.
"I think you have to take a look at both things," Smith said. "We would not like to just go ahead and kick it to them, but year, we try to take a look at the best way for us to get coverage as well. I think it's a two-way street. Number one, you don't want to give them any extra chances with the ball, but you do have two guys back there, you have to kick to one of them and they're both pretty darn good, so you better look at a way to get it covered. That's what we try to do.
Michigan State will be facing what is likely the best defense they have faced to date when they play Ohio State. Smith was asked if the Buckeye defense was largely a product of talented linebackers A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel and what those three players give the defensive unit.
"I think that's definitely a part of it, and no team is made up of one or two or three guys," Smith said. "They're a part of that entire squad, without a doubt. I think they give (the defense) great flexibility because of the things those guys can do and that they are such good players. I think they can run an extra man down or they can take a man out. They can just do a lot with them. I think it allows them that flexibility. It allows them the opportunity to let's say play a little bit more, and they don't have to gamble as much. You can be a little bit more vanilla. You can make sure you're playing coverage to keep things in front of you because you've got guys underneath that are covering a lot of ground and doing a lot of things. So I think that lends to their versatility and how great they are, but it's just a part of their scheme. You want to give them all the credit in the world, but there's eight other guys out there playing very good too."
Smith was asked if it seemed like every team he faced had talented linebackers like the ones Ohio State features.
"That's the type of person that you want to try to look for," Smith said. "If you can find those guys that are that big and that mobile, the flexibility they can provide you is tremendous. We're all looking for those guys. It just seems like Ohio State's lucky to have three of them."
Offensively, Michigan State brings a complete attack that features plenty of talent at every position. The Spartans feature a spread formation, but they also feature three running backs who regularly see carries in true freshman Javon Ringer, sophomore Jehuu Caulcrick and senior Jason Teague.
Smith was asked about the progress of his running game so far this season.
"Even though we spread it, even though we throw it, and that's our basic belief, part of our philosophy has been that there comes a point in time where you still have to throw the football, and if you can't run the football, then you're not going to win by throwing it all the time," he said. "You have to run it to win, and we totally believe that there will come a point in the game -- it may be early, it may be late, it may be the entire game -- but you're going to have to run the ball to win the football game, and so we still believe that, and that for us is a must. They've done a great job helping each other out; we're kind of a running back by committee group. We're able to mix and match and play those guys and alternate them and use them on certain personnel groups at different times. It's been great for us to give us that flexibility."
Interestingly, OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Michigan State head coach John L. Smith have an interesting history as they met in the early 1990's in the Division I-AA playoffs as head coaches at Youngstown State and Idaho, respectively.
"I remember it was cold," Tressel said. "It was like the third round or something like that and the second or third weekend in december in Youngstown, Ohio is usually pretty nippy. I remember it being two great teams. You don't get to the final four unless you're a great football team. It was a great game.
"That was my first opportunity to face a John L. Smith team. I had seen his Idaho teams on film before when you're playing in the playoff system and so forth. I've said from the moment he got to Michigan State -- I know this guy can coach. You don't win as many games and do as well at the places he has been if you're not a pretty good coach with a lot of great coaches on your staff."
Smith described the day's weather conditions in more vivid fashion.
"It was the coldest day I ever remember on a football field," he said. "Having grown up in Idaho and Utah and coached in Montana, that's pretty cold... It was a blizzard... The wind was blowing; you'd punt the ball and it would come back and you could catch it."