Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel began his weekly media sessions with today's Big Ten coaches teleconference. Tressel opened with a statement about OSU's effort against Michigan State.
"As you know, we had a heck of a ball game with Michigan State," Tressel said. "John L. (Smith) and his staff did a great job. The lead changed hands often in that game, two teams playing extremely hard, and like we face each week in the Big Ten, it was a battle down until the end. I'm real proud of the way our kids continued to play. We fell behind (but) we kept going after it and I'm very proud of them."
Michigan State was able to put up over 450 yards of total offense on Ohio State's defense, something that not many people thought might happen. Tressel was asked about Michigan State's offense.
"I love what they do. They're so balanced. They've got three good backs, and then you add Stanton in there. I think he had 62 rushing yards in that game on the plus side. When a quarterback can run for that many yards, that puts such an additional strain on your team. Then they have all those various wideouts of different shapes and sizes, they give you all kinds of pressure and put you in different situations. I love what John L. has always done with this offense."
Tressel agreed that the game's turning point was the blocked field goal attempt that was returned for a Buckeye touchdown at the end of the first half.
"That was an emotional turnaround," he said. "It very easily could have been a 20-7 game, which is not an out-of-reach game, but it's a lot different than 17-14. There's no question about it -- instead of a 13 point spread, that's a 10-point turnaround, and it was huge."
Ohio State's game against Michigan State wasn't the only Big Ten game on Saturday where key special teams mistakes played a big role in the outcome. Among the other costly mistakes were a blocked punt in the Minnesota/Wisconsin game that put Wisconsin ahead for the win, and Steve Breaston's late kick return against Penn State that gave Michigan field position to go for the win. Tressel was asked if coverage had become just as crucial as other aspects of special teams.
"It's hard to quantify the right guard on the punt team or the coverage guy, the L3 on your kickoff coverage team, but if they make an error, all of a sudden that returner looks good or the punter doesn't look good or whatever it happens to be," he said. "That's the beauty of this game -- in every situation on every play, it takes eleven people on your particular team no matter what they're doing to give you the best chance to succeed. Now occasionally, a running back can make three guys miss or a kick returner can outrun seven guys or whatever, but that's not the norm. The norm is it takes eleven people doing their job to succeed on each given play."
The Buckeye defense was able to get 12 sacks in the win over Michigan State, and one lineman who stepped up with a good game was David Patterson, who Tressel was asked about.
"David's really been a good contributor since he's been here," Tressel said. "Even as early as his true freshman year, he played some when we had some injuries and played significantly a year ago and now plays 40 to 50 snaps a game. What we love about David -- he can play inside, he can play outside according to what style of team we play against. He's a guy who could do so much, loves the game, loves practicing it, loves studying film. David Patterson's a good one."
Several teams in the Big Ten are having some struggles defensively this season. Tressel was asked if, in this day and age of college football, if a good offense was all that was needed to win.
"I'm sure that can happen at times," he said. "I think at the end of the day when you look at the handful of teams at the end of the season who will be in your top ten, let's say, I think you're going to end up with a lot of good football teams. That doesn't mean they won't have given up any points, and sometimes you lose sight of how some of those points got up on the scoreboard. They might have been scored by the defense. They might have been special teams. Field position battles are constant. I would subscribe to the fact that you ought to have as good a defense as you can possibly have.
"It comes down to the win/loss column for sure, but the way that the win/loss column ends up in your favor is if all three of your units do the things that your team needs done to win. You can't win with no offense; you can't win with no special teams, you can't win with no defense. As good as you can be in all three, I know the best teams I've ever been around have had three solid units. Maybe one outshone the other, and maybe that was by design or whatever, but you have to be good at everything to at the end of the year be one of the top teams in your conference or one of the top teams in the country."
Tressel was quick to point out that the defensive line is where defensive success begins.
"It does start up front with defense, without a doubt," he said. "Your linebackers can become very heralded if those people in front of them are creating havoc there. I think if you look at Penn State's defensive line and our defensive line, those are two veteran defensive lines with fourth- and fitfh-year guys, that type of thing. Penn State didn't have quite as good a year a year ago, but they did on defense and they did up front. They kept getting better and all of a sudden some of the other components of their team started playing with the excellence that maybe their defensive front did. That's why you see them now as a no-question contender.
"You look a year ago at Iowa's defensive line. Those were four veteran guys and to me, they were the heartbeat of that team along with everyone else contributes. But I think it starts on the defensive line when you're talking defense, and it starts on the offensive line when you're talking offense."
Head coach Terry Hoeppner of this week's OSU opponent, Indiana, also took questions today. Indiana is coming off a tough loss to Iowa during which his team was in the game in the fourth quarter only to see Iowa pull away late.
After the loss, Hoeppner challenged the players to step up more when the game is on the line. He was asked what he saw during the game to make that challenge.
"To me, the obvious is that we've battled for three-and-a-half quarters, we're down three with nine minutes, 20-some seconds to go in the game, and we didn't play very well in any part of the game after that at that point when the game's on the line," Hoeppner said. "What you don't want is guys looking for excuses. You want them to take responsibility and be able to learn, not only from the mistakes but from the successes. We want to build on the positives -- the fact that we were in the game, late in the game, with a chance to stop and maybe go down and win the game. Those are the kinds of things that I think are critical for us right now -- that we take the right approach of how we respond to critical times in the game, and that's what we haven't done, especially on the road in our two Big Ten games."
Two players who have performed above expectations this year for Indiana are sophomore quarterback Blake Powers and redshirt freshman wide receiver James Hardy, who leads the Big Ten in receiving. Hoeppner admitted he has been surprised with what the players have done.
"I think if you had asked me that question in the spring, coming out of spring practice, if you would have asked me that question on April 16 and told me what was going to happen, I would have said 'Yeah, I would be surprised if that happens to that degree.' I knew they both had talent," Hoeppner said. "The efforts they put in over the summer, when I saw them August 8th, I said, 'Wow.' We did what we needed to do over the summer to the point where now we've got a chance to at least be able to use the system that we play, the offense that we play. It allows guys with talent a chance to do exactly what Blake and James have done. To the degree though, yeah, I'm still pleasantly surprised that we've had the success we've had. It hasn't translated necessarily in the wins we've won. But I think think both of them have a lot of upside, and I think as we get deeper in our playbook and develop in our system, they'll get even better."
Hoeppner has coached for many years at the college level, but this has been his first time taking over as head coach in a program he had not previously been a part of. He discussed some of the challenges he has had to this point/
"It's a challenge, but -- and this is unique for me because I haven't been in this position in the college level," Hoeppner said. "I was at Miami and became the head coach there, so I knew the players. I knew the plusses and minuses. The learning curve, I told the team, and I said it early on, will continue throughout this first year. We're learning how to travel. We're learning how to adjust to various situations as they occur on the field. Our communications are not perfect yet and all of that stuff.
"I told the staff I'd like to be able to get to the point where your quarterback turns to your running back in a key situation and says, "What do you think, should I go for it or not?' as Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush did. Now you know you've got a system in place and the players are operating on the field as an extension of the coach. We're not there right now. That takes time. We've come a long way, but we've got a long way to go."