Tressel Looks Ahead To Golden Gophers

Ohio State struggles on the road in the Big Ten and this week the Buckeyes head to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers. At his weekly press luncheon, OSU head coach Jim Tressel tackled questions on stopping UM's running game, Ohio State's highly-ranked defense, players from Ohio playing at other Big Ten schools, the play of Antonio Pittman and much, much more. We also have comments from Nick Mangold and Mike Kudla.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel reviewed the 41-10 win over Indiana and looked ahead to this week's match-up against Minnesota at his weekly press luncheon on Tuesday.

Tressel knows that one of the keys to beating Minnesota is containing junior tailback Laurence Maroney, who is third in the country in rushing with 1,133 yards (5.5) and eight touchdowns.

However, the Buckeyes do not set goals in terms of limiting a team to a certain amount of rushing yards.

"Not that I'm aware of," Tressel said. "I've never heard, you know, (defensive coordinator Jim) Heacock say we have to hold this guy to this. We really kind of handle things play by play. On first down, we consider it successful if he gets less than four, and if he gets four or more, we don't consider that play successful. You want to eliminate big plays.

"Maroney's the guy who had a 90-some yarder against Wisconsin, he's just incredible. What I like about what they do is they bring multiple backs at you, wear you down, then all of a sudden you see them hit the home runs. That's what they do so well and their pass game is tailored toward what they know you have to do to stop their run. It's not some fancy design or anything. They know if you're going to have a chance to stop their run, it's going to be this many guys up here and here's where your vulnerable. That's what they do."

Ohio State is third in the country in total defense (254.8 yards per game) and third in the country in sacks (31).

Tressel was asked if OSU is blitzing more this season.

"You know, I don't have any numbers to back up anything I might answer to that," Tressel said. "I would say this: I think we're getting excellent play from our rush people. You know, Bobby Carpenter's played a lot more on the edge. Mike Kudla, I think is really doing a heck of a job. When we blitz, you know, I think we have affected people but I don't know that we've blitzed more. We've always been a team that's going to pressure. That's what we believe in and I can't tell you statistically if we've done it more or less and that type of thing.

"Minnesota would know. You know, they've had two weeks to -- they probably know us tendency-wise better than we know us and then it comes down to, ‘Well, what was the situation, what was going on in the game, who were we playing against?' I don't know that we've blitzed any more. I just think we're doing a good job putting pressure on the quarterback."

The game with Minnesota is interesting on multiple levels. There is the coaching match-up with Tressel and Glen Mason – the two finalists for the OSU job in 2001. Mason of course graduated from OSU and played under Woody Hayes.

But beyond that, there are several Minnesota players from Ohio – many from Columbus.

"Greg Gillimar, our assistant recruiting coordinator, shared with me that we have 89 Ohioans on Big Ten rosters, not including ours, which is an extraordinary number," Tressel said. "And there's like six teams within the double digits, which Minnesota's one of them with 15, or 17. And so, obviously that's a huge thing.

"But one thing you know at Ohio State, every week it's a huge thing for people circling it on the calendar. The quote last week was the day the (Indiana) coach (Terry Hoeppner) got the job, he circled that game. That's the way it is. And I don't know that you can allow yourself to get away from anything other than, you know, who's got the A gap and who's got the C gap and who's filling the alley and, you know, we can't allow ourselves to concern ourselves with too many of those things."

In last Saturday's win over Indiana, Ted Ginn Jr. had a touchdown on a kickoff return called back on what looked like a shady call at best (blocking a defenseless player). However, Tressel thinks it was the proper call.

"Poor decision," Tressel said. "I don't know what they called it, I keep hearing all these different phrases, but it shouldn't have been done and when you do something you shouldn't do, you should be penalized. You know, it was just a poor decision and we were penalized. Hopefully the lesson learned is that usually when you do something individually that's not right, it affects your group, and it did."

Sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman is having a solid year with 696 rushing yards (5.1 per carry), but he does not have a touchdown to his credit yet. It's probably a sign of bad luck more than anything else, but a reporter wanted to know if Pittman has trouble inside the 20 and if he does not have a knack for finding the end zone.

"Oh, no, I wouldn't say that," Tressel said. "I think Antonio Pittman is good and is getting better. I don't know that I'd say he's got recognizable problems, you know, inside the 20. I think he's a good back. And I guess I take that a little bit more that we need to find a way – we, the guys designing it, we the guys blocking, and then, of course, he's got to do his part. But I think Antonio is coming along. I really do.

"You know, I'm not sure how you define ‘knack.' I'm sure vision is part of it. I'm sure pad level is part of it. I'm sure circumstances are part of it. Troy Smith's gotten a lot of opportunities in the red zone and it has found his way into the end zone. That doesn't mean he's got the knack, that every time he gets down there, he's going to get in the end zone. You still have to do things to get in. I'm sure Antonio thinks about it because Troy does. Troy will say, ‘Give it to Antonio, we're on the one and a half inch line or whatever.' But I'm sure (Pittman will) have his days."

Tressel then joked about how impressed he's been with the coaching of Minnesota's wide receivers.

"Their wide receivers might be the second finest coached wide receivers in the country behind ours because their wide receivers coach is my nephew, and Luke Tressel does a great job," Tressel said. "And the thing I like about – on a serious note – the thing I like about their receivers is that they know that their role is number one as a blocker and number two, when that box gets loaded up an the best thing to do is throw it, they make plays. And, you know, when you know your role and you do it well, then I guess that equates to being well coached and they certainly look like they are."

One mark of Jim Tressel teams is that they tend to get better late in the season. This year's team is definitely moving in that direction.

"I don't know, we lost in the 11th game or 10th game of the year last year (to Purdue)," Tressel said. "But, you know, we try to have a constant building process on, here's what we did well. Here's how we got doing it well. Here's what we're not doing well. Maybe we need to practice it more, maybe we need to do something more structurally.

"We've got good kids, they work hard in the weight room in season, they work hard in the film room, they commit themselves to being as good as they can every day, and we're -- I guess we're fortunate. That would probably be the biggest reason why we've had some late season success is we're fortunate to have good kids who want to be good and if you want to be good and keep working on it, you have some talent and our guys do. Perhaps that's why we get better, but we'll find out. It's game eight, we'll find out if we're getting better."

Tressel says playing in the Metrodome is unlike any other experience in the Big Ten.

"Yeah, I think it is unique," he said. "Obviously in our league, it's the only one indoor. There isn't the air movement. I think you'd better be in good shape when you play in there. I don't know about the noise and all that, because in the Big Ten, you just assume you're in trouble noise wise when you're away from home, but it's unique, but still when you get down and you look at the field and you're watching the video that we study, you don't really know if you're in the dome or not in the dome, it's all on the field and they're getting after it, but, you know, it's unique, no question."

One of the pleasant surprises of OSU's team this year has been the play of true freshman cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. But OSU's coaching staff probably isn't surprised at all. Darrell Hazell called Jenkins a "lockdown corner" on signing day in February.

"Malcolm Jenkins is an interesting young man," Tressel said. "He comes from a football program that takes it very seriously, three time state champions. When you're talking with him during recruiting, he's talking about, ‘How do I get better?' He's just a real student of the game, it's very important to him. This summer, he was working with the young DBs back in New Jersey because he wants his high school team to, you know, continue their excellence and he's just one of those guys that he studies it hard, he's very talented, as you know, and it's very important to him."

In keeping with tradition, the Indiana game served as the coming out party for an OSU freshman tailback. Four years ago, it was Lydell Ross going over 100 yards. Last year, it was Pittman. This year, Maurice Wells had five carries for 50 yards against the Hoosiers.

"Maurice Wells really has been consistently our second-ranked ball carrier from the tailback position for quite some time," Tressel said. "We thought he had a very good week at practice. That was great, in my mind. Five carries for 50, which was, you know, darn good. And I really think that can help our football team if we can have a second productive tailback, along with the productive quarterback running, I think that can give us some impact and that was great to see and hope it continues."

Junior defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock is banged up and only saw limited action against Indiana last week.

"I think he had 15 snaps," Tressel said. "He was a little sore. You know, coming off the Michigan State game and -- and we just wanted to make sure that as you get through the banging in this league, it was a different style game, Indiana, it was more of a pass rush and so forth. So we just thought it would be best to limit him a little bit and make sure he's healthy."

Tressel also gave injury updates on senior defensive back Tyler Everett and sophomore right tackle Kirk Barton.

"Both questionable," Tressel said. "Tyler Everett's coming along faster than we thought. I would have told you last week that he'd be out this week, but I -- we'll see how they do in drills today but I think Tyler Everett is further along and we're hoping that he can play."

Tressel also announced that Smith was selected as the offensive player of the week.

"Troy gave a winning performance which I think is very difficult for a quarterback to do with as many decisions as he has to make, as many times the ball is in his hand, with all that's going around about him as he's making those decisions and we really thought he did an excellent job," Tressel said. "And really the one turnover that we did have from the past game, really he probably made a good decision to put the ball in good place, we just needed to be – from a receiver standpoint – in a little bit better position and we wouldn't have had a turnover there. But Troy threw for over 200 and a couple touchdowns and also ran for 60-some and -- but what was most important was his decision-making, and he did an excellent job there and got the ball to the right people, got us in and out of the right things, handled the communication, and so forth. It's more difficult on the road than it is right here so we feel good about that and, of course, he needs to take the next step from a consistency standpoint, because that's what really is exposed as you get into late October and November is how consistent are you, how much have you improved and how consistent are you. So, it was a good thing as Troy was awarded the offensive player of the week."

Other players of the week included: Ginn (special teams), A.J. Hawk (defensive), Nick Mangold (Jim Parker offensive lineman), Kudla (attack force), David Lisco (scout team special teams), Austin Spitler (scout defensive) and Albert Dukes (scout offensive).

The Players' View

Senior center Nick Mangold says the key to defeating the Golden Gophers is for OSU to establish its running game early.

"You've got to get the running game going, especially being at their place with their defense that goes against such a great rushing offense every week," Mangold said. "It's going to be even that much more of a challenge for us, but I know we're excited as an offensive line and I know Tony's excited to get there, get the ball and start running."

Mangold has noticed Pittman really come of age this season as the starter.

"That's the position he wants and he's doing real well with it," Mangold said. "I think he loves being there and he loves being back there behind us. He tells us that each day that he likes being back there. So, we're excited for him."

Mangold – arguably the top center in college football – was asked if there's any "tricks of the trade" that centers like to use. For example, maybe a way to hold without getting called for it.

"Tricks of the trade? There are a couple tricks, but I'd be doing myself and all the other centers disservice if I let loose on some of those tricks," Mangold said. "But there are and you have to look for them to really see them."

Saturday will mark the Buckeyes' first game in a dome since their 33-7 dismantling of Oklahoma State in last season's Alamo Bowl.

"It's going to be real interesting for us," Mangold said of playing in the Metrodome. "Luckily we played our bowl game last year in a dome, so that's a little bit more experience for us. And we have our indoor field here which isn't really the same, but there is a roof over your head so you have a little idea of what is going on. But it's a new experience which I think we're excited to get to."

* Defensive end Mike Kudla is having one of those career years that Tressel likes to see out of his seniors. Kudla is second on the team with 5.5 sacks and is a headache for offensive tackles each week. Kudla has an excellent blend of power and speed.

"Pretty much with most offensive linemen, I'm not sure if any offensive linemen would be stronger than me, and I'm not sure if they'd be faster than me," Kudla said. "But it's got to be that quick balance. This week it's going to take a little more power because (Minnesota is) definitely going to run the ball and grab the edges. For me, I've got to play a gap-sound game and I've got to be able to do my assignment on every snap. And that is what it's going to take is all 11 guys executing on every snap."

With so many Minnesota players from the Buckeye State, it could give the Gophers an edge emotionally. Some of them weren't recruited by OSU, others couldn't get past OSU admissions, and at least one (linebacker Alex Daniels) simply picked Minnesota over OSU.

"It might (be an extra edge)," Kudla said. "Some of those guys, we know most of them through all-star games and stuff like that, so it's kind of neat to run into those guys again and kind of catch up. I'm not really sure what their motivation factor will be or anything like that. But I know that they're out there and they're competitors and they will want to win too. It's going to be a hard-fought battle."

The game could boil down to Minnesota's ability to run, versus Ohio State's ability to stop the run.

"I wouldn't say it starts and ends there, but that's going to be a big factor," Kudla said. "You definitely know they want to run and stopping the run is our goal, but how can you really stop a team that rushes for 300 yards a game? For us, it's going to be, ‘Let's limit their big plays.' They're a great offense so you know they're going to get some yards. For us, we've got to limit what they can do."

Kudla says the defense will not set a goal as far as limiting Minnesota to a certain amount of yards.

"Not really," he said. "Our biggest thing is that we want to limit their big plays. And they like to run the ball, so we want to limit their big runs. Our goal each week is to say, ‘No 15 yard runs.' And that's one of the measuring sticks that we use. If we can limit their 15 yard runs it will give us a good benchmark to continue on."

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