Carr, Tressel Discuss 'The Game'

As always, there's plenty to talk about concerning this year's version of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr did just that at today's Big Ten coaches teleconference. The two coaches talked about Troy Smith and the OSU offense, the importance of the game, last year's bag search controversy, and more.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr spoke with reporters this afternoon for one more media session before the latest version of the OSU/Michigan rivalry.

"This is the most exciting weekend in Big Ten football, when we have all the rivalry games with Northwestern playing Illinois and Indiana and Purdue and Minnesota and Iowa, and we get to go to the Big House and compete with Michigan," Tressel said. "It's just a tremendous weekend that we're looking forward to and an exciting weekend for the conference."

This year's version of the rivalry will play a big role in the postseason plans for each team, and Carr feels it will determine for each team whether the season was a success or disappointment.

"I think it's a game that in terms of the tradition of this program is the most important game that we play," Carr said. "I think for any team playing in it, it's a big game. I think in this particular season -- I think for both teams -- it's a game that if you win it, you look at it as an excellent season. If you lose it, it's probably a disappointing season."

Tressel was asked if he felt the result of the game would set the tone for the offseason.

"I haven't found in recent college football that there is much offseason," Tressel said. "We're fortunate that we'll be heading to a bowl game. At the same time, we'll be heading on the road recruiting; you're allowed to go out recruiting beginning November 27th. All of a sudden you're going to be in bowl prep and recruiting, and recruiting goes throughout the month of January, early into February, and then you're back in the weight room and that type of thing.  I don't know that there is much time to sit back and reflect and that type of thing, but obviously how you play in the Ohio State-Michigan game is crucial to you and how you play in your last game is very important to you because it's your last taste, but there's not much time to sit around and reflect."

The Buckeyes have been known to put plenty of focus throughout the year on the Michigan game. A countdown clock inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center helps to remind the team what's on the horizon, although Tressel stressed that it was part of weekly preparation.

"We have a clock for each team," Tressel said. "What we try to point out is you need to use every second to get ready for the opportunity to play a ball game because you only have, in this day and age, eleven opportunities, and next year begins twelve. You have to make sure you use your preparation time to get ready for that and most especially use your preparation time throughout the entire year so you're at your best in that last game. That's just something we believe in terms of preparation and something that we talk about and obviously have."

Last year, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith had one of the better individual performances in the history of the rivalry. Smith threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 145 yards and one touchdown.

"I think anytime that you have a performance like that against you, certainly you try to learn some things from it," Carr said. "Of course, Ohio State is not a one-dimensional team. They've got great receivers; they've got an outstanding offensive line; they're well coached; their scheme is good. So they're not a one man team, but certainly Troy Smith is the guy that makes them go. He's proven that throughout the course of this year, and certainly what he did against us a year ago, we understand that.

Carr was asked how he feels Smith has improved this season.

"I think he's throwing the ball extremely well and I think he has the confidence of being in a lot of big games, the experience that comes with being in tight ball games, being in two-minute situations, being ahead, being behind, all of the things that you need to learn to be able to learn to be able to control the game and lead your team," Carr said. "I think he's done a great job of that."

Smith's performance last year against Michigan has already been cemented as part of his legacy at Ohio State. Tressel was asked if a similar performance this year would cause his legacy to grow.

"I think legacies are shaped everyday," Tressel said. "Shaped in your film preparation, shaped in how you take care of everything that is your responsibility, and then of course every practice, and then of course it's magnified in the games because the majority of the people, that's what they see in your life -- what you do on Saturday and what you do on television and so forth. I hope that his focus is on day-to-day preparation and  his performance play-to-play, and we'll let those legacy discussions happen long after he's gone."

Smith has been playing solid football over the past few weeks. Tressel was asked if he felt Smith would continue to play as well throughout the remainder of the season.

"This is a tough defensive football team that he's going to face in a tough environment, and it's a great challenge for him and a great challenge for the guys that will be on the field at the same time with him, and we certainly hope that he can continue to be efficient, make good decisions and so forth, but that's what Saturday is for -- to find that out," Tressel said.

Tressel was also asked if he regretted alternating between Smith and Justin Zwick at the quarterback position to start the season.  

"There's kind of atypical rational if you will," Tressel said. "It wasn't just about football. We were taking care of consequences that you have to face when you don't do things exactly right, and I thought we took care of that teaching moment and did what we had to do for the good of the individual. You just have to press forward and do whatever you can with the circumstances you have, so no, I don't have any regrets on how we handled it."

Smith's well-documented off-the-field incident of accepting money from a booster likely hindered his progress at the start of the season as his suspension resulted in limited reps. Tressel was asked if a big performance against Michigan would result in fan forgiveness of the incident.

"I hope forgiveness is not based upon big games," he said. "I hope forgiveness is something that is part of all of us. We all make mistakes and we all pay the consequences. I just happen to believe that forgiveness is the right thing, and I don't know that you have to throw touchdown passes or win games to hope to be forgiven."

Smith's play has been one reason for the improving Ohio State offense over the past five games. Tressel stressed that the offense is still getting to where they aim to be.

"We really think we are improving," he said. "I'm not ready to say we're tremendous by any means. You have to go out each Saturday and see what you can do against the team you are playing against that day. I happen to know watching a ton of film on Michigan defense that they're a very fine defense that's going to be a tremendous test for our offensive guys. I hope we improve from last week. I think we've been improving throughout the course of the year, but again, just like that countdown clock points out, what really is important is, what do you do when the clock strikes zero? What are we going to do Saturday at 1:06 offensively? That's part of the fun of preparing."

Carr was asked about running back Antonio Pittman's role in the improving Buckeye offense.

"I think they have great balance, and any time you have great balance, it's a much more difficult challenge to defend," Carr said. "Pittman has had an outstanding year; over 1,100 yards in ten games. I think he's tough, has great vision, finds the hole, and of course he's surrounded by a lot of good people. When you're complimented and you have the balance to both run and throw, then it opens everything up."

A controversy occurred last year at Ohio Stadium when Michigan's personnel found upon arrival that their bags were going to be searched before entering the stadium. Carr has already been vocal this week about his displeasure over the incident, and he hasn't changed his stance. 

"Certainly I don't think we would treat any school like we were treated at Ohio State," he said. "I think the conference, our commissioner Jim Delaney has instituted a new rule that if you're going to have something like that, you must notify people beforehand. Of course, that's just a thing you would expect as a general courtesy."

Tressel stated that the search was common procedure, and he also feels that the Buckeyes will not have any similar surprises waiting for them upon arrival in Ann Arbor.

"I know it's normal for our buses and bags and all the rest to be inspected," Tressel said. "That's just the times we live in. When you have a venue like we have here in Columbus on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game and like you'll have in Ann Arbor on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game, I think that's part of what you do.

"No, I don't think we'll have any surprises or anything. Obviously, we regret if there were any surprises a year ago. They certainly were not intended. In this moment in history where security of everyone, not just the players and coaches but the fans and trainers and doctors and everyone who is there, media folk or whoever, that's part of the world we live in and we expect it."

An ongoing issue within the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry has been high school prospects from Ohio deciding to leave the state to play college football at Michigan. Tressel was asked about it and also pointed out that Ohio State has had some Michigan imports as well.

"It's been going on for years and years and years that Ohio produces a ton of good college football players," he said. "This particular year, there's 89 guys on Big Ten rosters from the state of Ohio that aren't on our roster. Our response to that is we're real proud of the kids we have. There's some guys, sure, you wish you had them as well. But that's not the way things work.

"There's some great kids in Ohio playing up in Michigan. I think that's been one of the things that over the course of time has even further intensified this rivalry. I remember when we had Pepper Johnson from Detroit, Craig Krenzel from Detroit playing for us and those types of things. Our response to that is we're awfully proud of Ohio high school football. "

One Ohio player to recently take his game to Michigan is wide receiver Mario Manningham, a true freshman from Warren Harding. Manningham has had a fine freshman season for the Wolverines and caught the game-winning touchdown pass to give Penn State their lone defeat of the season.

"I think certainly it was maybe the biggest play of our season, but I'm not surprised that Mario is the outstanding football player that he displayed in high school," Carr said. "He came from a great program. He had a great competitiveness about him. I can't say that I'm not surprised, or I should say that I guess I am a little surprise at how much he's done as a true freshman. There was no doubt in my mind that he would have a great career here, but to say that I expected him to do all the things he's done this year, I can't say that.

"I think he's got all the skills. He's got wonderful speed. He's got great hands, he's tough, he's smart, and I think he's very, very competitive. He likes to win, and he has a great work ethic and a great attitude. He's very coachable. Those are all things that I think give him a chance to be a great one."

Michigan's season started off slow at 3-3, but the Wolverines seem to have hit their stride. Carr did not want to discuss whether or not the season has been a disappointment.

"The only thing I'm looking at is this week and what's in front of us," he said. "There will be time to talk about all the things that happened during the season after this game."

Tressel is 3-1 against Michigan since arriving at Ohio State in 2001, and some would say the rivalry has had an added spark since he arrived in Columbus. He was asked if he understood the OSU/Michigan rivalry better than his predecessor, John Cooper.

"I'm not sure that that's fair to say that John didn't understand that," Tressel said. "Actually, he's a Tennessee guy, and everyone that is reared in SEC country understands the importance of whether it's Tennessee-Alabama or Florida-Georgia or Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama. A guy that's around the game like he was his whole life, he understood that. He played against some great Michigan teams and had some really tight football games and so forth.

"Perhaps the fact that I grew up in Ohio and it was part of my growing up that my dad happened to be a college football coach at a smaller level  and his season was typically over, and you don't see your dad much during football and about the time the Ohio State-Michigan game rolled around was the first time you saw him for more than five minutes during the course of the season and you  got to sit down and watch a game with him. You can talk about that in all the households in Ohio State and Michigan. It's one of those special things that people enjoy together. Do I intimately understand how privileged we are to be a part of it? Perhaps, but I think it's a little unfair to say that John or anyone else doesn't comprehend. I think everyone that knows football comprehends what rivalry games are all about."



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