After four consecutive games of 40 points or more, OSU has risen to 24th nationally and fifth in the Big Ten in scoring offense at 33.3 points per game. After being mired near the bottom of the total offense rankings earlier this year, OSU has moved up to seventh in the Big Ten at 403.3 yards per game.
At the same time, the Michigan defense has been rebuilt, so to speak, without standout defensive backs like Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor. The young secondary has melded well with improved play on the defensive line and solid work from the linebackers.
The Wolverines have risen to third in the Big Ten in total defense at 340.6 yards per game. (Ohio State and Penn State are 1-2 in that category within the conference.)
In today's offensive quotebook, we share comments from OSU coach Jim Tressel and several players on OSU's offensive improvement as well as what they expect to see from the Michigan defense.
Jim Tressel, head coach
* On what's gone well for the offense -- "We've made a lot of big plays but I don't think you can discount where we've had a chance to start drives. Our defense has been very good, our special teams have had some returns and the punt block last week was a great thing for us to all of a sudden have a two-touchdown lead after we were down by a touchdown. I think if you add all those things together -- but we've had some guys come up and make some plays."
* On the match-up with the UM defense -- "If we can keep improving, we feel like we can compete offensively. Their defense keeps getting better. They have powerful guys that can really run. They are skilled in the back end, but our guys feel as if it comes down to how we execute. You know they're up there saying well it's going to come down to how they execute, and we're both right."
* On having a 1,000-yard rusher like Antonio Pittman -- "It was our goal as we went into the year is to move toward being able to be a balanced football team. We've talked about that often here.
"In fact, I said to Pitt before the season that if we want to reach a lot of the goals that we say we would like to do, we need a guy that can rush for 1,500 yards. Because if we've got a 1500-yard rusher, we probably are going to be able to throw it a little bit, too. We're not there, and it might be hard to get there. But I feel good about our progress and I think it helps us."
Rob Sims, left guard
* On whether the team's two losses haunt him -- "I think the seniors, it's really haunting us. But I think that makes us play a little better too. Anytime you have a bad game, or didn't play well, you go out there and make sure you go out there and bust your butt on the practice field and get better. So, I think after doing that, (the two losses) are driving us to do better."
* On the UM defense -- "They had some people hurt all year. They had some bad breaks, it's a long year. They just battled back. They're kind of like a machine now. They've got everything going for them. We're going to make sure our offense is going, too. They're kind of like our defense. They fly around the ball, they swarm very well, they pursue."
* On OSU going over 200 yards on the ground against UM last year -- "I'm very confident what we can do, as far as run the ball. We've got a back that ran for 1,100 this year. We've got a line that's played better than it has in a long time. So we're excited about running the ball. Anytime Troy (Smith) gets a chance to step up there he makes a couple of people miss. I think we can run for 200, at least."
Nick Mangold, center
* On whether the Buckeyes are peaking at the right time -- "I would hope so. That's our goal is to be at our best when we have to play Michigan. I think our guys have been doing a great job keeping level-headed throughout the season. I think we're really coming together when we need to."
* On what excites him the most about the offense at this point -- "I think the way we've been executing. That's what really excites me is that no matter what play comes in there, we're going to get the job done. We all know what we're doing and we all know that everyone else can get it done. We're getting it done, so that's the biggest thing is the execution."
* On whether it is fair to have so much riding on one game -- "I think so, because it's such a great rivalry and it's been going on forever. So many great games have been played between Ohio State and Michigan. So, I think it's definitely fair that the fans – on both sides of the ball – look towards this game as being the great finale of the season."
* On his match-up with 331-pound UM DT Gabe Watson -- "It's a pain. But it's really like an epic battle. I look forward to it because it's going to be a blast and it's going to be one of those hard-fought, clean battles that's going to go 60 minutes and never end. He is a big guy, but he can still move too, which makes him a good player."
* On the strength of the UM defense -- "They're big. They've got a bunch of big guys up front and their linebackers are able to use the fact that they've got to double up guys to be able to fly around and make tackles. So, I think the fact that they are a big team really helps them out.
"They've been improving just like any team would like. I think they've been doing a great job at it. They keep getting better and getting ready for this game."
* On the key to victory for OSU's offense -- "We've got to execute. Going up to a hostile environment, you can't have penalties and you can't have turnovers, because they will make great opportunities for them. And we've got to be able to block everybody. So, I think execution will be the biggest part."
* On his advice for young players that have never been to UM -- "You've got to be ready for a real hostile environment. It's a tough place to play, especially being from Ohio State and they kind of get more amped than usual. You just have to go out there and play your game. You can't let it affect you and you've got to fight through the whole game."
* On what happened in the 2003 loss at Ann Arbor -- "We've talked a lot about that and we did through that spring. We didn't execute at all. We didn't run the same play the same way twice. I don't know why we didn't. We've been working on that consistency. We didn't do the things we were capable of doing.
"It was tough. It was a disappointment for us and our seniors who had worked so hard. It wasn't the way we wanted to finish that season."
* On whether OSU, which has won three of the last four meetings, has taken control of the rivalry -- "Are we in their heads? I wouldn't think so, especially going into their house. We lost the last time there."
Santonio Holmes, split end
* On OSU's improvement -- "It's very exciting, I can tell you that. These last four games, putting up 40 points, that's what every team dreams of. When you're offense is doing so well, your defense really has nothing to worry about."
* On playing alongside receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez -- "Those guys are very exciting to be around. Knowing that they're capable of making the plays, no matter what the situation is. They never really get down on themselves. They never look at themselves and think, man, it's my time to make another play. I just like being around those guys. They're a lot of fun to be around."
* On his play this year (Holmes has 42 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns) – "I think I've been very productive. I've been doing the things that the coaches have been asking for: blocking, making big plays. I'm pretty satisfied with it. Finishing the season with a win against Michigan will just top it off."
* On whether he has thought about his future -- "Probably at the end of the season it'll be talked about."
* On how OSU bounced back from a 3-2 start -- "I guess it's just the determination of the guys we have now and how they want to finish their season. I just think our seniors don't want to be at the bottom of that list of guys who did not get the job done their senior year. Guys are really playing well together right now."
Darrell Hazell, receivers coach
* On Holmes' play this year -- "He's been really rock steady. He's been the guy on offense all year long. He probably hasn't gotten the credit he's due. Week in and week out, he's been the guy who's been the most productive guy. It's been fun having him around.
"He's a team guy. He really is. He wants success for everybody. He likes returning punts and kickoffs as much as anybody, but he understands where we are as a team."
Ohio State-Michigan Week Coverage
In case you missed any of the fun, here is what we had for you this week during OSU-Michigan week (some are free files, others marked premium):
OSU Football From Bucknuts.com:
OSU Recruiting From Bucknuts.com:
Columns From Bucknuts.com
Audio Clips From Bucknuts.com
Michigan Football From GoBlueWolverine.com: