Turnovers Could Be Key
If there is anything that should strike fear into the hearts of the Buckeye fans, it is the key statistic of turnover margin. Notre Dame has been stingy with the football. They have put it on the ground just 16 times all season and lost a mere six. Brady Quinn has tossed eight interceptions, but the flip side of the coin is his 32 touchdowns through the air. Ohio State on the other hand has been flippant with the football. They have put the ball on the ground an incredible 28 times, losing 14. They have done better through the air, surrendering just five interceptions, but that is little consolation considering one of those was the difference in the Penn State game.
Don't think Notre Dame hasn't noticed.
"Oh yeah, definitely," said Tom Zbikowski when asked if he was licking his chops. "(We will be) just trying to get as many helmets on whoever the ball carrier is. That's what we focus on all year, but hearing stats about how many times they put the ball on the ground and turnovers like that…"
Surely this has been addressed by the Ohio State coaches. Surely they have been riding the players about this issue.
What do you do, what do you say to correct the problem?
"The same thing you say all the time, don't turn the ball over," OSU offensive coordinator Jim Bollman explained. "Special teams, some of that is receiving, some of that stuff is judge the wind better or judge the sun better, so you do what you can do. On the other end of the deal offensively, we talk about holding onto the ball and get your scout team to try and rip out the ball. Do different things. You are not going to not run running plays because you fumble the ball once in a while. You do what you can as a coach to improve.
"When you ask what are we doing – nothing more than we would ever do. But, that's always a very frustrating part to us. It is. That's one of the most important things that we do. You know those Buckeye leaves we wear on our helmets? When we win the turnover margin, everybody on the team gets one. Every single guy. The last guy on the scout team gets a buckeye leaf. It's not that we don't emphasize that. We just haven't done a very good job of it."
He clearly isn't happy with the amount of opportunities Ohio State has given to the opposition. He knows that the critical fumbles against Texas and Penn State cost the Buckeyes a chance to come back. Fumbles against Michigan and Michigan State put the Buckeyes in such a hole that only great effort overcame the errors.
Santonio Holmes isn't going to let the past make him play tentative: "We're really not concerned. We just need to be concerned with how well we play when we step on the field with those guys."
He does, however, admit it is something which Ohio State's offensive unit needs to be aware.
"By them forcing so many turnovers this season we have to be conscious of it," Holmes said. "We have to keep it in our mind that those guys are going to rip at the ball, try to force fumbles and intercept the ball."
On the other side of the football, Quinn recognizes one or two interceptions could be one or two too many against the Ohio State defense.
"I think it is time for us to play our best game," Quinn said. "We have to be consistent, and probably the biggest thing in this game is controlling the ball. We can't allow ourselves to have turnovers. The biggest difference in games like this is turnovers. Turnover margin dictates the outcome of the game more than anything else. Especially in this type of game. We need to take care of the football."
Zbikowski Wants a Puncher's Chance
It's a story of which most Notre Dame fans are well aware. Starting safety Tom Zbikowski isn't just an outstanding athlete on the football field. He is also a fearsome fighter to face in the boxing ring.
Though not allowed to fight fellow students at Notre Dame, he is a golden gloves level boxer in the heavyweight division. With 78 total fights, he is 65-13. Of greater note is the fact that he has yet to be knocked out – or even knocked down.
He is even becoming a power puncher.
"Lately I have been, now that I am getting more mature," Zbikowski said. "When you are 10, 12, 14 you just don't have that type of power to knock people out. I think the last four or five fights, I have had three of them have been stopped contests or knockouts."
With only a couple of fights this past year, however, Zbikowski's future is in the NFL. He knows it.
"I want to play in the NFL," he said. "If that doesn't work out, I'm definitely going to try and take up a career in boxing. We will see what happens though."
Seeing what happens apparently is something several of his teammates won't forget soon. During a fight this past winter (that he didn't tell Weis about), they had more than a little fun watching him hand out a beat down.
"A couple of my teammates went, and they drove me back," Zbikowski said. "It was in Chicago. I forgot the place. I won that fight. I stopped the kid in the third round."
His teammates were his biggest fans in the room.
"There's a lot of screaming," Zbikowski said. "You can hear them screaming on the film. I don't want to say what they were saying, but there is a lot of screaming. It was in a little banquet type place.
"I was always a fan as a kid. My dad was always a fan. I used to watch it as a kid. I told him I wanted to start boxing."
Like all other players who excel in multiple sports, Zbikowski believes it has given him an advantage at times.
"I think (it helps) the hand-eye coordination and definitely the mental toughness," he said. "You can't call a time out half way through a round and try to get a break. If there is a long drive deep in the fourth quarter and you have to suck it up – that's where it has kind of helped me."
Still, he wants it made clear he isn't a boxer who plays football; he is a football player who learned to box.
"I get that a lot," he said while rolling his eyes. "Any time I watch the TV if I make a play it was because I was a boxer it's not that I have been playing football since I was five years old. What are you going to do? I guess it comes with the territory."
So which is worse? Is it more difficult to get up the day after a game or following a fight where someone hits you in the head, repeatedly – as hard as they can.
"It's tough – they are so similar but so similar but so different with training. Boxing is tough just because when you are fighting you can't call timeout. There are no TV breaks. There is nothing. It is just you and that guy for however long it takes, but there's nothing worse than camp and three hour meetings in between. They both are pretty tough."
Too Much of a Good Thing
One of the most talked about story lines prior to this game the month Charlie Weis has had to prepare. Yet his underling, Michael Haywood, admits this can pose a danger.
"As a coach you have to make sure you don't put in too much with a month to prepare," Haywood said. "You have so much information. You can go through every formation which have had to attack. You can devise different plays for every defensive formation you have seen on tape. You have to make sure you don't overload your team with too many plays."
What do you do to make sure this does not happen?