Tressel, Ferentz Discuss Prime Time Showdown

Another week, another big game for the Buckeyes. This weekend's night game between Ohio State and Iowa has been circled on many calendars for months now, and some are calling it the biggest game in the history of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium. The head coaches of the two teams met with the media this afternoon to discuss this weekend's game. (Updated at 2:45 with comments from Tressel's press luncheon.)

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel held his weekly press luncheon on Tuesday. The top-ranked Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) will travel to No. 13 Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) on Saturday (8 p.m. Eastern, ABC) in what Tressel thinks will be OSU's toughest test of the young season.

The Hawkeyes are shooting for their first 5-0 start in over a decade.

"I don't think they've started 5-0 since 1995," Tressel said. "And being 4-0, beating their in-state rivals (Iowa State) which is a big victory, and winning a tough overtime game at Syracuse without their quarterback is a big one. And of course starting out 1-0 in the Big Ten when you started out on the road (Illinois), so I'd say their momentum is as good as it could possibly be. They're going to have a tremendous atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium. So there's not anyone in our building that doesn't understand what a great challenge it's going to be."

Ohio State had struggled in road night games until this season when it defeated Texas, 24-7. Tressel was asked if the win over the Longhorns got the Buckeyes over the mental hump when it comes to night games on the road.

"I don't know if our guys had any mental problem with it, some of the people in the room did," Tressel quipped. "But we've played -- someone told me the other day, we've played like 12 games on the road or at night since our staff's been here and I think won eight of them, which is below our winning percentage. So, maybe we don't play as well at night, I don't know, but I've never heard our guys worry about that.

"It just so happens if you listed those 12 teams we've played at night, they've been pretty good ones. The Miami Hurricanes for one and Texas twice and Wisconsin and Penn State -- and we didn't play Baldwin-Wallace any of those -- so I don't know that our guys have ever had a problem with that. And the quality of our opponent is just like those other 12, and so we know it's a great challenge."

(Tressel made sure everyone knew he was joking about the Baldwin-Wallace comment, but there's not much of a chance anyone at Tressel's alma mater would be angry with him. Tressel was a starting quarterback and captain at B-W. In addition, his father, Lee Tressel, was the longtime head football coach at the school.)

Ohio State defeated Penn State, 28-6, in sloppy conditions at Ohio Stadium last Saturday. Tressel was asked to comment on the performance of OSU's offense.

"Well, we made some mistakes and we allowed some pressure on the passer, which you have to give some credit to Penn State," he said. "We dropped a couple balls, that's no one's fault but ours, a couple of third-down conversion-type things. We didn't execute perfectly. Did it have anything to do with the weather? Maybe. I don't know. I couldn't say that that was a primary factor.

"As you all know, we've torn that field out. I felt bad about that field, not just for our sake, but for our opponent. To bring someone into a big game in the Big Ten and not have ideal playing conditions was disappointing, but you've got to put all that behind you and just like all those gold t-shirts in the crowd on Saturday night, that better not be an excuse because they're going to be there, you know it now, and it's Tuesday, so you better figure out a way to do your job. We've just got to do our job a little better."

Tressel has no doubt that Iowa's Drew Tate will be the best quarterback the Buckeyes have faced to date.

"Absolutely," Tressel said. "Drew Tate's a senior. The first game we faced a senior who had kind of split time his whole life. Second game we faced a guy with his second start of his life. Third game was a redshirt sophomore, played a decent amount. And then this past weekend, a guy in his fourth start. So Drew Tate, I don't know what number start this is for him, but he's good. So it will be a great test for us."

Tressel and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz are widely regarded as the top two coaches in the Big Ten. Tressel explained what comes to mind when he thinks of a Ferentz-led team.

"Physical to start with," he said. "The next thing that comes to my mind because I've been watching so much of their defense is sure tacklers. I just don't see them miss tackles at all. Technique sound. And they are who they are. They really don't care how you line up, they're going to do their thing and see if you can handle it. So they're very confident."

Tim May, the longtime beat reporter from the Columbus Dispatch, informed Tressel that he has received several e-mails from fans lately asking why the Buckeyes aren't running the ball more. After years of explaining why the Buckeyes don't throw more, Tressel is now getting flack for not running it enough. And the irony is not lost on him.

"I got one saying, ‘Get rid of that shotgun and start running the ball down their throats,'" Tressel joked. "And the next one was, ‘I can't believe you're running so much.'

"Those e-mails, that's the way I evaluate. We evaluate it play by play and competition versus competition and what needs to be done. I think the unusual thing this season that we've seen is that there have been not quite as many plays, and then that was really accentuated by the fact that the last six minutes and three seconds of last week's game, we didn't have an offensive snap. I don't know how many plays we had in the fourth quarter, four or something. So we probably haven't run it enough. I wish we would have run it more, but that doesn't mean I wish we would have passed it less, but that's the way it is. And as we've said to our guys more than once, the way the game is unfolding in 2006, each play is more valuable."

Sophomore wide receiver Brian Robiskie, who hauled in what could be OSU's signature play of the season – the 37-yard touchdown from a scrambling Smith against Penn State – was named OSU's offensive player of the week. Tressel continues to be impressed with what he has seen out of Robiskie.

"I think awareness is the right word because he saw how hard his dad (Cleveland Browns WR coach Terry Robiskie) has worked to get to the level he's gotten. It wasn't just casual that he's had the opportunities he's had. He paid attention. There are some people that I'm sure are around excellence all day long and don't even know it, but Brian's a guy that, I'm sure he picked up off of his dad and they're a very close family. So, I'm sure dad took him to training camp and all those kinds of things and he's wondering why the heck are they in the meeting room eight hours a day and as he got older, he figured it out, it's because you need to be."

Tressel also announced the other players of the week. They included: Antonio Smith (defense), Anderson Russell (special teams), Alex Boone (Jim Parker offensive lineman), Vernon Gholston (attack force), Brandon Underwood (scout team special teams), Juan Garnier (scout team defense) and Albert Dukes (scout team offense).

Teleconference Wrap-up

Tressel and Ferentz both took part in today's weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference to discuss the upcoming matchup between the two teams Saturday night.

Tressel opened with a statement about Ohio State's game against Penn State.

"It's always a physical football game when you get lined up with the Nittany Lions and our guys did what they had to do and came along and really had a strong second half," he said. "Probably in the first half we weren't as good as we would have liked to be but improved our game as we went and came away now with a victory in the Big Ten conference, which is huge.   We have a tremendous road test over in Iowa City. Iowa's one of the fine, fine teams in the country, let alone the Big Ten. They do such a great job and we've got to have a great preparation week."

This week's game is one of unsurpassed hype from the Iowa perspective. Some are saying it may be the biggest game in Kinnick Stadium history, even bigger than when No. 1 Iowa hosted No. 2 Michigan in 1985. Ferentz, who was at Iowa in 1985, doesn't necessarily agree.

"I don't get out a lot," he said. "I didn't get out much in the '80s and I don't get out much now either, so I don't quite have that sense. I can just say this -- when this game got announced as a night game, meaning it was going to be an ABC/ESPN game, there was quite a buzz around the state. There's been a lot of talk out there and what have you, but I really think for the players, it kind of gets back to them. What they're doing is looking at tape and seeing an excellent football team and to compare the two, I could better say that after the game.

"I can say this - one and two, that adds up to three.  Right now, Ohio State's No. 1, but we're somewhere in the teens I would imagine; I haven't seen the rankings. So, it's not quite as marquee of a matchup as Texas-Ohio State was a couple weeks ago. But all that being said, it's going to be a great environment, a great atmosphere. Anytime you have the top-ranked team in the country on your game field, it's going to be exceptional. It's usually exceptional in our building anyways, so certainly we expect that Saturday night."

The crowd at Kinnick Stadium may be the toughest Ohio State faces all year and possibly one of the craziest in their college career. Ferentz talked a bit about the current atmosphere on campus.

"Obviously there's a real buzz on campus right now, like you'd expect when the top team in the country comes to town," he said. "The guys will enjoy that and it should be exciting, and then certainly when we get back to campus on Saturday it should be a real exciting environment.   To me, those are all good things and the guys ought to feel real fortunate and honored to play in a game that's going to be as significant as this one. Hopefully it won't alter what we do too significantly."

Tressel added that the team itself that OSU will be playing is what makes it tough to win at Iowa.   

"Because they're so good," he said. "It starts with that. Iowa's a good football team; they're so fundamentally sound. Kirk has had his staff together for as long as he's been there. He's lost very, very few assistants and has had great continuity in his teaching. You can tell his players know what is expected of them. They're extremely tough, sure tacklers, aggressive blockers -- just do a great job. Then of course, you can't talk about Iowa and playing in their stadium without talking about their fine quarterback Drew Tate. He's a difference maker, he's a veteran, and you put all those things together and it's a heck of a challenge."

There's been even more excitement around campus since news that ESPN College Gameday will be coming to town became official. But Ferentz said that the Hawkeyes themselves have not been contacted about participating and don't expect it to be a distraction.

"We haven't had any invitations from ESPN," he said. "I told the players the other day, I said my guess is maybe we can get some autographed pictures from Chris and from Kirk and from Lee Corso to show the guys. But I don't think it's going to affect us at all. As far as I know, they're setting up somewhere else on campus. I don't even know when they do the show, but I have a feeling we'll probably be off campus by the time all that stuff takes place."

Adding to the hype is the fact that the game is a prime-time showdown on national television. Tressel was asked his thoughts about playing at night.

"I'd rather not play at night because you have to wait all day for the game," he said. "I'd just assume wake up and go play rather than be nervous for so long.  But it's exciting, the game opportunities we've had. In fact, someone pointed out to me the other day that since we've been here for the past 5 1/2 seasons, I think we're 8-4 at night, which is a little bit lower than our overall winning percentage. But if you think of some of the games we've had, they've been marquee games and they've been tough opponents and they've been hotly contested, and they'll probably be games that our guys will remember for the rest of their lives.  I have nothing against it; I just wish that I could wake up at 4:30 in the afternoon instead of 6:30 in the morning and have to wait all day."

Meanwhile, Ferentz discussed how his team's preparations may differ due to the time of the game.

"We've been staying up in Cedar Rapids since I got here," he said. "They just opened up a very nice new hotel here in town, but we still prefer to get out of town. I think the bus ride's good for the guys on Friday. Most of them take naps and then Saturday gives them a chance to focus a little bit, and that's what we do. All we're going to do is shift our schedule. We'll move our Friday night meetings to Saturday mornings now and just try to keep the timeline as we would normally.  Friday evening we're going to find some way to entertain the team and just get them away from football for a little bit and give them a break mentally." 

The teams have exchanged blowout defeats over the past couple of years. Ohio State suffered a heavy loss at Iowa City in 2004, while the Hawkeyes were dominated in Columbus in 2005.

"I was just happy Coach Tressel took it easy on us," Ferentz said. "They probably could have scored 60 the way that game went.  I don't know if I'm a great one on that one. The way I look at it, they did have their way totally with us last season. The year before we caught them when they were going through a transition in a couple spots and they were young, what have you. We were fortunate to get the win. The year before that, what I remember there is really a great defensive game where I don't think there was an offensive point scored. So you kind of got a tale of three cities going here. 

"All I know is we're probably a better football team right now than we were a year ago at this time, but we're hardly a great football team. I was kind of hoping when we looked at the Ohio State film that we might see some weaknesses with all the graduation and the great players that left."

Unlike previous years, Ohio State was far from a unanimous No. 1 selection coming into the season. Ferentz admitted that he himself did not think of the Buckeyes on such terms, at least at first. He has since changed his view.

"I don't mind telling you I was a little skeptical during the summer when I kept hearing everybody's picking Ohio State to be at the top of the heap in the country," he said. "Now after four games, you can see why. It's just amazing, for the "inexperience" on the defensive side, those guys are just playing super football. Giving up 8 points a game, that's the most important stat in the game on the defensive side. Factor in the turnovers they've been able to collect and it's just absolutely amazing. They've got good football players and they play with a great attitude and they're extremely well-coached, so it's really easy to see why they are No. 1."

Adding to the concerns about Ohio State's defense for Ferentz is the fact that the Hawkeye offense has not been putting up good numbers on the ground.

"(The stats are) not great at all, and our execution's probably less than great," Ferentz said. "We're hitting a couple runs, but not at the rate you'd like to, and we really have not gotten in sync in any way with our offense total package. That's the bad news. The good news is we've got a lot of room for improvement. Then more bad news -- we're looking at team here that's giving up eight points a game and they're more than stingy with run yardage. You go down the list, and anything you're supposed to do well on defense, they do it. You wonder why they win so consistently and what have you, but to me it starts on defense. They do a great job defensively. Coach Tressel and his staff, they have good players, they're well coached and they present a lot of challenges for us in every phase." 

One reason the Buckeyes have been stingier than expected on defense has been the emergence of sophomore middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Tressel was asked to reminisce on Laurinaitis's recruitment.

"We had a chance to be up and visit James's high school up there in Wayzata, Minnesota and go to their home and meet his mom and dad and sister, who's a very good ice hockey player of her own right," he said. "They're just a wonderful family, a very strong, loving family that cares a lot for one another and have a lot of pride in what they do, and a very faithful family. Then of course when James visited here on campus, he hit it off right away with our players. He's an outstanding student as well as an outstanding football player. He's been a pleasure to have in our program."

The two teams face off at 8 pm EST Saturday evening. The game can be seen nationally on ABC.

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