Downing Brings Attitude To O-Line

T.J. Downing is always one of the best interviews on Ohio State's team. The senior right guard played arguably his best game of the season at Iowa last week and was named OSU's Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week. We caught up with Downing on Tuesday to get his interesting takes on a number of subjects.

As if the mohawk wasn't a dead giveaway, senior right guard T.J. Downing is the free-spirited, emotional leader of Ohio State's offensive line.

The 6-4, 305-pound Downing is a three-year starter and is known best for his physical play and fiery attitude. He's a guy that always says what's on his mind and takes pride in his toughness on the field.

"I've always said it's a tough game," Downing said. "There's nothing easy about what an offensive lineman does. Sure, I'd like to sprint down the field and catch a ball and not get touched, but my body wouldn't work like that, so I just hit people. It's fun. We take pride in blocking for our guys and we bring an attitude about it. It's just a way to have fun and as tough as everything is around us being No. 1 and all that stuff, you've got to have time to have fun with it too and just enjoy it."

Downing was named OSU's Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week for his strong performance in the Buckeyes' 38-17 throttling of Iowa. It seems each week a different lineman is given the award, which speaks to the depth and talent up front for the Buckeyes.

"It's fun now because we've kind of turned it into a competition of who is going to get it," Downing said. "And the guy who wins it always gets teased that week. I get called Jim Parker all week. I'll be Jim this week – you guys can call me Jim. No, it's cool. When you turn it into a competition between your buddies like that you try a lot harder. I catch Alex Boone looking at me on the field against Iowa saying, ‘Oh man, I'm gonna win it, I'm gonna win it. I've been blocking this guy up.' So, it's fun and we're just trying to get all five of us on the same page. If we just keep getting better like we did against Iowa, if we get better every week, I think we have a shot to do some big things here."

Quarterback Troy Smith is the front-runner for the Heisman and Downing was asked if he takes extra pride in making sure Smith stays protected.

"Well, not just Troy, but everybody," he said. "We take great pride in blocking for Antonio Pittman. We take great pride in blocking for Mo Wells and Chris Wells. But it is special to have Troy back there, having a guy that is a great leader and is so smart. And we know we're not going to have any situations back there. If he would feel a little pressure, he's not just going to throw the ball up for grabs. We know Troy would never do something like that. It's comforting knowing you have a guy like that, but I take great pride in making sure no one touches him.

"I don't know exactly where we're at, but I think we're one of the lowest teams in the country in giving up sacks (27th in the nation, allowing 1.2 per game). That's a goal of ours and keeping him healthy is one of our top priorities. So, yes, we do take great pride in that."

After a brutal September, the Buckeyes appear to have clear sailing until Michigan. Yes, anything can happen on "any given Saturday" but the schedule sets up pretty well for OSU the rest of the way, beginning this week against Bowling Green. But Downing wasn't going to give out any bulletin board material.

"Even harder than September. October is going to be hard for us because we have to make sure we're on top of our game and we bring our ‘A' game every time we play," he said. "Yeah, it was tough playing Iowa and Texas and Penn State… and Cincinnati was one of the toughest teams we played. We've just got to make sure that when Bowling Green comes in that we're not misfiring. We'll worry about them first and then go on to the rest of the Big Ten and just focus one week at a time. It's going to be hard to get up, but you have to do it. You have no choice, that's your job and we're going to try and do it to the best of our ability.

"We know our history with MAC schools. We never seem to play well when we play them. We're going to try and erase that. We've erased the night game problem that we had, so hopefully we can erase our MAC problem. It doesn't matter who you're playing, if you have a target on your back they are going to play you tough. So, we've got to make sure we come out tougher."

Ohio State's offense was clicking throughout the Iowa game and Downing was asked if the Buckeyes prepared even harder than usual for the Hawkeyes.

"Our preparation is the same for every game, it's just execution I guess," he said. "Coming out from the get-go and executing and we were able to do that against Iowa. We definitely weren't able to do it against Penn State and Cincinnati. It's not the coaches' fault, the fault lies with the players. We're the ones that need to execute the plays and do it well. And preparation-wise, I think our coaches have done a great job of just making sure that we're taking every game one game at a time and we're doing all we can knowing that they are instilling that feeling into us that, ‘Are we going to want the game more than the other team?'

"We've talked about that since Michigan in 2004, because nobody thought we could win and we just made sure that every game after that we knew that it had to be more important to us to win the game than the other team. I think that has helped us so far."

For the first time since Downing joined OSU's starting lineup during the '04 season, the Buckeyes have a pair of productive tailbacks that can take turns on wearing out a defense. Pittman and Wells could be on their way to forming one of the best tandems in the country.

"Well, it's big," Downing said. "Obviously we take that pride in seeing Antonio play well. And then having a guy like Beanie in there and have him just run in there and hit some linebackers and run them over, it's nice to see that also. It's nice having a change-up. It's kind of like throwing them a curve ball and it's hard for defenses to stop that when you have that one-two punch and the good thing for us is that it's made us a successful offense right now, we've just got to keep it up."

Add in OSU's outstanding receivers, and the Buckeyes have the versatility to do a lot of things well offensively.

"Well yeah, we can, just because of the amount of weapons that we have," Downing said. "It still gets tough sometimes because this is a situation where you only have one football and (offensive coordinator Jim) Bollman talks about that a lot, you know, not being selfish. I'm sure a lot of guys would like to have the ball more than they could, but you can't. You only have one. But when you've got all these guys running different routes, and then you forget about Antonio Pittman and boom, there he goes, 20, 30 yards a pop. So, it's good for us to put people on their heels and the more we put defenses on their heels the better of we're going to be."

Downing knows that if OSU is able to achieve its team goals this year that several individual honors could follow, such as Smith becoming a Heisman winner.

"I would like nothing more than to say my quarterback my senior year was the Heisman Trophy winner," Downing said. "But I think we all have a different thought process right now, Troy, our offensive line, that, we're not going to worry about Heisman stuff. We'll let the voters turn that out at the end of the year. We've just got to focus on winning the outright championship and going down to Arizona. That's all going to start by winning one game at a time and Bowling Green comes first."

As for that mohawk that Downing has been sporting since the final week of preseason camp, it might have a different look in the coming weeks due to a little superstition on the big lineman's part.

"Well, I was cutting every Friday," Downing said. "Kirk (Barton) does the back, I do the front and I was doing every Friday for the game. But for some reason, I just didn't do it against Iowa and I don't know if I am now after the way we played. So, I might just let it grow. The Mohawk is going to stay, but I don't know if I am going to cut the sides anymore just because of how well we played."

Downing's parents – including former Michigan and NFL lineman Walt Downing – were taken aback when they first saw their son's new look.

"They are starting to like it more and more," Downing said with a mischievous smile. "It was kind of a shock at first because they weren't expecting me to throw them a curve ball like that. But no, they like it and they're having fun with it too."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories