Tressel, Smith Discuss Upcoming Game

The oddsmakers expect this weekend's Ohio State-Michigan State game to be a blowout in the Buckeyes' favor. But will it? The Spartans have lost three straight games but are still an opponent that causes plenty of concern. Both coaches spoke with the media about this week's game earlier today. (Updated at 3:30 p.m. with comments from Tressel's press luncheon.)

The big news at Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel's press luncheon on Tuesday was that senior defensive tackle David Patterson will likely miss Saturday's game at Michigan State (3:40 p.m., ABC) with a sprained knee.

"We probably won't have David Patterson this week," Tressel said.

In his place, redshirt freshman Todd Denlinger, or senior Joel Penton, will start against the Spartans. Tressel also announced that redshirt freshman Doug Worthington could also see some playing time at defensive tackle this week.

The Buckeyes also have the option of moving sophomore defensive end Alex Barrow down to tackle – a position he has played from time to time this season, including last week against Bowling Green.

Right tackle Kirk Barton also missed most of the BGSU game with a foot injury, but Tressel thinks he will be able to play against Michigan State.

"He won't practice today, but we expect he'll be back at full speed tomorrow," Tressel said.

Ohio State's players of the week were announced on Tuesday, and they included: Troy Smith (offense), Vernon Gholston (defense), Quinn Pitcock (attack force), Andre Amos (special teams), Rory Nicol (Jim Parker offensive lineman), Jon Thoma (scout team special teams), Matt Daniels (scout team defense) and Daniel Dye (scout team offense).

Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is currently listed as 14.5-point favorites over Michigan State (3-3, 0-2). However, the Buckeyes need to look no further than 1998 to know what can happen when the Spartans are taken too lightly. Of course, Tressel wasn't the coach back then, but even last year OSU was fortunate to escape with a 35-24 win over MSU after trailing 17-7 late in the first half.

Tressel knows that Michigan State is struggling, but also believes senior quarterback Drew Stanton is capable of having a big game at any time.

"When you talk about what's the one thing that is kind of the trademark of their football team, in my mind, it's number 5," Tressel said. "Drew Stanton is special. He's one of those guys that's tough, he never stops playing, he's a kid that Troy Smith happened to room with at Elite 11 high school camp back when they were in there, way into their senior year of high school, and they've kept a strong relationship. And I think they've done that because they're similar kind of people. They're great leaders. They're tough. They're working hard to become good at their trade, and I think he typifies what Michigan State is all about, and they're a very talented, skillful team. They're a team behind the count in the Big Ten play, and any team you face that's behind the count in league play is going to play lights out. So we're looking forward to a tremendous challenge as we go up there."

Michigan State has several injured players – including tailback Javon Ringer who is out for the year, and wide receiver Matt Trannon who is out indefinitely.

"They've had some receiver injuries," Tressel said. "Their corps of receivers is so deep, so fast, it's just a matter of who they put out there. They lost Javon Ringer during the Illinois game, I thought that was significant. I don't think he's scheduled to play this week from what I gather, but you never know. Sometimes when an Ohio kid gets a chance to play against Ohio State, there's a lot of healing that goes on. But that's significant -- he's a great kid and a great back."

But Michigan State has another solid running back in the 260-pound Jehuu Caulcrick.

"Caulcrick, I don't know how many yards he's got, but it's a lot," Tressel said. "Michigan State has got, I think, depth. They've got speed. Every guy they put in on the defensive front, they're just like everyone else, they roll in eight guys, and the guys they roll in, it's not like they say, number so and so is in there, so we'll do this, that's just not the way it is. They're very sound and they have solid back-ups."

Tressel was asked if he is going to talk to his team about the past upsets in the OSU-MSU series.

"Yeah, I think you talk about a lot of things when you talk about understanding the difficulty of the challenge," he said. "And you go all the way back in time to the greatness both teams have had and how that relates to where we are today, but it's nothing that you fabricate. I think what's important is you point out the facts, and the facts are, when Ohio State and Michigan State get together, whether talking about the year we were number one and got knocked off, or last year when we're down 17-7 getting ready to be 24-7, I think perspective is very important in this game, in life, of course, but in this game it's very important."

Michigan State head coach John L. Smith is on the proverbial hot seat following three straight losses. Tressel was asked if he thinks the criticisms of Smith are deserved and whether he sympathizes with Smith.

"I was just asked that question on the Big Ten media call, and the thing that no one will ever convince me is that John L. Smith is not a winner," he said. "The guy won 131 games or something. There's not that many people that have coached this game that have won that many games and the number of different venues that he's been in. And when you say, do you feel for him, I feel for anyone that coaches in this league. This is a tough league. And to compete week to week with high expectations, 11 teams have high expectations, maybe some teams have even higher, and not all 11 are going to meet those expectations. So, no, you certainly have great respect for anyone that does that particular job, and especially who's done it with the success ratio that he has."

Tressel and Smith seem like polar opposites. Tressel is steely cool, while Smith is demonstrative and often "off his rocker." Tressel was asked if there are any coaching similarities between him and Smith.

"Coaching similarities? Both want to win bad," he said. "The thing that I guess you could say we share is we both kind of started at a smaller level and had to prove we could, where some people start at a higher level and maybe sometimes have to prove they can't. So, I guess we would share that."

Tressel was asked if he has ever felt like he was on the "hot seat" while at OSU.

"Since January of ‘01," he said. "Every day. Right, (former OSU coach Earle Bruce)? If it was going on, which I'm sure it was, I didn't know it, because I was too busy. That's probably the way it is with anybody in the country, you're not sitting around worried about what people are saying, you're worried about what your team is doing."

Tressel was of course coaching at Youngstown State in 1998 when the No. 1 Buckeyes were upset by the Nick Saban-led Spartans. The loss prevented OSU from playing for the national championship.

"My only recollection of '98 is we played earlier in the day and we went down to this little Italian place to have spaghetti at the MVR and turned the game on and got to see the last 10 minutes or so and about had a heart attack. That was a tough one," Tressel said.

Troy Smith continues to be the front-runner for the Heisman, due in large part to his pinpoint accuracy. Tressel was asked if Smith does any special drills to work on his accuracy.

"We have a little net that (quarterbacks coach Joe) Daniels uses that has three pockets in it, and as the guys do sets, Coach Daniels will tell him which pocket he wants it in. They don't hit the pocket very often, quite frankly, but they hit the net, so they work hard on accuracy. But I think his command of what's going on and his comfort allows him to be as accurate as he can be, and again, I say it a million times, it starts with protection. It's easy to be accurate when no one's in your face. When someone's in your face, now being accurate is tough, and he's had pretty solid protection all year."

As for Worthington, he came to OSU as one of the top defensive end prospects in the country last year, but at 6-7, 280 pounds seems to be more suited for tackle.

"He's gotten so big and we're looking for places to try to give him an opportunity, and he's really done a nice job in there," Tressel said. "You don't know what he's going to grow into. Sometimes, though, I like a big guy on the edge to -- I don't want those tackles to get used to nothing but speed rushes, I like them to get bowled over occasionally too. So I think Doug's the kind of guy that's going to be able to do both."

Teleconference Wrap-up

Tressel and Smith joined in today's weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference to discuss the upcoming matchup between their two teams this weekend.

Tressel opened with a statement about the game against Bowling Green.

"It's good to get back into Big Ten play," he said. "It was a little bit unusual in the middle of the Big Ten schedule to have a non-conference game, but it's part of the world we live in with the 12-game schedule. I thought our kids handled it well. I thought they practiced well all week. I thought they came out and played pretty fair; I don't know if it was our finest performance, but I thought they came out and did what they had to do. Now we have some more things to learn from and hopefully get better as we travel up to East Lansing and play against a tough Michigan State football team. Whenever Ohio State and Michigan State get together, it's a heck of a game."

The Buckeyes stand as a solid No. 1-ranked team after five games. But despite the success the Buckeyes have had, Tressel is not totally satisfied with where the team is.

"Unfortunately, we're not where we need to be in any area," he said. "I don't know that there's any one that needs more than another. We've played six games. I think we're relatively pleased with the progress we've made, but in no way do we think we've arrived in any particular area."

This week's opponent, Michigan State, has had two very disappointing losses in a row to Ohio State. In 2004, the Spartans were in command much of the game before a late OSU charge gave the Buckeyes the win in East Lansing, while the Spartans came out strong in Columbus last year before a bizarre botched field goal attempt that resulted in a blocked kick return for a Buckeye touchdown drastically shifted momentum. Tressel was asked if he thought MSU outplayed the Buckeyes over the course of 60 minutes in each of those games.

"I think that would be up for a debate, and you could probably have a side on both sides," he said. "We've had some some ball games, I think in both of those games there've been many points in times where they've been ahead, then we've gotten ahead, then they went back ahead, and that type of thing. As to who had the better total sixty minutes, I'm not sure I could intelligently comment on that, but I know this -- we had a chance to lose both those games, and we were fortunate to win both those games."

Michigan State has lost three games in a row -- a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame where the Spartans blew a big lead, a crushing home defeat to one of the Big Ten's worst teams in Illinois, and a blowout road loss to Michigan. Despite that, and the fact that the Spartans are fighting many injuries, plenty of people on the Ohio State side of things are very concerned about this game.

OSU head coach Jim Tressel discussed some of the things that make Michigan State a foe to be worried about.

"There's concerns as you look at every side of the ball," he said. "Special teams are so important and Brandon Fields, their punter, is one of the best in the country. He's extraordinary. Their return men are scary. I think they bring the best punt rush that perhaps we've seen to date. Then you go over to the defensive side -- they're very, very skillful, have excellent depth up front. They rotate people in and get after you there. They have veteran linebackers that seem like they have been there forever. I think they're better at corner right now then they have been in the past couple of years.

"Then when you flip to their offensive side, I think you start with Drew Stanton. He's so competitive, he's so talented, and he can make so many plays. He's got that whole crew of dangerous receivers -- they've probably had more big plays against us the past two years than many team combined. (Jehuu) Caulcrick is an outstanding running back, so they're very talented. We remember vividly the past couple years when those ball games could have gone either way, and a lot of those same kids are playing for them."

Meanwhile, John L. Smith, who has been under plenty of fire as of late, has his hands full trying to prepare for the Buckeyes.

"They're very balanced, they're going to do some things," he said. "But there's also some very special talents out there. For instance, (Ted) Ginn -- you've got to see if you can incorporate, at least in our opinion, some means of doing some things to him. You might have to bracket the guy or some things like that. I don't know if you can just single up on him all game long, particularly in situations. So I think that's a factor.

"And I think you have to look at a number of different factors. They're going to come out and they're going to run a power, and they do a great job of running it. So if you don't get up and commit enough people in the box to get that stopped, then you don't even have to worry about Ginn. So that's the first and foremost thing that you have to do, and I think the thing that really makes them go and all of a sudden makes plays out of nothing is the Smith kid. What a great athlete. He's doing a tremendous job I think of just running the offense. He doesn't look like he's overly nervous or anything. When the ball's booted around on the ground, he picks it up, he runs around and throws it downfield for a touchdown, so he's a special kid as well. It's a tough, tough duty, but they're a good football team. We're just going to have to prepare and keep changing up on them."

Smith's teams have had particular problems with Ted Ginn in recent years. He will do his best to make sure Ginn does not get the chance to hurt MSU on punt returns this Saturday.

"I'm a big believer in that you try not to give them that many extra opportunities with the football and if you can keep it away from them, then yeah, that's what you'd like to do," Smith said. "What's the best way to do that? For some people, it might be rolling out and putting the ball on the ground. We tried that and he ran ran one back on us. So we've done several things and we'll make an effort that will make it as hard to return as possible. I don't think you give him any extra shots if you have that luxury, and if you're confident enough in your people maybe putting the ball out of bounds -- I think sometimes that gets real scary because you end up shanking it or something. That's a tough duty to ask a kid -- to give you enough yardage and get it down the field enough and yet keep it out of the hands of the guy doing the catches. So I think you have to look at your personnel and try to limit it as much as you can. Sometimes it might be impossible to keep it away from him."

The Buckeyes have played their two best games on the road in tough environments (Texas and Iowa), but Tressel was asked if Michigan State might wind up being OSU's toughest road game.

"I think because of the talent they have, and as John L. has pointed out, you could point to the times where they've had outstanding execution and say 'Hey, that group's as good as anybody,'" Tressel said. "And I think that's what makes them so formidable, because you turn on the film and see certain things and say 'Man, no one has stopped them,' and then all of a sudden you turn around and there might have been a turnover or there might have been a penalty or something. I think John L. is accurate when he talks about the fact that his team's very capable and very talented."

Some feel Michigan State may be dead in the water after losing three straight games, but Smith feels his team may have a little something extra knowing that the No. 1 team is coming to town.

"Yeah, I really do, and we talk to our football team about that," he said. "In your careers, and as long as you get to play this game, you may never -- and most people never do -- get an opportunity to play what is the number one team in the nation. When we get that opportunity, we have to look at it as an opportunity and a great challenge for us. I think it's something very special, so hopefully it will get us fired up and ready to go."

Smith was asked what a win would mean for his team after struggling for three games.

"It would be great for our kids, for their mental outlook as much as anything," he said. "They've been battling hard, and I'm proud of their efforts. It would be just good from a mental standpoint from us to get a win. They need a little sugar, to get a little pat on the back. You try to give them some hugs, and that's not quite enough. A win would definitely help them." 

Smith was also asked if it would be good for himself due to the heat he has been under, but he does not seem to be concerned about that aspect.

"I don't worry about that part of it," he said. "I worry about our players and my kids more than anything else. For them is what we need to win this for. A win would be great for them, and an opportunity to play number one is a great opportunity and a great challenge. So hopefully we can go prepare to do that and God willing, maybe come out with a win."

Tressel was asked his thoughts on the pressure Smith is under.

"Here's a guy that's won 131 games as a head football coach," he said. "There's not that many people in the world who have done that. He's in a very difficult conference, and it's a battle. The teams that he plays every year that don't roll off his schedule are Michigan and Penn State. He's got a tough task at hand. Wherever he's been, he's been a winner. Sometimes the injury bug hits you, sometimes the ball bounces the wrong way, but no one will ever convince me otherwise other than John L.'s a winner."

Other Notes:

  • Smith gave an update on wide receiver Matt Trannon, who appeared to have suffered a serious injury against Michigan. However, Smith said that there may even be a chance Trannon could play this week. "I just don't expect him to be able to go this week. After this, it's not anymore than that. And it is a possibility that he could go this week," Smith said. "It's a sprained ankle; he had a tweaked hamstring the week prior, so that's nothing new. We'll have to wait and see."
  • Smith feels his team has improved from a preparation standpoint in recent weeks despite the losses, and he feels like quarterback Drew Stanton has been able to keep a level head despite being banged up. "I think his mental outlook has been positive," Smith said. "One thing about Drew, he's going to put it behind him and he's going to get better every day or at least attempt to and try to lead his teammates. You couldn't ask for a better kid than that to have on your football team."
  • Tressel was asked about how the first BCS rankings, due out Sunday, would affect the overall scheme of things. His answer gave a clear impression that the rankings aren't exactly important. "I just learned that they're coming out from you," Tressel said. "I didn't even know that the BCS rankings were coming out this Sunday, so that tells you how much stock I put in it.

    "The only thing we've ever discussed about the BCS from the get-go is that the only chance you have to play in the championship game is if you win all of your regular season games. So you better go to work and try to do that and worry about the BCS rankings some other time, so that's the way we've always approached it. "

  • The 12-game schedule is a popular topic of conversation in the Big Ten teleconference, and Tressel was asked this week if the schedule has had any affect on the amount of injuries seen across the nation. "I'm not so sure that we can prove that," he said. "After six weeks -- let's pretend that our open week that this coming week -- after six weeks, you probably will have played less plays than you typically will have played a year ago in a six-game stretch. I don't know that we could say that we could point a finger at the 12-game schedule for an injury thing. Now I think it would be very healthy to study that at the end of the year and see if there's a higher incidence of this or that. Have there been more injuries, or perhaps have their been less injuries and how can we account for that? Is the fact that the game's a little shorter maybe the reason that we have less injuries? I'm going to be very interested to see how that all plays out."
  • Tressel was also asked a miscellaneous question about the tradition of OSU's Buckeye Leaf helmet stickers. He gave some insight as to how they are earned and what they mean to the players. "Our Buckeye leaves are primarily earned through your participation on a unit," he said. "The guys with the most Buckeye leaves quite honestly are the ones on the special teams units. You can earn leaves as a member of the offensive unit, you can earn them as a member of the defensive unit, and you can earn one as an individual if you happened to have graded a winning performance and played more than 25 plays in a game. Really most of the awards, you have to win as a part of a unit.

    "I think it's something that has been storied here for quite some time.  The size of the leaf has changed. The criteria for how you get them has changed over the course of the years many, many different times.  I think it's something that our guys take a lot of pride in, and not so much in displaying them on their helmet but in challenging themselves in how many they can accumulate for the year."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories