At his weekly press luncheon on Tuesday, Tressel specified some of the improvements he would like to see out of the Buckeyes.
"You always have to get better tackling," he said. "Until we get down to zero missed tackles, we're not going to be happy. Obviously if you took each and every special team and divided it by 11, whether it be your punt return team and we need to do a better job of holding up, or your snapper, the ball needs to be a little bit tighter in the window. Offensively, name the position. Better consistency. The level that we would like to be leaves improvement for everything that we do. I can't think of anything where we would say, ‘Gosh, I hope we stay the same' because everything we'd like to do a little better."
The first Bowl Championship Series standings were released Monday and as expected OSU was No. 1. The Buckeyes control their own destiny in terms of reaching the national championship game and that's exactly what Tressel expected coming into the season.
"I know this: the difficulty of the league that we play in, if you earn the right to win your outright championship and are undefeated, you're going to be in the BCS game. That would be amazing to be if you weren't, because of the strength of the schedule. So, no, it's no relief. The only relief we'll ever have is for 30 seconds if we reach our goal and then you get ready for the next game. But our guys know that we've got a long road ahead of us."
Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) will be facing a visiting Indiana (4-3, 2-1) team on Saturday (noon, ESPN U) that has won two straight Big Ten games – including a shocking 31-28 upset over Iowa last week. And the emerging star of the Hoosiers is redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis (6-1, 177).
"The very few plays that I've seen, he does a good job of keeping things alive," Tressel said. "The thing that (OSU athletic director) Gene Smith mentioned to be after he had watched a good bit of their game this past weekend was that he was amazed at the poise that such a young guy would have in a tough, hard-fought game.
"The thing that is impressive to me is they're down 23-7 to Ball State and win, they're down 25-7 against Illinois and they win, and they're down 21-7 to Iowa and they win. That tells me that somebody has to have some poise and usually that starts with the guy who has his hand on the ball. So, the little bit I've watched them he does a good job of keeping things alive and he's very accurate. He uses his weapons. I think they have outstanding weapons."
Of course, many Buckeye fans will not be able to watch the Indiana game considering the low number of households that receive ESPN U. Tressel is aware of the backlash from OSU supporters.
"No, it doesn't surprise me because people love watching the Buckeyes," he said. "We go to Spartan Stadium – and I don't know what the numbers were – but it looked like to be that a third of the people were ours or better. When you go to Texas and I don't know where they got those tickets, but there was a whole bunch of Scarlet and Gray there. Go out to the Fiesta Bowl, you know.
"So, the interest level in Ohio State football is tremendous. So, the disappointment in not getting to see it (is understandable). My daughter is away at college in New York and she said, ‘What do you mean it's not going to be on?' So, sorry. And no, I won't buy you that subscription or whatever. But people love to watch the Buckeyes."
Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith has been the front-runner for the Heisman since the Texas game, but his candidacy took another leap forward when Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson was lost for the season with a broken collarbone.
Smith brings a lot of assets to the table such as arm strength, accuracy, toughness and leadership. But possibly his best skill is his ability to keep plays alive and make something out of nothing. His touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie in OSU's 38-7 win over Michigan State last week was a perfect example. Smith had to break a tackle, and still had a defender holding on to one of his legs when he made the throw.
"I think that's one of his strengths," Tressel said. "When things break down, obviously you have to survive, but survive as such that your eyes are still down the field so you still have your wits about you. And I think that's what he does. I don't know that everyone does that. In fact, you look at a lot of quarterbacks and when things break down all of a sudden you see their heads look at the ground. Troy just has that ability to keep his head high and have a little bit of confidence that something good is going to come out of this and I better find it."
Junior tailback Antonio Pittman was slightly limping towards the end of the MSU game, but Tressel thinks he's healthy.
"You never know with running backs," Tressel said with a smile. "They're like grease lightning when they've got the ball, and the other 23 and a half hours of the day they're slow. I hope there are no running backs other than Lefty (Earle) Bruce out there. So, I think he's fine. I don't know otherwise."
Fortunately the Buckeyes have a good No. 2 back in freshman Chris Wells. He fumbled in his first carry against the Spartans, but the coaches stuck with him and he had a good game.
Tressel was asked specifically about Wells' skills in short-yardage situations.
"I think Chris can be an outstanding short-yardage back," Tressel said. "Sometimes you get so many guys in the box that you are going to have to break a tackle and he can break a tackle. But it starts up front. I think we have improved there, although we missed one there at the end of the Bowling Green game. Our goal is to be 100 percent on short yardage. In the seven ballgames, we've only been 100 percent four times. So, we're not there yet."
Tressel was asked how he handles situations after a player has fumbled. Does he usually put the player right back in the game like Wells against MSU, or would he sometimes make the player sit down and think about it for a while?
"I haven't done a whole bunch in my career of sitting down and thinking about it, unless it was their umpteenth time, including practice," Tressel said. "Again, practice is part of what we do. But I can't recall there being a whole bunch of that type of thing. If a guy is prepared and we think he is the right guy for that game and a ball comes loose, we might not be able to overcome it, but we don't know that until the game is over. And if he is the best guy for what we'd like to do, typically we would stick with that."
Tressel also gave his take on Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner who has battled brain cancer over the last year.
"What's healthy in life is if you do have some examples around you who represent toughness and handling adversity," he said. "And when you're talking about Terry Hoeppner and (OSU quarterbacks coach) Joe Daniels, I'm thinking any day I'm tired, shame on me. Those guys have been through it. It's got to be rubbing off on his football staff and his football team that, hey, this guy cares. And I think if everybody around knows that the head coach cares, you've got a chance."
Ohio State's defense is playing better than most everyone expected and the Buckeyes continue to lead the nation is scoring defense. Some of the credit has to go to defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, even if he doesn't want to take any of it.
"Jim is a guy that demands excellence, first from himself," Tressel said. "Thoroughness. He does a great job of collective thinking with his defensive staff. He would be the first to tell you that there is no stamp on it that says Jim Heacock, it's his staff and that's just the way he feels. And his players have input as well. He's got a lot of great experiences. He's been a part of a lot of great defenses around here at Ohio State and he has a lot of pride in the long tradition of Ohio State defenses and you can see that in the way he expects things out of his own guys."
Tressel announced OSU's players of the week. They included: Brian Hartline (special teams), Smith (offense), Kirk Barton (Jim Parker offensive lineman) Quinn Pitcock (defense), Jay Richardson (attack force), Dan Potokar (scout team special teams), Grant Schwartz (scout team defense) and Bryant Browning (scout team offense).
The coach also gave a progress report on defensive tackle David Patterson who missed the Michigan State game with a knee injury.
"It's still day-to-day," Tressel said. "We won't know for sure until Thursday, but our doctors and trainers feel great. We'll have to see how he progresses."
Big Ten Coaches Teleconference Wrap-Up
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel opened his portion of the Big Ten coaches teleconference with a statement about the win at Michigan State.
"It'll be exciting to get back home in Big Ten play," he said. "We had a tough road ball game over in East Lansing against a very talented Michigan State team. I thought our guys did a good job of handling the adversity early. We unfortunately turned the ball over in our own end to start the game and our guys did a good job responding to that and I thought played a very solid football game. I know Michigan State was missing Javon Ringer, the great running back, and Matt Trannon, the good receiver, and it made it a little more difficult for them, but I thought our kids did a really good job preparing and executing and having a good, decisive victory."
This week's game for the Buckeyes is against Indiana (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten), a team that is coming off of one of their biggest wins in years -- a home win over Iowa. The Hoosiers engineered a late-game comeback win on the road the week prior at Illinois. But the Buckeyes are still very big favorites in the game.
Tressel was asked if the team's focus was an issue, considering they will be large favorites in each remaining game leading up to what appears to be a big showdown in the season finale against Michigan.
"We've talked constantly about doing what is at hand at this moment, which in today's case is practice and trying to get better, and marching toward playing a tough Indiana football team in our stadium," Tressel said. "So the suggestion we give them is the one we give them from the beginning of the season is focus on what's going on right this second. I guess the other suggestion is to go study some more film rather than taking time to read what's being written."
Tressel was asked if it easier to coach a team that started no. 1 or rose to the ranking throughout the year.
"I think a lot depends upon the makeup of your football team," he said. "We have 16 guys who are fifth-year players who have been through a lot of these things and don't even pay attention to what goes on outside because they've learned that that's irrelevant, but of course we have some young people who maybe have been hearing some of these things and some of these kudos for the first time. So I hope that the leadership of our team helps us to do a good job in handling those types of things, but I think most of us know we've got a long way to go before we become a very, very good football team."
Meanwhile, it has been a happy couple of weeks for the Hoosier football program. Head coach Terry Hoeppner talked about the importance of his team's last two wins.
"It's significant just to be able to number one, win on the road in the Big Ten, and number two, beat a team the quality of Iowa," he said. "We've been preparing so well, but it's given our team a real shot of confidence because there's a point you need to get more and you need to get some confirmation that what your doing really is working. The fact that the players have practiced so well and the coaches have prepared, that from my perspective has been very rewarding."
The wins could have a big impact on the future of the program as well.
"It's been a very satisfying week in terms of the phone calls, e-mails, personal visits," Hoeppner said. "It had a dramatic effect because it's been a while. Right now -- for the team for sure, but I think in the big picture for the program -- we've got some facility improvement planned, so everything going on right now is really positive. But you need some reinforcement with some success on the field and to do it against a program that everybody respects and knows year in and year out as one of the top programs in the Big Ten I think really gives us some credibility.
"Only time will tell how significant it is. We've got to continue to play well on the field, but for sure it was big at the moment and hopefully in the long run."
The comeback at Illinois was the first step in what appears to be a growing confidence on the Hoosier team.
"For sure, confidence has to be part of the equation," Hoeppner said. "I think there's a maturation process. I've made reference to the young guys, and there are others. The drive against Illinois -- you got a redshirt freshman throwing and three of the four guys who caught passes were redshirt freshmen. So yeah, you make plays and you make them under the pressure and the game's on the line, the two-minute drive and things like that, it does give you confidence in what the coaches are doing. I've challenged the team to trust yourself, trust your teammates, trust your coaches, and it's a lot easier to say that when we get some good results. So I think it's the combination of us making plays, finally executing better and the combination with experience and confidence."
Indiana has been led by several young players, including redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis. But Lewis will get a whole different challenge trying to come into Ohio Stadium and win. Hoeppner was asked about the quarterback's mindset in facing such a formidable challenge.
"Obviously he's the quarterback so he gets the attention, but there are other guys in that situation," he said. "Sometimes being young, it ends up being a double-edged sword. You don't know what you don't know... To some degree, maybe that's an advantage, but the fact that they have gotten some real game experience and crunch time experience, for sure it's helped Kellen. What he's done is he's really playing like he's been practicing, and that's why he's playing. He's cut down on his mistakes; he's reduced those dramatically. He's talented, he's throwing the ball more accurately and he's still dangerous with his feet. That's why he's given us a chance to move the football.
"I know he'll be excited; I think the entire team will. It's a great place, it's a great environment against a team that -- from the beginning, I know that's how I feel about them -- is the No. 1 team in the country. So it's a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity."
The Hoosiers have also been starting two freshman offensive linemen from the state of Ohio -- Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon. Saxon attended high school at Plain City Jonathan Alder, which is a small school northwest of Columbus. Hoeppner says the two players have earned their spot on the line.
"We recruited seven (offensive linemen) and thought a couple of them might be in the two-deep, and they have distinguished themselves and practiced to the point where we're not playing them because we want to see how the freshmen do out there," he said. "It's not an experiment; it's the best we can do right now. They've responded, and Pete got the start this week. Really, number one, you've got to be physically capable of handling it, and both Rodger Saffold and Pete are physically capable. Then it's such a mental challenge because I say it's the toughest position to play because it's so physically and mentally demanding. They've both picked it up."
Another Hoosier player to keep an eye on is Marcus Thigpen, a speedy back who has returned three kicks for touchdowns this year.
"Marcus Thigpen's a great football player," Tressel said. "If you watch him on those returns and you watch him in the backfield and he's frightening. He's an outstanding player. He's physical. He's got a burst -- the thing that's impressive to me about his burst is he gets to top-end and then continues to accelerate. His burst on those returns reminds a little bit like Teddy (Ginn) where you see him going fast and think maybe someone will catch up and then you just see he's got another gear. He's frightening.
"It heightens your awareness, certainly. I would hope that it what does is helps every member of that coverage team or every member of that defensive team make sure they're playing their responsibility because if they aren't, he can take one to the house at any second."
- Tressel was asked whether he and the OSU coaches take a break to watch a
late game on television like the Penn State/Michigan game this past weekend.
"We were traveling," Tressel said. "We didn't land back here until, I don't know, 10:30 or
quarter to 11, and personally I had to go tape a TV show. Now whether the other
coaches went home and watched the rest of that game I don't know, but I'm sure
like anyone else, they're sports fans and if they do get a chance to be home,
they'll watch that. All of us, when you get into Big Ten play, you have a chance
to watch the whole league as you're studying films and it's real that it's fun
to watch teams as they progress and learn a thing from them or maybe steal an
idea or two, but our guys don't have a whole bunch of free time to watch the
games as they're played."
- He was then asked his thoughts on Michigan's defense. "I haven't seen them,"
he said. "My preliminary thought would be I remember them at the
end of last year and they were very good, and a lot of those guys are back. I
watch the scores obviously like everyone else has and see that people don't get
in their end zone very often. The films that we had on trade, as we were
preparing for Michigan State for instance, it was Michigan's offense personally
that I was watching."
- Much of the college football community has been discussing a
bench-clearing brawl that occurred in Saturday's game between Miami and
Florida International. Tressel was asked his comments on the brawl.
"Obviously it was disappointing," he siad. "I only saw it like once on a highlight clip, so I didn't see it in depth like a lot of people I hear talking about it. That's very disappointing for the game because we not only represent ourselves and our schools, but we also represent the game of football. I'm sure the coaching staffs and the schools of both teams are very disappointed just like anytime one of our young people makes poor decisions that become very visible. It's really hurtful for the coaches and administrators and schools in general. On the flip side, it was probably a teaching moment for everyone that was watching it, a reminder to all the student athletes that play the game, whether it's football or any other sport, is that you're very visible, and when you make a mistake -- a mistake of that magnitude -- it's going to be blasted far and wide and the embarrassment is great. So maybe for the rest of us it was a good learning opportunity.
"The bottom line is no matter what you do -- whether it's the heat of the moment in business, you better be ethical; whether it's the heat of the moment when you decide whether or not you're going to print that off-the-record thing that was said that sources tell me said -- you need to be ethical. During the heat of the moment in a football game and the tempers are flaring and maybe you're disappointed or whatever, there's still ethics and morals that are a part of things and values that we hold in the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference for sure. You have to make sure that you talk about those things and you do them well."
- The subject of instant replay very commonly comes up at the Big
Ten teleconference. This week, Tressel was asked his thoughts on the new
rule allowing a coach's challenge.
"I haven't used it," he said. "Those timeouts are so sacred, plus if you used it once and then there's something at the end of the game, you'd really like to use it. I have a lot of confidence in the people up in the booth. They review every play as its going on. I think it would be an unusual situation to have a replay booth not review something that we with our human eye could see that maybe we should have. Our coaches in the booth and maybe the sideline don't have any electronic equipment to see. If we see it by the naked eye, that's one thing, but I think the people up in the review booth, they're confident."
- Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville sparked some conversation a couple
weeks back when he stated that the SEC was at a disadvantage in the BCS due
to the difficulty of their conference and that only a playoff would give
them a fair shake. Tressel was asked his thoughts on the toughness of
conference play. "I think it's tough to play in any league because you know one another so
well," he said. "You play one another year in and year out. The players know one another;
many times they're recruited from the same geographic region of the country.
Just playing in any league is a battle. From top to bottom, you better get ready
when you're playing in a league game. I don't know that the Big Ten or the SEC
or anyone else beats up on themselves any more than any conference because being
a conference champion is a huge thing in whatever conference they are in. People
play a lot better in conference games sometimes than they do in their
He was also asked if having a conference championship game like the SEC has puts the teams at a disadvantage.
"Anytime you add a game to your schedule, it makes it more difficult," he said. "Adding a championship game makes it increasingly difficult. I would say this -- I think it helps whoever the champion became though because they're going to be even more prepared and have another notch on their belt, if you will, of confidence. They play that first weekend or so in December which is a little bit closer to a January bowl game than most of us who are done on the first weekend of November. I think there are some advantages and obviously some difficulties."