Tressel Press Conference Wrap-up

OSU head coach Jim Tressel spoke with the media this afternoon on a variety of subjects, ranging from this weekend's opponent to his rumored interest in the Cleveland Browns coaching position. We have a wrap-up of his conferences, along with some thoughts from Minnesota head coach Glen Mason on this weekend's game.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel announced at his weekly Tuesday press luncheon that senior defensive tackle David Patterson is "back at full speed" and will likely start against visiting Minnesota this Saturday (3:40 p.m., ABC). Patterson suffered a sprained MCL against Bowling Green and missed the Michigan State and Indiana games.

Also, Tressel confirmed that junior wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has a minor foot injury (some have suggested it's a broken pinky toe) that occurred last Wednesday in practice. But Tressel says the injury is not serious and Ginn will definitely start against the Golden Gophers.

"It didn't affect his play last Saturday and I'm sure it won't affect his play this Saturday," Tressel said.

Also on the injury front, sophomore defensive end Lawrence Wilson was banged up towards the end of the Indiana game and limped off the field. But it doesn't appear to be a long-term injury.

"He should be in good shape, but we should know more today and Wednesday," Tressel said.

The top-ranked Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) had no problem disposing of Indiana, 44-3, and much of the same is expected this Saturday against Minnesota (3-5, 0-4).

But the Golden Gophers have played OSU tough at times during head coach Glen Mason's tenure, including a victory over the No. 5 Buckeyes in 2000.

But this is a different year and the Gophers have been struggling. They nipped I-AA North Dakota State, 10-9, last week on a blocked field goal as time expired.

However, Tressel knows that Minnesota is a better team than its record indicates and is especially impressed with the Gophers' offense, led by senior quarterback Bryan Cupito.

"They have an outstanding quarterback," Tressel said. "Cupito is in the top three or four in passing efficiency (in the Big Ten this year). He's in the top two or three career-wise in Golden Gopher history. He's an Ohio guy that's just very disciplined, just does a great job with the football, knows their offense inside and out, knows what they want to be in, and has been throwing to a great group of receivers."

The Golden Gophers are usually one of the best rushing teams in the country, but are just seventh in the Big Ten this season. In past years they have used two tailbacks, but junior Amir Pinnix is getting most of the carries this year.

"Pinnix looks good to me," Tressel said. "There's only one ball and you give it to one back, and they've been giving it to him and he's been doing a good job. They make you put a lot of people in the box to stop them and they do a great job with play action, which we knew firsthand last year and everyone else has known every time they've played them. So they're still who they are."

Ohio State is first in the conference in both scoring offense (34.9 ppg) and scoring defense (8.2 ppg). In fact, the Buckeyes are tied for first in the nation in scoring defense. Tressel doesn't get too caught up in stats, but he knows the numbers look very impressive at this stage of the season.

"Well, our goal each week is to hold our opponents to 13 points or less and you've done a good job if you can do that," he said. "So to hold them to eight or nine is excellent. But again, we're in the middle of the discussion. So thus far, I guess, that's what we'd hoped for, but we've got to make sure we continue to get better and keep scoring points like that and keep holding them to points like that, and it becomes more difficult as time goes.

"And what I think has been a good thing is there's been a good compliment of one another, and you help one another, defense doing a great job and getting us good field position, the offense doing a good job outside of the last two games of not having possessions begin on the wrong side of the 50, the special units doing their part, and to me there's been a pretty good mesh of consistency.

"Now, I think you really are rolling the dice if you start a third game in a row giving them the ball 30 or closer, because you can't do that and become the best you want to believe. But pure numbers, those are the kind of numbers you like."

Due to the blowout victories, the Buckeyes have been able to get a lot of young players in the games this season. It helps the depth situation this year and will help prepare those players for future seasons. And just imagine what quarterback Troy Smith's statistics would look like if he was actually playing in the fourth quarter of games.

"You never envision things like that," Tressel said. "You envision going down to the final snap of every game. And I think we've had good reason to envision that, because that's happened a lot. This has been a little unusual. I hope it pays dividends. A lot of the guys that have gotten reps haven't necessarily got them when the fire's real hot and the game is on the line and I don't know that you know totally about someone until they're in that situation, just like I don't know if you know about a team. We're talking about numbers from a team, we're eight games in, we're only two-thirds of the way, and the fire is heating up. But hopefully, that time will give them a little head start so that when and if they get thrown in the fire, just like James Laurinaitis last year, who would have envisioned him getting thrown in and played the whole Michigan and Notre Dame games? And he didn't get many of those kind of reps last year, but he was prepared, and I hope the guys are prepared and I hope this experience has helped them, but you never know until you're really tested."

Tressel was asked if he's concerned that his starters are not getting enough snaps each week.

"When you're used to having those games that are 75 snaps for both sides, 70 to 75 and all of a sudden guys are getting 40, yeah, that's a little concern to me," he said. "I don't know, we'll find out. I know this, Quinn Pitcock mentioned to me and I don't know if I'm repeating myself, but he mentioned to me that he was really tired at the end of that ball game, chasing that quarterback. I mean, the number of times we had to run around and he broke contain, and Quinn said he was tired and sore at the end of that ball game, so we'll see. I hope that we're getting the seasoning we need, but we'll find out."

Tressel says that freshman wide receiver Ray Small is back in good standing and will play this week.

"Ray just had a one-game hiatus, coach-imposed," Tressel said. (Possibly for missing a class.)

New grass was installed at Ohio Stadium prior to the Bowling Green game, but the field conditions still did not look good against Indiana. Tressel gave his take on the situation.

"It wasn't as good as we'd like it," he said. "But don't get me in trouble. I've got groundskeepers that work their rear ends off doing their best, but it wasn't as good as we'd like it."

Fans can expect to see FieldTurf in Ohio Stadium next year. It's pure speculation at this point, but appears to be the best solution to the problem. The Buckeyes already use FieldTurf at their indoor practice facility

Tressel has been impressed with the progress of true freshman tailback Chris Wells who now has 301 rushing yards on the season and three touchdowns.

"I think Beanie came here as a very good ball carrier and has become an even better ball carrier," Tressel said. "I think his ability from a pass protection standpoint, which is usually the slowest thing that comes with a back, because there are so many things going on, and they get the last choice.

"The linemen decide who they block and then they're supposed to handle the rest. I think he's done a good job of growing in that area and I think he's a solid receiver. We haven't had him out wide, but we have had him swing out of the back field and he knows where to go. Every receiver, every running back, has to know where his check-down spot is according to the routes that are being run by the other people and he knows it cold.

"So, I think Beanie has come along very well and at the pace we'd hoped and I've said many times if we can continue to have three guys progress, that that is going to pay dividends and, knock on wood, we're still sitting at that point."

Tressel talked about the progress of true freshman quarterback Antonio Henton who has reportedly played well on the scout team all year.

"I think early on he wasn't doing anything other than looking at the card and saying, where do you want me to throw it and so forth, like any young kid. And I think now he's trying to learn the concepts of what people are doing to try to attack defenses and I think he's always had the ability, they've said from day one in practice when we began scout teams, which isn't until the season begins, that he could really make things happen and keep things alive.

"Now they're talking a little bit more like, not only does he pose that threat, but he has got a handle on what each team is trying to do conceptually against us. So again, I just think he's paying good attention."

Players Of The Week

Tressel also announced OSU's players of the week. They included: Brian Hartline (special teams), Troy Smith (offense), Antonio Smith (defense), Kirk Barton (Jim Parker offensive lineman), James Laurinaitis (attack force), D'Angelo Haslem (scout special teams), Ryan Lukens (scout defense) and Dan Potokar (scout offense).

The Jack Tatum hit of the week is between Hartline, Antonio Smith and Jay Richardson. The players were off Monday and will vote sometime on Tuesday.

Nicklaus Will Dot The I

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus – a Columbus native and former OSU student – will dot the I in Script Ohio at the Minnesota game. He will be just the sixth non-band member to be given that honor. The others are: James "Buster" Douglas (a name that is usually omitted from the list), Novice G. Fawcett, Bob Hope, Woody Hayes and Bob Ries.

"Jack Nicklaus, the museum we're standing in, is dotting the I, which is something not many people have done in this long, long history," Tressel said.

Tressel is hoping that his players will get to meet Nicklaus on Friday.

"The last time I saw Jack was at the dedication of the golf course," Tressel said. "He's been busy since then, I'm sure and I have as well. I don't know exactly when he's getting back to town. If he happens to get in on Friday, I mentioned to (athletic director Gene) Smith that I'd love to have him stop over to the golf course because we'll be there for dinner.

"Now, I don't know his travel plans are, I'm sure, very, very busy, but I know he loves Ohio State football and I know he gets to a couple or three games a year and doesn't make it real public and doesn't make a big hoopla about it, but I am sure having grown up right here in Columbus and been to that Horseshoe as many times as he's been, when he gets that chance to dot that I, he's had a chance to do a lot of neat things, but this one will be pretty special, I'm sure."

Teleconference Wrap-Up

Tressel opened his segment of the Big Ten coaches teleconference with a statement about the win over Indiana and the upcoming game against Minnesota.

"We were excited about getting a Big Ten win this past weekend at home, a good ball game with the Indiana Hoosiers," Tressel said. "Troy Smith and Antonio Smith both had outstanding performances and helped us get better, which is the important thing as we head into our Homecoming weekend against the University of Minnesota. The thing I love about Minnesota is you know they're always going to be able to run the ball. They're the tops in the league in turnover margin, and you know how they play extremely hard every snap. I think they have 17 players from the state of Ohio on their roster, and that makes it even more special, so it'll be a great football game and we're looking forward to it."

Fans of Ohio State and college football in general already have their eyes pointed toward November 18, the date when most people feel an undefeated Michigan team will visit Ohio State in a clash of No. 1 vs. No. 2 for the right to go to the national championship game. Tressel was asked how the Buckeyes ignore that talk and focus on an opponent that is struggling, such as Minnesota.

"All you have to do is turn the film on and in this particular case watch Minnesota," Tressel said. "All you need to do is turn our film on from a year ago and I think they had 600 yards or something against us. The Big Ten is a tough sled to get through, and if you blink one time in the Big Ten, you're going to be terribly disappointed. I hope our guys -- coaches and players included -- have the maturity and the wisdom to understand that."

Tressel was asked what is done to help his players stay the course and keep attention on the weekly opponent.

"We do that every day, beginning with preseason," he said. "We want them to stay the course between practice number one in the morning and two in the afternoon and not start thinking about when is the first 24-hour break or when is the first game coming. Trying to stay focused on the moment I think is one of the great lessons that can be learned when you're playing athletics because we have constant feedback in athletics. We come off from practice field and see the film, we come off of a Saturday and see the score. You have a chance to really have some opportunities to learn the lesson that the only way you're going to get where your going to go and be where you want to be is to be focused on what's going on right this second, so we talk about that every day."

The Golden Gophers are struggling this season and are not expected to make a bowl. The team narrowly avoided an upset at the hands of North Dakota State last weekend, escaping with a 10-9 win. Tressel was asked his thoughts on how to deal with a situation where a team is losing and not playing how they are expected to play.

"To me the most important lesson to constantly be working on is 'What are we going to do right this second?' You have to answer that that question whether you're 2-3 or 5-0 or whatever it happens to be," he said. "If you're constantly doing your work and making your approach from the standpoint of let's work on what's right in front of us, I think you have a chance to handle disappointment a little bit easier.  Disappointment is hard. In this particular sport of Division I-A football, the playoffs begin in September. Everyone knows that. It's not like the NFL or high school or 1-AA football; they begin in September, and disappointment can be tough. We went through it a year ago; we lost to Texas and Penn State early, but I was very proud of our staff and our players of focusing on the task at hand and trying to get better. I thought by the end of the year, we had gotten about as good as we could and handled the situation."

In this season and in recent seasons, OSU players themselves have been lauded for making on-the-field play calls that result in success. Tressel discussed what goes into making the decision to allow the players to make the calls.

"I think it comes with them over a course of time demonstrating why they are interested in running this or that, and not just 'Hey let's try this' or 'What do you think about this,'" Tressel said, "but saying 'Here's what the safety's doing' or 'Here's what the linebacker's doing' or 'Whenever we're in this formation, they're doing this.'  I love that kind of thinking from my players and if they can tell me why they have something in mind, I'm all for it."

He was asked in a follow-up question if a player being a senior has something to do with it.

"I think it's a little bit of both," Tressel said. "The older and more experienced someone gets, as long as they are paying attention, they should be able to add to what we ought to be doing and make suggestions and so forth. I think the guy that studies the game, the guy that does know that we do want input -- I know Jim Bollman, in between every series, the first thing he wants to know from his guys up front is what's going on up there, what are they doing, and how are they adjusting to certain things. I think communication is the key to any successful group of people working together, and we encourage it."

Two players who have played a big part in their respective roles this season have been sophomore receiver Brian Robiskie and redshirt freshman receiver Brian Hartline. Tressel was asked how big Robiskie stepping up has been for the team.

"We really needed people step up because don't forget we lost Santonio Holmes," Tressel said. "Santonio Holmes was a first-round draft choice, he was our go-to guy last year, he's the guy that people kind of built their defenses around getting stopped, and we needed people to step up. We needed Roy Hall, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline to make sure that they could step up, and of course we needed Teddy Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez to even raise their level of play a little bit more so we could be as good or even better than we were a year ago. Brian Robiskie doing that has certainly helped us."

Hartline has also made an impact on special teams, including a crushing hit last weekend on an Indiana return man that seemed to cause a spark in the stadium.

"I think anytime something big happens, that can energize folks, it can energize a crowd, energize a sideline, energize individuals," Tressel said. "Brian does everything full-speed... He's a guy (who says) 'Hey coach, what do you want me to do?' and then he does full-speed and he does it in a physical nature. He's going to be a very, very good contributor to this football team. He's going to be an outstanding receiver."

Other notes

  • Tressel was asked about a published report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which stated there might be some interest in his part in any possible head coaching opportunity with the Cleveland Browns. "I've never spent a day in the NFL as a player or coach, and whoever thinks I'm the natural for that must not have studied too hard," Tressel said. "I've prided myself as a guy who loves to be a teacher and loves to be in a collegiate environment. As you know, we've got our hands full now."
  • With several teams vying for the national championship spot and the chance someone undefeated could get left out, Tressel was asked his thoughts on whether or not a year like this supports the argument for a playoff. "I think with a 12-game season, which is a reality for the good of the whole, having a full-fledged playoff would be a bit much to ask of our student-athletes. There's been a lot of years where there's been 'disputed' national champions, but not to the folks that won it. So I don't concern myself with those worries. I think when you look at the big picture, right now, funding is very difficult at a place like ours with 36 sports. We need a 12th game to be able to have the comprehensive program that we like. I don't know if it would be fair to my players at the end of that 12th game to have a four-game tournament if you will, so I think we have the best system, and if someone ends up disputing who is the champion or not, fine. That's been going on for years and years and years, and I don't think we're any worse for it.

Mason Weighs In

Minnesota head coach Glen Mason joined the conference for a few minutes and briefly discussed his team's situation as well as his upcoming opponent. He opened with some thoughts on the Buckeyes.

"This week, we've got the Ohio State Buckeyes," he said. "There's a reason why they're ranked No. 1 nationally. They're not a good football team; they're a great football team. They're very dangerous, looking at them at offense, all starting with the best football in the country in Troy Smith and has awful good football players around him. Everyone knows about Ted Ginn Jr., but the other guy that I've watched for a number of years that is as good a go-to guy as any place in the country is Anthony Gonzalez. On defense, I think most of us would not have anticipated such a strong unit with all the losses they had last year through graduation, but this group is really tough. They're strong, aggressive, very talented on the back end. In the kicking game, very very dangerous because of the top of the athletes they have, most notably Ted Ginn, Jr.  Put all that talent together plus the fact that they are playing well, and that's why they are No. 1 and a great football team. Right now, we're not playing very well, but we're looking forward to going to Columbus."

The mood surrounding the win was not an excited one; rather, the players did not seem satisfied at all with coming out of the game with a victory. Mason felt that their attitude might have reflected what he told them after the game.

"I've always been one of those guys -- I shoot from the hip, I tell my players exactly what I think," he said. "Players become a reflection of the coach and in some cases probably repeat what you said. What I told them was hey, we got outplayed, we got outcoached, but we won the football game. Now I've been on that other side you can't say publicly. You can't go in the press room and say 'Hey, we outcoached and outplayed them and lost.'  I was trying to say hey, a win's a win and that's why we play the game and you ought to feel good about that, but overall, let's not be too ecstatic because we didn't play very well."

Mason's team struggled in a narrow 10-9 home win against Division I-AA North Dakota State on Saturday. Fans in the stands even began chanting for Mason to get fired, despite the Golden Gophers' success in recent years. He was asked his thoughts on how to endure that criticism after bringing the recent success to what was a losing program.

"I'm a tough S.O.B.," Mason laughed. "I guess if you're worried about criticism, you probably shouldn't be a major college head football coach. If you don't think you're going to have to endure some tough times, don't take the Kent State job, don't take the Kansas job, don't take the Minnesota job. At the same time, when those programs are down, expectations are minimal, so typically they'll tell you if you can get 11 men on the field and don't get a delay of game penalty, you can stay here forever. Those days passed. Let's face it, this is my tenth year, and some of those people that might be in the stands, they were 8 or 9 years old when I came here and Minnesota wasn't very good against anybody."

Minnesota became known in recent years for their outstanding running game. They were expected to continue that this season with talented Columbus product Gary Russell, but Russell is no longer with the program due to academics. Mason was asked if he was caught off guard by Russell's transgressions.

"We had enjoyed a run of running backs here unprecedented before, in recent history anyway, one after another after another after another," Mason said. "You'd like to be able to recruit a quality player like we had, whether it be Thomas Tapei or Marion Barber or Laurence Maroney or Gary Russell, year after year after year, and sometimes you can and sometimes you can't. For a time there, we thought we had the two best running backs in the entire league. I did not anticipate Gary having the academic difficulty to the extent that he did, so caught off-guard, disappointed, surprised, whatever -- at that point last year going through recruiting, I didn't see how he wouldn't be here but that's the way it worked out."

A new stadium is on the horizon for Minnesota as they continue to build their program. Mason was asked his thoughts on where he and the building process stood. 

"At this level, the people that you're going to be compared against as you build this program, they're not sitting still," he said. "They're trying to do everything they can possibly do to totally assure the success of their program. Look at the team we are going to play this week -- my alma mater. Some things haven't changed there at all since I was a student, like the tradition of dotting the i. But that stadium has changed. Their facilities have changed. Every way they go about business has changed, so you're in a very competitive business. We've got a long, long way to go. It's tough going from a loser to a winner, from a non-bowl team to a bowl team to a consistent bowl team to staying there, let alone to be a consistent contender in this league when you're not one of those places where, let's face it, I don't think anybody would argue that there's some schools that would have built in advantages and some would have built in disadvantages."

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