Tressel Previews 'The Game' At Press Luncheon

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel held his final press luncheon of the year on Monday. The No. 1 Buckeyes and No. 2 Michigan will face off in Ohio Stadium on Saturday and Tressel talked about the magnitude of the game, discussed what he likes about Michigan's team, gave injury updates, discussed freshman tailback Chris Wells and much more.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel's weekly press luncheon was moved to Monday this week as the top-ranked Buckeyes prepare for their showdown against No. 2 Michigan on Saturday at Ohio Stadium (3:30 p.m., ABC).

It will mark the first time in the storied history of the rivalry that the game features the top two teams in the nation. The winner has a guaranteed birth into the BCS national championship game, and the loser will still have a decent shot at getting in.

Tressel began the press conference by talking about the Wolverines.

"We're playing against a great football team, everyone knows that," he said. "That's why the room is so full. Michigan is an outstanding football team. What I like about them is that they have tremendous depth. You can see that they're very mature, lots of veterans in virtually all places, they play with great effort, they play with great toughness and they do all the fundamental things so well. They block well. They tackle well. They're so competitive along the lines. They have a great senior kicker (Garrett Rivas).

"You can start with the defensive side of things, I think their front four is as good as any front we've seen the entire year. Their linebackers are veterans with (Shawn) Crable and (Prescott) Burgess and (David) Harris and those guys that have been there forever and doing a tremendous job. Their secondary, they roll in about seven different guys that are very, very talented both as tackles and cover guys is what is impressive to me.

"And if you flip it over to their offensive side up front, I think they're powerful, they play low. What do you say about (running back Mike) Hart? Just an outstanding guy, both as a runner and as a pass receiver. Their fullback (Obi Oluigbo) to me is underrated. He's a guy that there's not much glory in playing fullback these days and he keeps pounding up in there. And of course their corps of receivers are outstanding, great skill, great size, great blockers. I think when you watch the film, you can't lose sight of the fact what a great job they do blocking. And they're led by a veteran quarterback (Chad Henne) and he does a great job. He's highly efficient, ranked in the top two or three in passing efficiency in the conference and he just does an outstanding job there. Their tight ends are big and strong and across the board, that's why they're 11-0, they're an outstanding football team and our guys are anxious to compete with them and it's exciting to be apart of this week. I suppose I should have mentioned last week's game (the 54-10 win over Northwestern) but we haven't thought much about it. So, just being honest."

Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith has been a Michigan slayer thus far in his career and has enjoyed arguably the two best games by any quarterback in the history of the rivalry. Tressel discussed what makes Smith so effective in big games.

"Troy Smith is highly competitive," he said. "(Quarterbacks coach) Joe Daniels and I were sitting in the office watching film early this morning and he came in with his … I don't know what he had, I don't want to give a commercial out, but he came in with whatever breakfast food he had there and came in and says, ‘What are we looking at?' and almost grabbed the clicker to take over. He just loves competition. He's got great respect for the guys he's playing against because he's played against them before and he has great respect for what they've accomplished and I think he just gets excited about competitive situations."

Tressel was asked what words come to mind when he thinks about Smith – the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman and probably the best quarterback to ever play at OSU.

"When you think of Troy, the first thing that comes to my mind is leadership," he said. "Probably the second thing is competitiveness, and maybe the third thing that jumps up to me about Troy is his hunger to be in command of what's going on. He wants to know. We might have been sitting there this morning talking about a coverage and he'd say, ‘You know, that was nickel, that wasn't just cover whatever, that was nickel cover whatever.' And he's just got a hunger for knowledge."

Tressel was asked to describe Smith's demeanor during the fourth quarter in last year's game in which he led the Buckeyes two a pair of late touchdown drives, including the game-winner.

"Kind of like, ‘Hey, get a play called so that I can go out there,'" Tressel said. "He wants to have the ball in his hands. He wants to make a difference. He cares and maybe the first word that should have popped into my mind because I think it's so true is that he cares so deeply for his teammates and he wants something good to happen for them. And I guess that's the leadership part, but he wants the ball in his hands and he wants to get going."

Tressel discussed the "injury" to Smith's right thumb and whether it has affected him in practice.

"No, he hasn't missed a rep at all," Tressel said. "But from Troy, you can never get whether or not … to him, it never bothers him. He gets it wrapped, it's obvious, but I think there will be so much adrenaline and so much flowing through his thumb down to his big toe that he's not going to feel anything."

Tressel is 4-1 against Michigan and could be one step away from erasing most of the bad memories of the John Cooper era when OSU was 2-10-1 against UM. A 5-1 record would be halfway to 10-2 (and of course there are no ties anymore in college football).

Tressel was asked if he thinks he has answers on how to beat Michigan that other coaches have not had.

"I was watching film this morning and I don't have any answers at this moment, I'll tell you that," he said. "Troy Smith spins and runs 46 yards, now come on, I don't have any answers. I think our guys play hard. They have for however many years. The Ohio State-Michigan game has gone on and sometimes you come up on the good end, sometimes you don't. But if anyone pretends to think they have the answer, they've got a problem."

Tressel grew up in Berea, Ohio, and his father Lee Tressel was the longtime head coach at Baldwin-Wallace. Tressel didn't get to sit around and watch many college football games during his childhood, but one game that he and his father always tried to take in was the OSU-Michigan game.

"Yeah, I've mentioned a number of years here of my dad being a coach in the Division III level, we were typically done by the time the Ohio State-Michigan came around and that would be about the first time I saw my dad in the light of day. And we got to watch the game and he was a huge Buckeye fan and probably the most important thing to me was I got a chance to be with him and watch it, and of course here he was rooting for his team, so that became my team."

Tressel also talked about freshman running back Chris Wells getting back in good graces following his 11-carry, 99-yard performance against Northwestern. Wells has lost four fumbles this season, but held on to the ball against the Wildcats.

"I think Chris Wells is a big part of who we want to be and our chance of succeeding, because he's a guy that's very talented," Tressel said. "He's gotten to the point now where there's not anything that he hasn't experienced. He's experienced some of the passing game. He's experienced being in big games, Big Ten games, going through the test of time that endure of going every week and learning a different game plan and here's what they do defensively. Until you experience it once, you don't know what's going to happen the next week, but I'm counting on Chris Wells to be a great contributor."

Tressel feels good about his team's health going into "The Game." Left tackle Alex Boone, who missed the last two weeks, is expected to play and start against the Wolverines.

"Oh yeah, I think so," Tressel said.

Freshman defensive back Kurt Coleman and sophomore tight end Brandon Smith will not play on Saturday, but overall the Buckeyes are in good shape.

"We're game 12, 12 games in a row, I have no complaints," Tressel said.

Obviously one major advantage for OSU in this particular game is that it will be played in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium. Tressel wants to hear the Buckeye faithful louder than ever.

"Well, I hope the home field advantage helps a great deal," Tressel said. "I hope our crowd is tremendously loud. I hope it provides the energy that can raise us up to the level … in a game like this, you better play better than you are. And if our crowd can help raise us up playing better than we are, I think that's a great advantage and we're looking forward to that."

Tressel was asked by a reporter from ESPN to talk about the expectations he had entering the season for an OSU defense that was replacing nine starters. The Buckeyes are ranked first in the country in scoring defense and eighth in total defense.

"My expectations were knowing the defensive staff that we have, knowing the type of kids that we have, is that I expected them to roll their sleeves up and try to get good at their craft," Tressel said. "And I knew they'd have good leadership, Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson and Joel Penton up front and Brandon Mitchell and Antonio Smith, you can't mention the progress we've had in 2006 without mentioning Antonio Smith. With that leadership kind of surrounding the rest with their sleeves rolled up going to work, I think they've progressed."

Tressel talked about sophomore middle linebacker James Laurinatitis – who is a finalist for the Butkus Award – and how much his experience playing against Michigan and Notre Dame last year helped his development.

"I think anytime you get experience like the opportunities James had against Michigan and then got to play the entire bowl game, that's huge," Tressel said. "Practice, we can get as close to game-like as humanly possible, but it's not the game. We try to have fast tempo and we try to make it as life-like as it can be, but getting that game opportunity, tremendous.

"He's significantly better (than last season). He's experienced so many things. He's played 11 more games now and 40, 50, 60 snaps a game over 11 games, he's learned a lot."

Tressel talked about his relationship with Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and whether or not there is "gamesmanship" between the two coaches before the game.

"You know, we've only met a few times at games and obviously I've known him for years in the profession and we have opportunities to be together in meetings and that type of thing and I don't see any gamesmanship on his part, I would hope he doesn't see any on mine," he said. "We're both trying to run programs to be the best they can be and he's done a pretty good job."

If Ohio State wins on Saturday, the Buckeyes will clinch their first outright Big Ten championship in 22 years.

"Oh, that's huge," Tressel said. "We haven't had an outright Big Ten title since 1984 and we've had a number of co-championships and so forth, but that's huge."

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