Carr, Tressel Discuss Showdown

Before heading out to practice, OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr had one more meeting with the media to take care of. The two coaches talked about this weekend's game this afternoon at the weekly Big Ten Coaches Teleconference.

OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr met with the national media this afternoon during the final Big Ten Coaches Teleconference of the year. Tressel opened his portion of the conference with a statement about the upcoming showdown at the Horseshoe.

"We had an exciting victory over at Northwestern this past weekend and obviously are excited for the greatest rivalry in college football when our Buckeyes face the Wolverines," Tressel said. "Obviously it's even more special playing for a conference championship. It's going to be heck of a fun week. Michigan is an outstanding football team. Their defense is incredible and offensively, they do a heck of a job possessing the football and making big plays. Their return game is exciting, to say the least. You can see why they're 11-0."

Many have already called this version of Ohio State-Michigan the biggest game in the history of the rivalry, if not the history of the programs themselves. A conference championship, a spot in the national championship game and influence on the biggest postseason awards are just three of the things at stake in this game.

Tressel was asked if it was difficult for his team to focus, considering everything that was on the line.

"I think if it weren't the Ohio State-Michigan game, all those things would come into play more," Tressel said. "The fact that it's the Ohio State-Michigan game, it's the real reason people come to Ohio State and go to Michigan, to have two of the great schools, two of the historic programs traditionally get together at the end of the season. That's really larger than all of those other things. I think those other things are real, but the fact that it's Ohio State versus Michigan and we have so much respect for who they are and how they do things, and it's been going on for, I don't know, 88 years in a row or whatever, that really is the primary focus to our kids."

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the national picture and the lack of true national title contenders, some have speculated that Ohio State and Michigan could even meet again in the national championship game under the right circumstances. Each coach was asked for his thoughts on the possibility.

"It's so hard to think about those things," Tressel said. "There's nothing like playing in the Ohio State-Michigan game here in the end of the season with the conference championship on the line. To say how we feel at the end of that game, it's hard to say because the game just means so much to both parties."

Carr responded by saying, "I think the truth is that we have a system -- the BCS -- and I personally don't understand all of the things that go into the computer rankings. I do understand the AP and the USA Today Coaches Poll. I'm not real familiar with the Harris Poll, but how that all fits together, I'm not perfectly clear. We do have a system, and that system will take care of that question. Certainly the interest that's created by, for example, the losses that four ranked teams had last week add to all kinds of speculation and discussion. I think all that's good for the game, but really, I'm just part of the system because the American Football Coaches Association are part of that, and so whatever the system dictates is what it is."

Tressel was also asked if he could foresee a scenario where both teams remain No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls despite the game's outcome.

"Gosh, I don't know," Tressel said. "That hasn't taken on any of our thinking. If you had the chance to sit and watch Michigan on film as many hours as we have, that's all you'd be thinking about. While I know other people have time to think about those types of things, we haven't given that any thought."

One of the most talked-about features of Michigan's team is the strength of their defensive line, which features two outstanding players in Alan Branch and Lamarr Woodley. Tressel was asked about his impressions on Michigan's defensive line and how important it is to have a line like Michigan's that can put pressure on the quarterback with just four players.

"They're great athletes to start with, but you face throughout the course of the year a lot of good athletes," Tressel said. "What I think they are is great athletes with excellent technique. They get after it, play after play. They enjoy playing with each other; you can see that they have a special bond as a group together. They're extraordinary. If you're going to face a great defense like Michigan's, it's going to start with a great front led by Woodley and Branch and the whole group. Those guys, they're special.

"That's every defensive coordinator's dream is to put pressure on with four, which gives you seven to cover and you know they've only got five receivers and the whole nine yards. That's everything."

Carr was asked about the point early in the year when he first thought he might have a special defense on his hands.

"Coming out of spring practice, I felt very good about our defense because I felt like athletically and physically and from an experience standpoint that we had guys that had matured and were very competitive and were very good athletes," Carr said. "I felt like we had the kind of depth that would enable us to be effective even if we had some guys that missed time. I felt like we had, in Alan Branch and Lamarr Woodley, two guys who had the potential to be great players at any level. That's coming out of spring practice."

Carr was asked how Michigan will prepare for one of Ohio State's biggest strengths -- Troy Smith -- but he didn't shed any light on the subject.

"I think there's a lot of weapons on the Ohio State football team. As a team, you have to be alert to all of those weapons," Carr said.

Meanwhile, Michigan quarterback Chad Henne has matured and has had a solid season. Tressel commented on what he has seen out of Henne's growth.

"He's had the natural progression of maturity that quarterbacks have when they get to play," Tressel said. "Chad's very talented to start with. What he did as a true freshman is incredible. To watch his progress is a lot like watching Troy Smith's progress. I think Troy's grown a lot, and he's been in so many different circumstances before and learned valuable lessons. Chad's got an excellent football team around him, and he knows it and he plays that way, just kind of like the way Troy does it. He's grown in leaps and bounds, and that's what you expect in a good program to happen."

Michigan struggled somewhat offensively in recent weeks without top receiver Mario Manningham, but the Wolverines appeared to be in top form in their 34-3 win at Indiana last weekend. Carr was asked if his team is playing their best football of the season.

"I think that will be answered on Saturday," he said. "I think from a standpoint of being excited to play, from the standpoint of the lessons that they've learned this fall and from the standpoint of confidence, I think all those things are very high. I think our morale and our chemistry is very good, so we feel very good about our team."

Turnovers are a key aspect of any big game, and Ohio State has become known for capitalizing on turnovers. Carr was asked if the game would indeed come down to whoever turns over the ball the least.

"No, I don't think it is," he said. "I think that's certainly one of the very most important things, but we won the turnover battle a year ago and weren't able to win. You've got the kicking game, you've got big plays potentially any time because there is a lot of skill in this game on both sides of the ball. I think there are a lot of other things, but certainly winning the turnover battle I think is probably more often than not the deciding factor. But to say it is the most important thing, only time will tell."

One of the storylines surrounding every year's edition of OSU-Michigan is the players from the respective states who play for the opposing state's school. Each team has had players from the other state come up big in the rivalry. Carr was asked his views on what the rivalry means to players from the state of Ohio who play for Michigan.

"I think that's why they choose to come here," Carr said. "For whatever reason, a lot of guys down through our tradition here have chosen (to come from Ohio to Michigan). We've had great, great players -- Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard -- two guys who have won the Heisman Trophy. So we've had a lot of guys come from Ohio to Michigan, and they come for a lot of different reasons, but I think probably as well as anybody, they understand when they come here they've made a choice on what side of the rivalry they want to be on, just like there are some guys from Michigan that play at Ohio State."

Carr was also asked if it was harder for players from outside of the region to grasp the importance of the rivalry.

"I think that depends on the individual and what their background is," he said. "We have a lot of guys in neighboring states, but the way the rivalry has changed in the past 20-25 years where every single game is televised and there's so many opportunities for kids to see college games from every part of the country, I think players come into this rivalry today understanding more than maybe they used to in spite of the fact that they might be from the Southeast or West Coast or wherever. But I think that it does take some time. I think that when you go into that game as a true freshman, I think you learn a lot that day, whether you play or whether you don't. Certainly the first time you go into that game, you learn that there's a lot to it that maybe you didn't know, and that is part of the education that you go through."

Despite the history of the rivalry and the dislike the two opposing fanbases have for one another, Ohio State and Michigan are often filled with players and coaches who respect one another rather than dislike one another. Carr commented on why this rivalry might not carry the dislike between the two actual teams as other rivalries might.

"I think that's certainly true among the coaches and players," he said. "I think it's intensely competitive. I think everybody within the programs on both sides down through the years dedicate and commit themselves to playing their best and their hardest in that game. I just think looking back in my experience in the games, it's one of those games that because of the tradition, you understand, you learn as you become a junior and senior, you learn that the game is special and you want as a player and as a member of your team to bring great credit to the game and to the rivalry. In my experience, that's always been true. I don't think there's ever been any kind of issue on the field, and I think that's part of what makes it a special rivalry."

Carr was asked if he uses the history of the OSU-Michigan rivalry to fire up his players.

"There's time for that, and all of the time that a player from the time that he gets here until the time that he leaves, he's always reminded of that game throughout the course of the year," Carr said. "Certainly from a program standpoint, the tradition has an important role in what we're trying to teach and the standards we are trying to meet."

Most people who are following this weekend's matchup agree that this version of the rivalry is as big as it gets. Tressel was asked if this year's version of the OSU-Michigan rivalry could possibly get any bigger.

"The thing about it is it's never bigger than those that are involved in it," Tressel said. "Right now, there's a group of kids that I think both Ohio State and Michigan have an outstanding senior class, they have teams and they have excellent coaching staffs. For those people, it can't get any more special. I don't know that the records have that much to do with it. i think it's just the way they play, both teams. It's hard to have it any more special than this."


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