It seems only natural that the Buckeyes would consider scaling things back at least a little bit while transitioning from a sixth-year senior quarterback in Todd Boeckman to a freshman in Terrelle Pryor. At his weekly press luncheon Tuesday, head coach Jim Tressel said that has been part of the ongoing evolution of the offense – at least on the offensive line.
Asked what he thought about how the team's offensive line played against Michigan State, Tressel said, "I thought our guys did a good job of understanding what they were going to come at us with, their preparation, learning it. I thought the coaches did a good job of perhaps scaling down conceptually what we were trying to do. And then we got out there and they were doing what we thought they'd do and we were executing a little bit more in sync with 11 guys at a time."
That sentiment was echoed by senior tight end Rory Nicol, who also plays a key part in the team's blocking schemes.
"We're doing a little bit less," he said. "I guess some of the plays we're running a little bit safer. You've got some zone-type things going on. I guess our playbook has calmed down a little bit."
Exactly how much it has calmed down and in which ways remain mysteries.
Do not expect Tressel to divulge such information.
"I would be giving away secrets," he said. "You can take my coaching class and we could spend more time on that one. It takes a while."
Senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie said he does not feel the offense is limited, but admitted that it is changing.
"I just think we're doing some different kinds of things just because of the people we have in there and the personnel we have," he said. "I think the coaches are just trying to find different ways to put us in positions where we're successful."
Regardless of what plays are being called, Nicol said the responsibility is on the players to execute.
"It doesn't much matter," he said. "Someone said before the game on Saturday that it doesn't matter what play is called. It's our job to just go out there and execute it."
Paterno The Octogenarian: With Penn State's Joe Paterno approaching his 82nd birthday, much of the talk this week has centered on his impact on the Nittany Lion program during his 43-plus years as head coach.
This weekend, Paterno is expected to watch the proceedings from the press box while he rests an ailing hip – a position OSU head coach Jim Tressel has said he would have a hard time dealing with, citing his desire to be more involved with his team.
Paterno's known affinity for hands-off coaching does not hold true for all coaches. Count former OSU head man Earle Bruce among them.
Seeing Paterno on the sidelines – or in the press box – does not make Bruce miss his coaching days, he said.
"I'm done," Bruce said. "There's a difference in coaching. If I'm going to coach I want to be there the whole day and stay for practice and stay for the meetings and be part of it and call the plays on the sideline and do things. That's what I call coaching.
"Coaching standing there like this," he said, folding his arms, "for four hours is not my idea of coaching."
Will Tressel coach until he's 81? Bruce said it's a possibility as long as he keeps meeting one requirement.
"That's up to Coach Tressel, isn't it? I don't make those kinds of decisions," he said. "I think he'll be here as long as he wants to be here – as long as he keeps beating Michigan."
A Rough Week: Heading into the Michigan State game, OSU freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor was feeling the heat. As the leader of an offense that did not produce a touchdown against Purdue the week before, Pryor told Tressel on Friday that he should be benched against the Spartans if he was not getting the job done.
The meeting was the result of what was a stressful time for the freshman, OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said.
"Last week was a tough week for Terrelle," Daniels said. "There were a lot of things floating around, both in and out of print. I think it was a tough week for him and I think he grew up a lot."
Specifically, Daniels said the growing buzz that Boeckman deserved some playing time helped create the situation. For that, he faulted the media.
"You're 19 years old and you're reading all this stuff, which he shouldn't be doing anyway, he shouldn't be reading the papers," Daniels said. "I told him that. You guys don't think that the students on campus don't read the paper?
"It was the stuff in the media: ‘Should Todd play, shouldn't Todd play.' All that stuff with that type of thing. You think it doesn't affect a kid, but it does because it affects other people around him. It affects the students. It affects the average fan, which you guys should be happy with because at least they're still reading what you're writing."
Bring In Da Noise: Having a loud, boisterous home crowd should obviously be an advantage for the Buckeyes on Saturday night. But while that crowd will force the Nittany Lions to struggle to call plays on offense, it will have a similar impact on the OSU defense.
Playing at home means the team's defenders are also forced to communicate using hand signals as the crowd noise makes it impossible to make verbal adjustments. According to senior linebacker Marcus Freeman, that is more of a problem for the opposing offense than it is for the OSU defense.
"I think it will more mess up their offense because it's hard to hear play calls and it's hard to use audibles without using hand signals. That's something they're going to have to practice on and something we're going to have to sound up and make sure everyone knows all their hand signals."
To help prepare for the environment, the Buckeyes pump loud music into their Thursday practices while the defense is on the field.
"When the defense gets out there it's going to be incredibly loud and it's going to help us because it's going to be hard for the offense to hear what's going on," senior defensive tackle Nader Abdallah said. "Having the crowd on your side is always a great thing. We don't really need to talk because we all know what we need to do."
The Ties That Bind: For both Nicol and Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, this game presents an opportunity to earn a victory against their home-state schools.
Nicol graduated from Beaver (Pa.) Area, while Clark is an alumnus of Youngstown (Ohio) Ursuline. Each has heard at least a little bit from acquaintances back home in reference to Saturday night's showdown.
For Clark, hearing from Buckeye fans back home is a constant in his life.
"I've heard from a lot of friends and fans about this game almost before the season even started," he said. "Those guys are Ohio State fans, so everyone would joke with me and say, ‘Win every other game, but don't beat Ohio State.' "
Now that the game is close at hand, Clark said he has been receiving texts messages and phone calls from all kinds of people asking him for tickets to the game.
Although Nicol said he only talks to his family back home, he did hear from his dentist. Needless to say, the tight end will probably not be going for any dental work this week.
"My dentist is a huge Penn State fan so he calls all week asking if I want to come get my teeth cleaned so he can pull them out," Nicol said.
There He Goes! The last time Paterno was in Ohio Stadium, he had to make an abrupt run for the locker room in the middle of the game. He reemerged a few moments later wearing different colored pants.
Afterward, he was understandably loathe to discuss the details. Two years later, OSU senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins is still laughing.
"I like seeing JoePa on the sideline," he said. "The last time he was out here, there were some interesting things going on on their sideline."