Imagine then the surprise of the Ohio State football team Wednesday when they awoke to gray skies and pouring rain as they made their way to Rose Bowl Media Day.
"They told us it rains out here only about an inch or two a month," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "I guess we're getting it all today."
Not that Heacock was too upset about the soggy conditions. In fact, the weatherman could have been playing into some strategy the Ohio State assistant has been employing with his defensive unit.
The Buckeyes' practice facility for the Rose Bowl consists of two outdoor fields – one natural grass surface and the other of FieldTurf similar to the playing surfaces at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and Ohio Stadium.
Heacock purposely took the natural grass field for the defense and then asked groundskeepers to keep the sprinkler system turned to high during the night. The result has been a soggy, sometimes-sloppy field that has some members of the OSU defense shaking their heads in disgust.
"It's the worst field I've ever played on," defensive end Nathan Williams said. "It's chopped up, it's slippery, and with the rain we're getting today, it's going to be even worse."
There is a method to Heacock's madness, however. Because Oregon's potent offense relies on speed and agility, the OSU assistant has reasoned that his players will concentrate more on being fundamentally sound during practice time.
"I wanted to keep them on the grass field because I think it helps your focus," Heacock said. "When you're playing a team like Oregon, a team that relies on the misdirection play so much, you have to concentrate on playing assignment football. When you have speed, your natural instinct is to fly to the football, but Oregon has gotten a lot of their big plays when they cut back against an overpursuing defense.
"By practicing on a grass field, especially one that's a little wet, it forces you to stick with your fundamentals – keeping your feet under you, taking proper angles, things of that nature. We always want to be aggressive, but you can be overly aggressive against a team like Oregon and that can hurt you."
Heacock added that practicing on a less-than perfect surface could have one more benefit.
"When they get on that playing surface at the Rose Bowl, maybe it will make us a split-second faster," he said. "I hope so because that could make all the difference."
PRYOR GOOD TO GO
OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor didn't backtrack from what he told reporters Monday, saying Wednesday that he would play the Rose Bowl with ligament damage in the back of his left knee. But he continued to insist the injury was no big deal.
"I've been dealing with this thing since late October, so it's not like I'm not used to it," Pryor said. "I'm not favoring it, I'm not thinking about it, it doesn't hurt … I'm looking forward to going out (on Friday) and just playing my normal game."
Jim Tressel said without a trainer's report you couldn't tell anything is wrong with the sophomore quarterback.
"He's looked as quick and explosive as ever to me," the OSU head coach said. "I think it was a little more of an issue in November, but I haven't seen it be an issue at all in December. He looks to me like he's ready to go."
Quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano added, "I haven't noticed anything wrong with Terrelle. There's nothing wrong with his knee – nothing wrong that is going to hamper the way he plays on Friday."
Siciliano dodged a question about the Buckeyes' offensive game plan as most fans expect Tressel to feature more wide-open attack to counterbalance the potent, high-scoring offense featured by Oregon.
"I think whatever we do is going to be dictated by the flow of the game," Siciliano said. "Are we going to throw the ball? Sure. I think we'll have a good dose of runs, too."
And will some of those runs be from Pryor?
"Oh, yeah," the OSU assistant said. "Terrelle has worked very hard to become a more complete quarterback, but at the same time he remains such a threat when he runs the ball. Opposing teams have to respect that part of his game. At the same time, I think he's improving with his passing and opposing teams will have to begin to respect that part of his game as well."
POSEY TAKES OVER PUNT RETURNS
Sophomore wide receiver DeVier Posey has won the battle to replace senior Ray Small as the team's primary punt returner. Small has been suspended for the Rose Bowl due to unspecified team rules violations.
Posey, who returned punts and kickoffs as a prepster at Cincinnati LaSalle, is eager to embrace a new role on the team.
"Ray is a great player and I'm not trying to replace him," Posey said. "I'm looking at it as an opportunity – an opportunity to help this team."
OSU assistant head coach and receivers coach Darrell Hazell is also in charge of the Buckeyes' return game, and he said he has no qualms putting the ball in Posey's hands when Oregon is forced to punt.
"You have to have a certain mentality for it, and DeVier has that mentality," Hazell said. "It takes a different breed of guy to stand back there with the ball in the air 4 to 4½ seconds and the other team bearing down on you. You have to be able to concentrate and block everything else out, and I think that's what we've been most impressed with – DeVier's concentration."
Posey said he tries to apply some of what he has learned as a receiver to returning punts.
"The No. 1 thing is to make the catch," he said. "The coaches are always hammering that home. Coach Tressel always says, ‘Make sure you make the catch. Anything after that is gravy.' I just look at it as a long pass. The ball is up in the air for a long time and you have to make the catch."
Once Posey makes the catch, look for him to try and find an outside running lane.
"He's not an up-the-crease return guy," Hazell said of the 6-3, 205-pounder. "But if he gets outside and finds a lane, you better have an angle on him. Once he gets it going, there aren't many who can chase him down."
PETTREY GOOD TO GO?
Less than eight weeks after suffering a complete tear of the MCL in his kicking knee, OSU senior Aaron Pettrey is kicking again in practice and is hopeful of getting a chance to kick in the Rose Bowl.
It is something of a modern medical miracle that Pettrey is even walking without a cane much less kicking a football.
"It was a complete tear of the medial collateral ligament from the bottom," he said. "The doctors went in and anchored it with wire, and they also reattached a capsule (in the knee joint). Usually, with an injury like that, it takes six to eight weeks to recover. I was back kicking in 4½."
When asked if he was rushing it a bit, Pettrey smiled and said, "Yeah, but this is it for me. I'm a senior and this is my last game. I wanted to give myself every opportunity to have a chance. So far, so good. I haven't had any pain and I've been kicking the ball pretty well."
Pretty well might be the understatement of the year. In practice yesterday, Pettrey nailed one from 65 yards out.
Even so, the coaching staff has told him it will be a game-time decision whether to use Pettrey or go with Devin Barclay, who handled the kicking chores after Pettrey was injured Oct. 31 during the 45-0 win over New Mexico State.
"The only thing I know for sure is that Devin will handle the kickoffs," Pettrey said. "After that, it's totally up to the coaches and what they want to do. I guess we'll figure it out when game time comes."