REPORTER: James, how about the difference between your first timeout against Michigan, replacing Bobby and how far you’ve come, talk about the difference in that and how this feels different.
LAURINAITIS: You have a lot more responsibility coming out this time, I think, with that time. I was only really expecting the rundown on kickoff a few times, maybe do a few kick returns and that was really basically it and now being a full-time starter heading up there, you have a lot more responsibility, a lot more really to grasp, to handle. I think that was good the way I got thrown in there, because if I would have known I was going to start in the Ohio State-Michigan game I would have been crazy at that age. But basically I’ll be a lot more composed, a lot more poised when I go into the big house this time.
REPORTER: What do you remember about that Saturday?
LAURINAITIS: Just that basically I was wide-eyed just to be a part of the whole tradition for the first time, kind of to see the rivalry unfold firsthand and really get thrown in there against all these guys the year before I was watching on TV, and I remember just running in the huddle and next, I think almost every guy I was in the huddle with is in the NFL, it’s unbelievable when you think back about it.
REPORTER: Coming off a tough game, especially for the defense, what’s the confidence like, what are you feeling about your ability to bounce back?
LAURINAITIS: He we looked at the film yesterday, we saw we had the ability to make plays and we were in certain positions to make plays, we just didn’t make them. It wasn’t anything of a lack of effort or anything like that, we have to just kind of focus on the little things and technique this week and get back to it and still realize that we’re a terrific defense. Still realize we have a lot of talent and they just made the plays and had opportunities to make them. Little miscommunication and things here and there we’ve got to fix up and we’ll be all right. We know it doesn’t matter what the records are coming into this game. The only record that matters in Columbus or Ann Arbor is this one right here. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.
REPORTER: Is it difficult getting your teammates to buy into the fact that even though you lost, there’s still a ton to play for?
LAURINAITIS: I think Kirk Barton wrote it on the white board yesterday. He said, it doesn’t matter what our record is, don’t think about what bowl game you have a possibility of going to, don’t think about anything like that, the only thing that matters is this Saturday. And we’ve heard that stressed over and over and over that you really do buy into it and you have to, because if you don’t, you know that team up north is. And with losing everything, obviously it’s not something that we wanted to do at all and it’s obviously disappointing but to realize that we still have a chance to be outright Big Ten champions and you have to realize in this game you have to be your best on Saturday.
REPORTER: What’s your favorite part about this rivalry?
LAURINAITIS: I think just the tradition and the history of it. You can walk down the hallway down there and you see all the great games from the Snow Bowl and all the great things that have happened between the two schools and really, in my opinion, it’s the best rivalry in any sport across and there will be a debate with UNC and Duke in basketball, but to be a part of it in that sense, how many great players have played in it, it’s unbelievable to even be in the same game.
REPORTER: A few years ago, the goal was to play in the Rose Bowl and since the BCS, now in the last few days, now it looks like that’s going to be a long shot here, do you think you can regrasp the fact that the Rose Bowl is what it is now?
LAURINAITIS: When I first came here, my grandpa had joked with me, he was like, the last time I’d been to the Rose Bowl is the last time the Gophers had been to the Rose Bowl, Minnesota, which was way back in the ’60’s. He says, what you have to do for me is get back to the Rose Bowl for me sometime at Ohio State and kind of realizing the way the BCS works, it’s harder to do that. If you win everything, you go to the championship, and I think realizing that and being able to go there and realizing we haven’t been there in a long time is something to be a part of that kind of historic tradition would be pretty neat. But we know that none of that can be possible without this day and this is basically the Big Ten championship game. No ifs, ands, buts, about it, if you’re going to have a title game, this is it, this weekend there coming off a loss, we’re coming off a loss and it’s going to be who regroups and wants it more this Saturday.
REPORTER: Mike Hart took some shots at you last year, any of that stick with you?
LAURINAITIS: Obviously we’re aware of it and things like that, but you can’t let what somebody says really get under your skin too much, you know what I mean? That’s the emotions of the game and the way it happens, people are going to say things that get under your skin all the time and you can’t really get into a words match at all, that doesn’t really matter, everyone in the country has an opinion of our defense this year and last year and he expressed his and that’s it. There’s nothing you can really stress about it.
REPORTER: I would imagine you’d like to maybe see him on the field kind of back up the words?
LAURINAITIS: We know that he’s going to play. He said it last week, before this game, we know he’s going to be ready to go with his best effort. He’s a tremendous running back, he’ll definitely be the best back we’ll face all year. He’s powerful, he’s strong, he’s quick, and he’s a tough guy to bring down and we know that from experience and I’ve got to watch last year’s game and improve off of that, see what we did wrong and really focus on trying to shut him down.
REPORTER: Put yourself in their shoes. You’ve had so much success in the last few years against this team, those guys came back to supposedly play for a National Championship and not go 0-4 against Ohio State, can you imagine the importance that they’re feeling?
LAURINAITIS: It’s a huge game regardless, but just to have them say that they came back for this game, it adds more importance to it, and I think with their leadership they have and obviously those guys, they circled this game on their schedule like we did at the beginning of our season. It just adds to the importance of it. We know it’s going to be 10 times harder because of that, and there’s really nothing you can do about it other than to focus and do whatever you can possible to do your job on this Saturday.
REPORTER: Two years ago up there was your real debut, I guess. Just take us back to that and talk about how much has changed for you in the last few years.
LAURINAITIS: As I was saying earlier, kind of the way it happened, and I was kind of fortunate that it happened in a surprising manner rather than knowing that I was going to be playing in that game. I just remember running down on the first kickoff and getting off the field. I was excited because I kind of got a little tough on the first kickoff, so I was excited and worried I was going to get my head knocked off and I ran off the field and went to go get a drink of water and all of a sudden they were yelling at me to get in the game and I was just like, all right, went and jogged out there and extremely nervous and just like, whatever, and I remember A. J. Hawk and Anthony Schlegel saying calm down and saying you’re going to be fine and the first few plays you settle down a little bit. And I remember looking around and I was thinking yesterday, all those guys I was in there with have been or are still in the NFL right now, which is unbelievable to think of the talent that was on that field and being part of it was unbelievable.
REPORTER: Now that you’ve been in a couple of these games, people always say that it’s the most hardest hitting and cleanest played game that they’ve ever been in, has that been your experience?
LAURINAITIS: It’s the most intense game, but I think it’s clean in the way that it’s played. There’s not a whole lot of really cheap shots. It’s going to be the hardest hitting — you’re going to do it between the whistles really. There’s going to be trash talk, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s a storied rivalry and a hated rivalry, but I think there’s still a level of respect when it comes down to it, but it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be physical and you better be ready to play.
REPORTER: You’ve all had great success on the road, for example at Penn State when 110,000 are against you, why do you think this team has been able to sort of bond in those tough road environments, I’m presuming this Saturday will be kind of the mother of them all?
LAURINAITIS: Right, I think you have to. I think in a situation like that, you have to come together, especially in games, at Penn State, at Michigan, games where you know you’re not going to get a load of tickets. You’re going to have only a certain number of tickets of fans that can get in. There are some road games where you know that they may not be sold out from their own fans so you know the Ohio following is going to be huge, so it kind of feels like a neutral site, but we knew going into Penn State it was going to be a crazy environment, we were only going to have a certain little section there and Michigan is going to be the same way. There’s going to be a lot of red there because I’m sure there’s people in Michigan that are huge Ohio State fans, but you know when you go into environments like that, all you have is the guys on that sideline and you’re not going to get help from the crowd in those situations, so you have to really feed off each other and when that happens, when the offense is on the field, the defense is up cheering for them because they know that’s all they’ve got is the guys on the sideline.
REPORTER: How much have you improved yourself just between last year and this year?
LAURINAITIS: Just more confident. More confident. A better understanding of what the scheme of the defense is, I think, knowing what everyone’s doing around me. Last year, I was just kind of worried about getting lined up right and getting everybody lined up, and this year, now knowing I know kind of what’s happening, where my down safety is on every play or little things like that or what’s happening up front, it allows you to calm down and play football and be more confident and trust the guys around you, and just little things like that, get enough blocks and things like that, but I mean, I don’t really know how somebody else can evaluate me. The general mentality of our coaching staff here is never really to be satisfied. I know after meeting with Coach (Luke) Fickell last season we had a talk about things he wanted me to try to improve and I agreed with him on a lot of them and it’s really every game. We’ll go in there and it goes game by game. You do things in one game where you’re great at one thing and that same thing you may not be good at the next game and you try to improve each and every week and try to focus on some things and you realize there’s always somebody out there that’s faster, bigger, better and stronger and maybe want it more and you’ve got to try as an individual and as a team to stop that, make sure that nobody wants it more than you do.
REPORTER: How does it feel to carry on the legacy of great Ohio State linebackers?
LAURINAITIS: It’s an honor, and that’s why I chose Ohio State really was because of the guys that have come through here and just to carry it on and you have to realize there were a lot of people here before you that made this possible, that made this place what it is. And with that tradition, you know, comes the responsibility to kind of carry that on and you have to carry that on and just the most respect for those guys that built this place and there are going to be plenty of people after me that keep that going.
REPORTER: Will Henne and Hart play?
LAURINAITIS: Yeah, they’re going to play. They mentioned they came back for this game and they’re going to play as much as they can. I think Hart sat out this week and our thought process was that he sat out for this game and wanted to rest himself up. I think Henne’s going to go as much as he can. It’s hard throwing with a partial separated shoulder, it seems like, but they’re tough kids, they really are, they’re tough and they’re competitors and they know that this is their last game against Ohio State and they’re definitely going to try to suit up.
REPORTER: James, nobody wants to be the guy that ends up on the opposing team’s bulletin board, but Mike Hart has talked a lot, talked immediately following last year’s game, is that something you guys are obviously aware of, some of his comments?
LAURINAITIS: I think we’re aware of it, but you can’t really get into a words match with anybody. We have to realize that our game is — we’re not a team that’s going to go out there and trash talk and do all this and that. We’re a team that’s going to focus on what we can do and really not focus on those kind of things. If we can just focus on what our job is and what we’ve got to do in practice this week instead of what so and so is saying or whoever, then that’s really what we’ve got to focus on because if we focus on all that outside stuff, it’s just going to take away from what we’ve got to do on the field.
REPORTER: You guys are not coming off defensively a performance that I’m sure you’re too proud of, just talk about the mindset of this defense and how determined you guys are, I guess, because the critics are saying, here we go, we’re seeing the defense.
LAURINAITIS: I’m remembering last year’s performance and last year’s game and that was one of the things we had talked about was last year’s Michigan game, and Florida, and how we didn’t perform well as a defense, and not performing well last week. It’s something we’ve got to get back to basics, back to technique. When you watch the film, we were in a position to make plays and we just didn’t make them. We have to basically keep doing what we’ve been doing. We had a tremendous effort last game and as long as that stays up, we should be in a position to make plays and that was just one of those games we didn’t make a play last week.
REPORTER: Obviously this is a huge game. At the end of the Illinois game, there was an incident at mid field between you and Illinois, the two teams. The Big Ten now, I guess, is looking into that. Are you worried? What are they going to find? Are you worried about suspensions or sanctions going into a game of this magnitude?
LAURINAITIS: I don’t think we’re that worried about it. It’s one of those things where it’s just a respect thing. You’re not going to hopefully let any team no matter what happened try to disrespect you like that at home and guys were just emotional, caught up in the moment and I don’t think it’s a thing that really deserves any suspensions or things like that, I think it’s just something that happens when two teams are — especially being at home and just the way that it happened, it could have been handled differently and you hope that you can just walk across and shake hands with somebody and that’s just the way it happened and I don’t think there’s anything really too bad that came out of it, nobody got hurt, so it’s not really that big of a deal.
REPORTER: Can you compare the differences between Mallett and Henne? Who do you prepare for?
LAURINAITIS: I think we prepare for both of them, very similar quarterbacks in the way that they approach the game, in the way they play the game, so it’s not like we’re facing one running quarterback and one traditional style quarterback, they’re both pretty traditional style quarterbacks. So it will be the same kind of things. We’re going to do the same things with both players. So it’s really just a realization of who’s in. One guy’s obviously the veteran, one guy’s the freshman, but they’re both equally capable and they’re both tremendous players.
REPORTER: What about Mike Hart, how tough is he to stop? You found out last year how good he was.
LAURINAITIS: He’s a tremendous player and a tremendous competitor and the one thing you realize about him is he has great balance. Where on some backs, you’re able to throw your body and not wrap up, and with him, he’s just going to bounce right off and keep his balance. You have to bring it all when you try to tackle that guy. He’s a tremendous running back. A lot of guys that were here last year know that, and the guys that don’t know that, will be aware of that as they play Saturday.
REPORTER: Going up to the Big House Saturday, what kind of atmosphere do you expect?
LAURINAITIS: We expect obviously a very hostile environment and it’s going to be like a lot of the places we’ve played this year. Penn State was a crazy environment and we expect the same thing out of the Michigan fans, but you can’t really focus on the environment you’re playing in, you’ve got to focus on what you’ve got to do as far as stopping the team.
REPORTER: Does it kind of bring you together?
LAURINAITIS: I think playing on the road kind of brings you together more than anything. You don’t sit and think really how tough it is. Washington was a tough environment, there was a lot of plays, but it kind of brings you together because you realize everyone there hates you and wants you to lose. I think it brings you together and makes you bond more.
I think it will show kind of how we respond, a lot of the guys that have started on this team right now haven’t experienced a regular season loss. I know we had two when I was a freshman, but I was on special teams, so it’s really as a starter it’s a first regular season loss. I think it kind of will just show how we respond to that and really how good our focus is. You can’t let your focus, you can’t dwell on a game like that, you have to move on and realize really this is what you’ll be remembered out of the season, what you’ll remember the 2007 Buckeyes by is how they played Michigan at the end of the year.
REPORTER: Was your secondary shell shocked, do you think, and being one of the leaders, what do you say to those guys?
LAURINAITIS: I think when you watch the film, it’s not their fault. We didn’t have any pressure at all on the quarterback. Whether you allow a quarterback to sit back there and throw, you can’t leave those guys out to dry for all day, and it’s hard being back there, because being an outsider, you see what happens, and you think, well, why wasn’t the guy covering that guy and we’re sitting there blaming ourselves, we need to get more pressure, we’re coming up blitzes, we’re not getting there. It’s a full team thing, not just the secondary not performing. We have tremendous guys back there and great talent and I’ll take those guys any day. You can’t point fingers, if you start pointing fingers at anybody in the defense, that’s really when it starts to fall apart and there’s none of that going on which is good.
REPORTER: Is the pressure any less since you aren’t No. 1 going into this game?
LAURINAITIS: I don’t think so. I think Ohio State/Michigan is going to have the same pressure no matter what it is. I think if we were No. 1 or whatever we are now, I don’t even know, it doesn’t matter. We know that this game is what we’ll be remembered by. One team could be No. 1, one team could be 118,it doesn’t matter coming into this game. If you lose this game, it’s not going to be good around here for a while. So this is “the game,” and that’s really been emphasized since I got here and it will be forever.
REPORTER: Today Coach Bruce is going to talk to you, can you talk about, you’ve heard him before, talk about what that means to you.
LAURINAITIS: I think with Coach Bruce, you just notice his passion for this game and really how important it is for people that have coached in it and played in it and really what it means to this university and with Coach is going to be fired up, he’s going to be excited to talk and get a few laughs out of the guys the way he presents things, but he’s a tremendous coach and a tremendous guy to kind of pull knowledge from. He knows a lot about this game and although he’s got a unique style and he does his little speeches, he’s definitely a guy you have to respect and a guy you have to look up to and he knows a lot about this game so we have a treat to get to listen to Coach Bruce today.
REPORTER: What Mike Hart said last year, when you see him crawling off the field and playing the next week, explain what your feelings are about the kind of ball player he is.
LAURINAITIS: He’s a tough competitor. That’s the one thing that can describe Mike Hart. He’s competitive and he’s going to bring it every play no matter what happens and he knows this is his last season at Michigan and he’s going to do whatever he can to help his team win. You have to have respect for a guy like that. That’s a guy that’s going to do whatever he can, no matter whether he’s hurt or not, 100% or 50%, he’s going to go out and leave it all on the field for his team.
REPORTER: What did you sense about him last week?
LAURINAITIS: Just that he’s a guy that it doesn’t matter what the score is, he’s going to bring his all. Like I said, with a guy like that, you have to bring it every play, you can’t get complacent and you can’t get out of position one play, because he’ll definitely hurt you on it.
I don’t really get into that kind of stuff. People are going to say stuff every week, try to get under your skin. You can’t let that stuff bother you, you just have to really focus on what you can do on the field because worrying about what somebody said or what somebody thinks about you isn’t going to help you win the game.
REPORTER: Are you en guard about what you say this week?
LAURINAITIS: I’m always en guard about what I say every week. I’m never going to be a guy that’s going to get into a words match with anybody and that’s for another time, not to be put into the media.
REPORTER: How much does this game impact you as a kid?
LAURINAITIS: It was huge, when I was a senior, I watched the ’04 Ohio State/Michigan game and Ohio State was kind of on a down year a little bit and I remember just watching that game and seeing the excitement about it and beating Michigan and things like that and really that game ultimately helped me decide to come here. And just seeing that and really just the history of it and the tradition of knowing that you can play in the greatest rivalry in college football, and that’s something that’s huge and it’s very important.
REPORTER: Do you think a victory in this game has an effect on recruiting down the line?
LAURINAITIS: Yeah, I think kids that are weighing between the two schools, there’s a lot of competition between the two schools in recruiting as well and obviously it’s a game that’s going to be on ABC every year, it’s going to be nationally televised, everyone’s going to be tuned into it because it’s known as “the game” in college football and it helps if you get a victory in this game.
REPORTER: How long does it take, being someone from out of state, how long did it take to get ensconsed into this rivalry?
LAURINAITIS: Oh, right away. Knowing about the way the tradition goes and the way this game is, you’re hearing all about it when you’re getting recruited, so it’s breeded into you as you take your visit and things like that. You see the clock that counts down to the game and you really realize how important the game is.
REPORTER: Obviously you didn’t want to see Bobby Carpenter get hurt two years ago, but how big of a chance was that for you?
LAURINAITIS: Basically, just to know that I’d been in there before in an environment, I don’t know if I was really ready to play, but being thrown in there and really just doing my job so the other guys can just make plays is really what I was trying to focus on, I had plenty of guys, 10 other guys that are Big Ten players so if I just do my job, they’ll make the play. Being thrown in there definitely helped with confidence.
REPORTER: How far have you come since that day?
LAURINAITIS: A long way. A lot more confident, a lot smarter of a football player, along with size and speed and things, and generic stuff understanding the defense.
REPORTER: Have you thought much about whether this could be your last Ohio State football game?
LAURINAITIS: No, I haven’t thought about that at all. That’s something that I’m not going to think about during the season. It’s just nothing but a distraction and all I can do is focus on what I can do against Michigan.
It was definitely frustrating, but I think we realize that we were in a position to make plays, we just didn’t make them. It was not people giving up or not giving effort, it was just that we didn’t make the tackles when we had the chances or maybe we were a few inches out of place, we made the tackle, but maybe it was for a first down by a foot, so if we could do that again, who knows what will happen. But it’s nothing to do with effort or anything, as long as we have great effort like we’ve had all year and there were a few plays in that game where we had better effort than any game this year. So obviously there’s a lot we can take away from that that’s good, and a lot that’s not good. But as a whole, we can’t dwell on that, we have to keep our confidence and head into this game.
REPORTER: Vernon Gholston said you guys changed some things up from a schematic point of view last week. Can you expand on that at all?
LAURINAITIS: I don’t know. I mean, it was just different calls for different weeks. There’s calls — they were calls that we’ve done before earlier in the season, but obviously game plan goes week by week and it’s just different stuff that we hadn’t done a whole lot of. But I mean, it’s just stuff that we had done before. And it’s not like we tried to throw in this whole new defense that we never ran before, it definitely wasn’t anything like that.
REPORTER: What are the nerves going to be for guys like Todd Boeckman who are playing in this game for the first time?
LAURINAITIS: Todd’s a very poised — very poised individual, so I don’t think he’ll be too uptight or too erratic or anything. He’s a guy that really kind of keeps an even keel about him, never gets too excited, never gets too down, you need that out of your quarterback.
REPORTER: It’s not like he’s a true freshman or anything, he’s been around a while.
LAURINAITIS: Right. He’s been around three of these games, three or four, something like that. He’s definitely been around this before and he knows what this week is all about and I think well’s be just fine with him.
REPORTER: The home fans decked out in Laurinaitis gear, look like your dad, what do you say to those guys, they’ve been there for the last couple years supporting you, I think the group has kind of grown more and more each year? What do you think about that?
LAURINAITIS: I think they’re awesome. I love all the fans. Those guys just put a lot of effort into the whole outfit. It’s a great idea. You kind of sit back and you think, it’s pretty sweet to kind of have that support and that people would think to do that and take the time to do that kind of stuff. I know I have other fans too that just don’t want to make the time to make a bunch of spikes but I’m sure they love me just as much. But I do really appreciate them. And every time after a home game, after we sing Carmen Ohio, I point them out to let them know I appreciate them and the efforts that they do.
REPORTER: The Rose Bowl is on the table for you guys now, Ohio State hasn’t gone to the Rose Bowl in more than a decade, I know the National Championship was the first priority, but if that would work out, would that be something that you guys could play in that game?
LAURINAITIS: I’ve got to be honest, it’s been made known by Kirk Barton and some of our other leaders that we can’t really focus on what bowl we’re going to, what our ranking is or anything like that, all we can focus on is this game. Everything else is out of our control. This season is going to be remembered on what happens this weekend and that’s all we can focus on. This there was a Big Ten championship game to be played, this is it, this Saturday, we can’t focus on really what bowl we’re going to go to, that doesn’t matter to us right now, the only thing that matters is this week at Michigan.
REPORTER: When you look back at the Illinois film, especially that last 8-minute drive, do you get angry watching that? Do you get frustrated? What’s it like to watch that?
LAURINAITIS: Obviously it’s frustrating as a defense not being able to get off the field, but I think when you watch it, people were in a position to make plays, it wasn’t anything of a lack of effort, it wasn’t people trying to do their own thing, we just weren’t in position and just didn’t make the play. And they made the plays, that’s all that matters. They made more plays than we did. You really have to tip your hat off to them, they’re a good team. But obviously, it does frustrate you, but as long as we have the effort and guys are trying and doing their job, we’ll take that every day, we’ve just got to try to make the plays.
REPORTER: It seems like Chad Henne and Mike Hart, their status is up in the air at this point. Do you sort of want them to play? Do you want an opponent’s best?
LAURINAITIS: You just want them to play because it’s their last game at Michigan, you know what I mean? So they came back and said, this is the reason why they came back is for this game. So they’re going to play. I think Henne and Hart are going to play, they’re not going to let their last game go out like this, we’re going to prepare for them 100%. So we know that — you want them to play. You want their guys to play. You don’t hope anyone sits out because of injury.
REPORTER: How hard is it going to be to win the turnover margin?
LAURINAITIS: It’s something that history has said that the team that wins the turnover margin wins the game, and we’ve gotten lucky and escaped the last two years with not getting a turnover from them, but I think you definitely have to every week, you have to worry about the turnover margin and the rushing yards because really the game is won in the trenches every week and if you can control the rushing battle and the turnover margin you’ll be all right.
REPORTER: You have 9 or 10 turnovers this year more as opposed to last year, do you feel like it is just not going your way?
LAURINAITIS: No, we’ve had the opportunity, I think Purdue, we dropped six or seven possible interceptions, so that game right there, if we catch every one, we’re even with last year. We don’t notice it at all. I think our defense is a stronger unit than last year’s and we’re a close-knit group more than last year and just because we’ve dropped a few more balls doesn’t make a difference.