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Nov. 7, 2006

COACH TRESSEL: Today we have Antonio Smith and Anthony Gonzalez, is that right, here? There’s two guys here.

STEVE SNAPP: Antonio’s tonight, I think.

COACH TRESSEL: Oh, David Patterson. As always, you guys know more than I do, or know before I do.

Going on the road to Illinois was a battle, just like we’d talked about it and the fact it was going to be physical. I thought we got prepared and I thought we came out and did what we needed to do to begin the game and really even to begin the second half. I don’t think we finished like you need to finish and most especially on the road against a team that’s going to battle all the way down to the end and that’s what Big Ten teams do. I thought our first 40 minutes or so were solid and the last 20 were less than that and because of that, we didn’t have near as many winning performances. I think we had three on the defense and maybe two on the offense. And we did have some outstanding performances. Aaron Pettrey was the special units player. Did an excellent job kicking off, obviously, with that good, solid wind, he hit them very, very deep and unreturnable. Against the wind, he drove the first one real good, in fact, it was real hard to handle, they almost fumbled or they did fumble and had to fall on it on the 6 or something. And then of course his extra points were perfect and his 50-yard field goal was true and his stroke was very good and so Aaron Pettrey was the special units player of the week. Defensively, it was James Laurinaitis and James continues to be productive, continues to grow in the subpoena, continues to grow in leadership and did a heck of a job and was named the defensive player of the week. Offensively, the offensive staff did not name a player of the week based upon the consistency that wasn’t demonstrated and nor did they name an offensive lineman of the week. So I guess be happy that Coach Bollman is not the expert because he might growl at you or something.

Defensively, the attack force player was Lawrence Wilson, and Lawrence Wilson really, we think, is coming along every day and has been very productive. He was a little banged up in the preseason and I don’t know that he began the season like we hoped he would have, and then really this last month or so, we think he’s come along. And if he’ll keep improving at the rate he is, it’s going to be great for the Buckeyes, and he was the attack force player of the week.

We did not have a Jack Tatum hit of the week. We did have excellent special teams preparation. In fact, Marcus Williams was the scout special teams player and through his work on the scout special teams, kind of getting his battlefield commission onto a couple roles on the back-up groups of the special units and will indeed make the travel squad as we go.

The scout defensive player, Mike Dougherty, strong safety, did an excellent job with the scout D, and then the scout offensive player was J. D. Larson. J. D. kind of came to Ohio State in a different way than some, he came because his sister was a great athlete on our track program and occasionally we’ll mention to him that he’s not quite the athlete that his sister is, but we’re sure glad he’s there and he’s going to be a good player. He’s a tight end and a good athlete, and was the scout team offensive player.

From a health standpoint, Quinn (Pitcock) played, I think, 40 plays or better and just did fine, did well, didn’t have any problems. David Patterson, knock on wood, continues to feel very good from a health standpoint and so we’re pleased about that. Kurt Coleman got a little banged right at the beginning of the game and he, I think, is on the questionable list Alex Boone probably is another week away. Ray Small will be back. As of Wednesday, he’s allowed to go full-go. I’m trying to think of who else. Is there anyone else? I think that was it. So again, outside of losing Mike D’Andrea for the whole year and Anderson Russell for three quarters of the year, we’ve been very blessed from a health standpoint. And we’ve had some guys miss some practice time and when Quinn missed some time and Gonzo missed a little practice time and Teddy missed a little practice time, that will kind of end as well. It just reminds you, in fact, Anthony Gonzalez said, Quinn and I were talking, he said, it really makes a difference when you don’t get as many reps in practice and that’s the best affirmation of practice we could ever get from anyone that, that’s true. That’s why we talk about practice being so important.

So I think we’ll be in good stead from a practice standpoint as well as we move to Northwestern, all you have to do is turn the film on from that and we say that every week, but it seems like we get to play people at the time they’re playing their best and I felt that way about Illinois as they were coming in. I feel that way about Northwestern. You put on the Iowa film and it was a decisive win. A year ago, they beat Iowa and they had to score two touchdowns in the last five minutes and they upset them. This year, they didn’t upset them. In fact, Northwestern’s defense held Iowa to about 60 or 70 fewer yards than we held Iowa’s offense to and Northwestern’s offense outgained how many yards we had against Iowa.

So you need not look any further than that football game, and I think a transition has been made from their standpoint with their quarterback situation, they’re settling in on who they are and what they’re doing and to me, that’s the best thing they’ve done is that they’ve decided, okay, here’s what Bacher does best and we’ll keep our core business with Tyrell Sutton who’s fantastic, and what we do and so forth, and then we’ll tie the rest of the program around what Bacher does. And to me, that’s the mark of good coaching. Sometimes it takes some experimenting. They had other quarterbacks in the game earlier in the year and went through some ups and downs and so forth, and they’ve gotten to the point now where they really know who they are and what they want to do and you can see it in their play.

Defensively, they started out the year a little bit young. They’ve grown a little bit as time as gone, and if you watch their game against Iowa, they looked fundamentally and conceptually as sure of themselves as I’ve seen them all year. Again, when that’s the case, when you have you’ve settled open who you are and what you’re going to do and how you’re going to attack people and here’s what my guys do best, I think you play your best football. Their special teams have been very good. Their kickoff coverage is probably the best we’ve seen. It’s ranked first in the Big Ten and they do a great job from that standpoint. And they’ve always done a great job of rushing punts and returning punts and all of those types of things. So we’re playing Northwestern when they’re playing their best. What I’d like to think is we’ll have ourselves prepared so that Ohio State’s playing its best and when we go on the road in the Big Ten, it needs to be that way and we’re anxious to begin that preparation.

REPORTER: Coach, Pat Fitzgerald, have you seen him grow as a head coach just in the game film that you’ve watched? Have you seen him mature into that role that he got obviously under tragic circumstances?

COACH TRESSEL: I’m not sure when you watch a film if you can see head coaching growing or not growing, because you really don’t know what they’re doing. Everyone does their head coaching duties different. Some guy’s the defensive coordinator, some guy’s the offensive coordinator, some guy watches from afar. Frank Beamer runs the special teams and Pat was a defensive guy. I think it would be a little hard for me to tell because every decision the head coach makes, like they talk about, boy, that was a good decision they called timeout when they did, or, oh, man, they blew it. You’ve got lots of help, hey, Coach, what do you think about a timeout or do you think we should do this or so and so is limping, we’ve got to get him out of the game, so knowing Pat the little bit I do, which I don’t know him much, he’s a guy that obviously is very open to growing and learning from his staff and input and everything else, he just seems to be a very humble guy, and I’m sure he’ll get better every day.

REPORTER: Coach, some people say that this last weekend was a good thing for the Buckeyes to get tested, a growing experience, but is that necessarily the case because now that the players have — maybe we’re not so invisible, maybe we’re not so dominant anymore, is that a good thing to have a wake-up call like this?

COACH TRESSEL: I’ve always been a believer that reality is the best teacher, and if you win a decisive game, you need to know why, and here’s what we did to win a decisive game. If you win a game that’s not quite as decisive, why? What was it that we didn’t do as well? When you lose a game, what was the reason? Or what were the reasons? So I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a magical wake-up call, but I think reality is very important, and the biggest reality you have is that you go to someone else’s place, you better play 60 minutes because I don’t want to infer that we didn’t play well at all there, because if you turn the film off at halftime, it doesn’t look much different than any of the four or five games prior to it. Turn it back on, we didn’t do the things you need to do. So will it be good for us? If we learn from the reality.

REPORTER: How much of the offensive line’s problems was due to the fact that Boone wasn’t there?

COACH TRESSEL: Probably one/fifth and that’s to be — I don’t mean to be a smart alec, but it’s not like he was the only guy on the line. And it’s not like Tim Schafer didn’t do a solid job. Tim Schafer graded out very similar to the rest of the group. So would Alex have graded 95 and then the rest of them grade what they did? I’m not sure we would have been much different. And again, if you turn the film off at the end of 40 plays, you’d probably have five lineman grade winning performance, but that’s not football. You have to play all the plays. I think we had 40 plays at the end of the half and ended up with 60, 61, 71, whatever. It wasn’t great. So sure, you’d like to have all of your personnel, but if anyone thinks that they were the difference, they’re missing the point of this game.

REPORTER: Jim, what do you think it was, the last 20 minutes offensively especially, because they really kind of stopped your running game?

COACH TRESSEL: I think the fact that we weren’t running the ball consistently, we probably weren’t as balanced as we could have been, because like I’ve said to you folks many times is you start — whenever you start evaluations, you start them internally and then you reach out. I’m not sure we were as balanced with our attack as we could have been and we didn’t execute on early downs, and then we got behind the count and we let them come storming the castle pretty good. One thing leads to another and all of a sudden your momentum has changed.

REPORTER: Out of balance meaning passing?

COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, run/pass.

REPORTER: Is that play selection or —

COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, probably play selection.

REPORTER: When you see your offense struggling, do you as a play caller change what you do at that point based on, hey, this isn’t working well, let’s do this and how much of that do you —

COACH TRESSEL: Sometimes. And sometimes it works when you change and sometimes you don’t change and it works that you didn’t change because you just needed to do some things better, and then on the other hand, sometimes when you don’t change, it doesn’t work, but I think we lost a little bit of our balance. That would be my first thought from the coaching standpoint.

REPORTER: Jim, did you feel like with the line that it was — was it more physical or was it mental breakdowns, I thought maybe on one play it looked like maybe there was a bad line call and one of the defensive tackles came in free on Troy, was there any of the defense where you doubted it physically?

COACH TRESSEL: No, I would have to say most errors, especially in pass protection occur mentally, very seldom does a guy run over a guy and hit the quarterback, as long as you’ve picked the right guy you’ve got a chance. I think we got a little bit tentative because we missed something and then all of a sudden you start thinking about, well, what if they do that again. And I think not unlike the group losing their momentum, I think we as individuals lost our momentum of doing our tasks, but, no, I don’t think it was a wearing-down factor. There are so many timeouts now and stuff like that, that it’s hard to get tired.

REPORTER: Were they a different looking defense than you all had seen on tape?

COACH TRESSEL: Not really. They’ve done a nice job over a two-year period of building their concept of who they want to be and how they do it and bringing kids along and they’ve got good athletes and got headed in the right direction from a momentum standpoint. Two things, I think, really helped them. One, when we were going to make it 21-0, we fumbled, that certainly helped them. And two, when we’re going down the field at the beginning of the third quarter getting ready to make it 24-0 or 20-0 if we don’t get a field goal, and then we don’t execute a couple of things. Now, they probably didn’t have anything to do with the first thing we helped them with. The second thing, you have to give them credit, they kept us out of the end zone, but, no, they didn’t really change what they did.

REPORTER: Coach, Chris Wells had another fumble against Illinois, what concerns do you have about that being an issue and how is that going to affect his playing time the rest of the season?

COACH TRESSEL: Well, how concerned am I? You know, tremendously concerned. Whether it’s Chris or anyone doing any job that isn’t getting done the way we need it as a team. I’d like to think that he’ll, one day, get that under control and I’m hoping it’s this day and I said after the game and I still believe today that if we’re going to become a very good team, then he’s going to have to be a part of it, because I think bringing at them the ability to come in with three running backs, and I think he’s come along in so many phases of the game, he’s come along running the ball, he’s coming along in his pass, coming along in his receiving responsibilities, he can add a lot to this team. Unfortunately, just like a quarterback who can add a lot to the team if they throw it to the other guys, can you afford — what’s the risk versus reward component there? So I’m hoping that he’ll be a big, positive part of what we do these next two weeks through the regular season and on into the bowl game.

REPORTER: You said last week he just has to hold on to it tighter. Is there anything as coaches you guys can do or is this something he’s got to fight through and figure out on his own?

COACH TRESSEL: I think it’s one of those things that about the only thing coaches can do is have someone sit down and think about it, but to me, there’s a certain length of time that makes sense. He had a chance to think about it through the second half of the game, but I don’t know if there’s anything drill-wise beyond what we do and I’ve always said that turnovers are all about how deep is your belief of the importance of the possession of that ball, whether you’re the quarterback getting ready to throw it to somebody, you’re the running back or the wide receiver who’s got it in their hands or you’re the linebacker who’s got it right in their sights where he can intercept it, do you understand how important that is, and that sometimes takes time.

REPORTER: Why are freshman more prone though, all of us remember Maurice Clarett and Northwestern losing three, Eddie George had two against Illinois, why is it you think freshmen are more prone?

COACH TRESSEL: I don’t think that freshmen have the game slowed down as much as older guys. When you come from the high school game, I don’t care where you play, to the college game, the world is buzzing by you. And you have so many things going on in your head and physically going on. All of a sudden, you’re a junior, the game slows down, you can do a better job taking care of everything you need to do, just like in life, when the world slows down, you’ve got a better chance.

REPORTER: Is the thing Saturday, though, with his fumble, he wasn’t hit, it looks like he was actually trying to get a better grip.

COACH TRESSEL: It looked to me like he was switching it from one hand to the other, he saw this gigantic hole and sometimes that shocks you too. That might have been something new for that day.

REPORTER: Is this week an audition for him?

COACH TRESSEL: Audition, no, it’s too late in the year for auditions. This is the real deal.

REPORTER: If he fumbles again, will he play again?

COACH TRESSEL: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. Give me the rest of the scenario. Am I the next tailback in the game? Then he’s playing.

REPORTER: What about Mo Wells?

COACH TRESSEL: Mo Wells, he’s fine.

REPORTER: Coach, is that a practice situation too, did he show that in practice or just game day?

COACH TRESSEL: No.

REPORTER: Just game day.

COACH TRESSEL: I think he had one in the spring if I’m not mistaken.

REPORTER: Was there an element at all in the second half that maybe a one percent or five percent, whatever the figure is, that maybe players might have thought they had the game under control?

COACH TRESSEL: Oh, I’m sure. They’re human and we kept them out of the end zone and there’s about, what, eight something to go, nine something to go in the third quarter and they’re starting down on their own 4, and you can get comfortable, and I’m not saying that can only happen with players, I’m sure it happens with players and fans. I mentioned to someone, the interesting thing, it reminded me of how important it is you have to do it, all of us have to do it for 60 minutes. We had a great crowd at Illinois. It’s amazing how many people went over there, I don’t know how many lived in that area or whatever, it was fabulous. I don’t know how many. But it wasn’t a crowd all riled up like sometimes when we’re on the road and they’re wired into it, and now, did they get comfortable, and I’m not blaming anything on them, but I’m just talking about reality, did they get comfortable, and they’re humans too. So, yeah, I think, I don’t know, rusty, what percentages you had there, one percent, three percent, five percent, it might be more, I don’t know, but that’s real.

REPORTER: You mentioned that you sat Chris Saturday and gave him some time to think about the fumble. You had not done that, I don’t think, against Michigan State or Minnesota. Has he returned now to back-up to Pittman or does he need more time to think about it and be behind Wells Saturday at Northwestern?

COACH TRESSEL: Well, if he practices well, he’ll be in good stead to go in and carry the ball like any other time, but you have to demonstrate.

REPORTER: Was it just we tried showing confidence in him by putting him back in the game when he fumbled and Saturday, let’s try giving him some time to think about it, was that —

COACH TRESSEL: You know, it was probably neither. It was probably, right now the best thing for the team is to have Antonio Pittman in there as opposed to, we don’t sit around and say, now, let’s let him think about this a little longer. There was none of that discussion.

REPORTER: Coach, I’ve asked you about him before, but Antonio Smith today was put on the top ten list for the Thorpe Award can you again talk about what he has accomplished here as a walk-on and being in the top ten as a defensive back.

COACH TRESSEL: It’s a great reminder of when people believe what they can accomplish, because if you would have told me two years ago that Antonio Smith would be starting, I’d have said, oh, boy, I respect your football intellect, but I can’t agree. If you’d have told me that this August, I’d have said, you know, I’m not sure. But he believed he could play to that level, and that’s what’s most important. And it wasn’t that anyone disbelieved, but I don’t know that anyone was sure, but he was. And that’s just the way he is. He’s sure he will he’ll have that mechanical engineering degree, whether he needs to study until 4:00 in the morning, but he’s going to get it. And I remember this spring, we were done with a meeting and this and that and I said, anything else, Antonio, you’d like to talk about? And he said, you know what one of my goals would be is to be — and I can’t remember which video game he talked about, to be in the starting line-up on what is it, Madden or something, whatever the video game is, and I said, well, I don’t know if I can help you with that, because they’ve never called me and asked me who should be starting on their video game, but that’s the kind of visualization that he has. He just has belief in goals and things that he wants to do and the fact that he’s a finalist for the Thorpe Award is a testament to his production, because I’m sure he was not on anyone’s watch list, but he produced, and obviously someone noticed him and I don’t have a vote for the Thorpe Award, and people have noticed and that’s special, and I think Quinn Pitcock is one of the final four for the Lombardi.

REPORTER: Should Laurinaitis be on that Thorpe list? He kind of plays like a defensive back.

COACH TRESSEL: Again, no one ever asked me about the Thorpe list so I don’t have a vote. I think Thorpe is DB though, isn’t it? I think the line backers are allowed to be on Butkis and Lombardi, and I knew it was a joke, but I’m trying to play through it.

REPORTER: With the five interceptions, did you see that quality in him during the season? We’ve seen great defensive backs here that finish the season with no interceptions and for a linebacker to get five, that’s kind of —

COACH TRESSEL: He has good ball skills and he has good awareness, and maybe most important, he has good guys in front of him putting pressure on, and you add all that together, if you’re in the right place and you can catch, and the people in front of you are creating a little bit of problems for the guy with the ball in his hands, you have a chance. Now, five’s a lot, and I’ve seen guys go one season with seven and the next two seasons with none. Sometimes it’s luck, but he’s — I don’t know that he’s dropped any, so he’s been there.

REPORTER: You talk about the human factor and getting complacent or thinking you have the game in control, what do you do as the coach now and how do you handle your team the rest of the way as far as having a lead or is there anything tangible you can do to affect the human factor of not becoming complacent during a game?

COACH TRESSEL: I think the only thing you can do is experience it. Now, we’ve experienced it. Now, did we learn the lesson that 60 minutes is what it takes to win on the road in the Big Ten? Do we truly understand that? Not unlike the question about Chris, now, does he truly understand that there’s nothing — those 17 extra yards he could have gotten on that play if he switched his hand and was able to hit with his other arm and all that stuff aren’t as important as that ball. Now, does he understand that? Do we understand that 60 minutes is what is needed and that’s how deeply do you understand, that’s the key to anything. Did we learn? I don’t know. Can I help them learn that? We can talk about it and so forth, but I have to be reminded too, so I’m learning on the job as well.

REPORTER: So your half-time talk may not have been as emotional as maybe you wanted it to be?

COACH TRESSEL: Well, the problem is we did exactly what we needed to do when we came out after the half. We kicked, started driving right down the field, not that the half-time talk has ever worked, but I’m sure that half-time talks don’t get it, knowing that I’ve got to do it every second, that’s the key, and we’ll find out if we’ve learned it, because we’re back on the road.

REPORTER: How important is it, for everyone, to vote today? You’ve gotten behind some school bond issues and been politically active in some sense.

COACH TRESSEL: I don’t know about politically active, but I do enjoy causes.

REPORTER: You were called senator for a while, you didn’t embrace that.

COACH TRESSEL: Right, okay. I did vote, even though I don’t have my Rusty Miller badge, I voted, but I did absentee because I can’t wait until 6:30 to go to work. But I think it’s important. If you don’t think your vote is important, then you don’t really understand the system because your vote is important.

REPORTER: Would you be energized to run at some point down the line?

COACH TRESSEL: No.

REPORTER: Never?

COACH TRESSEL: To run for election.

REPORTER: Sure.

COACH TRESSEL: No.

REPORTER: You’re sure of that?

COACH TRESSEL: Yeah. I guess we’re done, Steve. Wait a minute, we’ve got Marla.

STEVE SNAPP: You may want to run out of here.

COACH TRESSEL: We’ve got Marla. We can’t go without Marla.

REPORTER: If you broke your leg like Joe, would you be working this week?

COACH TRESSEL: You know, I only got run over once, and I didn’t get hit that bad, I got a hyperextended knee and I’ll tell you what, I was 30 some, and I coached the rest of the year with a knee brace, but when you’re a coach and you’re in the middle of something, I don’t think you ever stop and he got banged. You just hate seeing that. Sidelines are dangerous. I mean, especially when you back up and you hit a wall of people and you’ve got nowhere to go. I feel awful for him, but he won’t stop coaching. He’s in the middle of the stream.

REPORTER: Are you working on your fitness?

COACH TRESSEL: I can’t answer that question because it would break our jinx here.