COACH TRESSEL: This is our last Tuesday together. We’ll be Monday — Shelly will get you all the details. Next week all of the time spent will be over at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Monday we don’t have school, so we have a schedule set up for you to have time with our players and coaches and so forth, so we won’t be back here next Tuesday, I was to make that announcement, so I got that done.
Ohio State-Wisconsin was a battle. We knew going into it that there were going to be moments when it was going okay and there were going to be moments when it was going to not look as good, and that we had to fight through it. I thought it was exactly what our guys did. There were some areas that we’ve got to get better in if we want to contend for the Big Ten Championship, but I think this group, as we’ve been saying all year long, is interested in being good, interested in analyzing themselves and getting better in the areas they need to get better and as you look forward, you have to do it against an excellent football team in Illinois, so we’ve got to have a great week as we prepare for the Illini.
There were some very, very good performances in the Wisconsin game. The special units player of the game was Austin Spitler. Austin was a part of the kickoff coverage punt team, punt return, kickoff return, just does an excellent job. He is the middle linebacker in the goal line when we have two middle linebackers in the game and goal line defense and really has grown into being a fine, fine football player and he was the special units player of the game.
The defensive player of the game was Vernon Gholsten. Vernon was very disruptive from the edge and four sacks and a lot of hurries and took timing off of some of their pass game and he continues to get better and better and better and I think is one of the better defensive ends in the country.
The offensive player of the game is Chris Wells. Beanie certainly helped us seize the tempo of the game in that second half where we had fallen behind and we needed to gain a little sense of consistency and we did that behind some excellent blocking, but also some excellent running as well. And 21 carries for 169 yards is a great day’s work against a team like Wisconsin and so he was the offensive player of the game.
The Jim Parker offensive lineman of the game was Kirk Barton. Kirk graded 92%. He’s done a great job all year leading, has done a great job all year really molding together a new group of linemen, helping them learn to communicate under the gun, in the noise, all those things. He really has been a fine, fine leader, and was the Jim Parker offensive lineman.
The attack force player of the week on defense was James Laurinaitis. James had like, I don’t know, 18 or 19 tackles and all kinds of production and he just continues to also be an excellent leader of that defense and fly around and make plays and does a good job analyzing things. He figures out what it is people are trying to do to us and within the confines of his responsibility, makes plays, and I think he’s one of the finest at his position in the country.
The Jack Tatum hit of the week, we have two nominations, Brian Hartline had a big hit and Brandon Saine had a big hit on a special teams play. So the team will vote on that this afternoon so we’ll get that out to you as soon as we can.
The scout team guys did a good job preparing. I think the back half of the season, thus far, they’ve been really, really good in their preparation, in the looks. As practice reduces, this week will even be a little bit shorter than last week. The efficiency of the looks we get is so critical for us to get enough work done and those guys did a good job. The special units scout player of the week was Bo DeLande. He was the tailback from over at Hilliard Davidson. A year ago at this time he was leading his team to the state championship and now he’s doing a great job as a scout team running back and a scout teams special player, he’s a good kid, tough kid, enjoys the game of football, comes from a great program and was given the award of the scout special teams player.
The scout defensive player was Ryan Lukens, a great legacy here at Ohio State. He’s in the midst of his application for veterinary school right now and if he would have the good fortune of being admitted would be a third generation veterinarian from his family at Ohio State. His dad was a player here, Bill, and of course everyone knows the name Joe Lukens, and Ryan just does a great job on the scout team as linebacker. He is a back-up on many of our special teams and has played quite a bit this year as a special teams player and continues to do well and was recognized for that.
The scout offensive player was J. D. Larson. J. D. is a young man that came to Ohio State because his sister was here. They’re from the State of California and his sister was an athlete on our track team and loved her experience here, so J. D. followed and he probably didn’t have as much football experience as most of the kids that enter our program, and a very good athlete and he’s really grown into the position and he wore jersey Number 9 as the tight end for Wisconsin and you know how good that kid is, and he just did a fabulous job doing all the things that Number 9, Travis Beckum does, and was recognized by the defensive staff as the scout offensive player of the week.
So we had a lot of people do a lot of good things. The most important thing was everyone stayed at the task at hand and everyone kept in front of them what needed to be done and kept their patience and kept their poise and kept slugging it out and it was a good Big Ten win for us. Anytime you play the Badgers and come up on the good side of things, it’s excellent.
And we move into the Illinois challenge and Illinois, what I like about them is they have the blend that makes for good teams. They have a bunch of older kids who have suffered somewhat, been through some tough years. They were recruited right after they were outright Big Ten champs in 2001, and recruited in those next couple of years and things didn’t go as well as they envisioned, but they fought through it. And there’s five seniors on defense who have been playing a long time.
There’s four seniors on offense who have been playing a long time and just kept growing and they’re tough and it means a lot to them. Then there’s an influx of excellent new talent. They’ve done a great job in the recruiting circles and they’ve brought in people to complement the folks they already have and I think that’s why you see such a good Illinois team. They’ve got excellent personnel. They play with enthusiasm. Their staff does a great job, a very creative staff.
Defensively, they play a little bit different scheme than anything we’ve faced all year. Offensively, they play a little bit different scheme than — we’ve seen bits and pieces of their scheme, but not every down like they play with the pressure they put on you with their quarterback ability to run and the speed they have on the field. Then their special teams, because they have excellent speed, their coverage units are excellent, they rank first in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage. They do a good job with their specialists and their return people are very dangerous, and so all — they have all the makings of an outstanding team and that’s why they’ve been so successful this fall and we know it’s going to be a tremendous challenge when they come in.
It’s a big day for us. It’s senior day, and we don’t have the largest senior class of guys that you see playing on Saturday, but we do have 15 guys that have given a whole lot to this program, a lot of hours and a lot of effort and a number of those guys in a very unglamorous way. So it’s a big day for them and it’s a big day for us and it’s amazing we only have one game left in the stadium and the games go by fast.
REPORTER: Jim, some people who have had your job here before have had the opportunity that they could perhaps prepare for the Michigan game during the season where it doesn’t appear that you have that.
COACH TRESSEL: I was here with Coach Bruce, and I don’t remember us preparing for the Michigan game other than trying to get better, but I don’t know how much of that is folklore and how much of it is fact.
REPORTER: Do you believe that Woody was able to do that?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, Coach Bruce, was he able to do that? I can’t answer that. Did you really practice for Michigan?
COACH BRUCE: Only when Woody said I better do it.
COACH TRESSEL: Okay. There you have it.
REPORTER: Can you talk about the Illibuck trophy and the quirky traditions that go along and make college football what it is?
COACH TRESSEL: The honorary that gives that Illibuck back and forth between the two universities came in and share it — and they do each year share with our guys just so they have an awareness, that’s really our only trophy, the only one we have with someone else. They share it with us the history of and it started back when and I think they’re on Illibuck 9 now because they’ve filled them up and it started with a live turtle and a the turtle died in a bathtub at a frat house or something, so they went to a carved, and the newest one they showed us is huge, so it’s kind of fun for our guys to know, because you see it in the press guide every year and those kinds of things, but for our guys to see it and hear it from the group that’s a part of it, and it’s a junior only society so only one year are they part of that tradition and create relationships with the group on campus, it’s a big year, they have t-shirts printed out for the whole honorary.
For years, the Ohio State-Illinois game was the last game. Until we didn’t play them in ’03, I think it was, it was our longest consecutive rivalry. So it has rich tradition and I know from the three years I was here with Coach Bruce, those were three of the toughest games we had and I know our games with them — outside of one of them, they were overtime and got beat and all the rest.
REPORTER: On his coach’s show Sunday said he was going to send to the Big Ten the tape that Alan Langford got injured on, I wonder if you’ve heard from the conference on that and if you’re satisfied it was clean.
COACH TRESSEL: I didn’t hear from the conference on that. I’d like to think that it would be nothing intentional any of our guys would do.
REPORTER: He didn’t indicate that it was. He just said he wanted the conference to look at it.
COACH TRESSEL: I can’t even tell you that I can envision it.
REPORTER: You said earlier this year that Terry Hoeppner was a mentor to you. I was reading a release today online by you when Terry died, and you were quoted as saying he was a mentor to you. With them getting bowl eligible, do you have —
COACH TRESSEL: I’m not sure mentor was used, but I know when he was the defensive coordinator at Miami, I did go down and study with him for a day or so. My daughter had an orchestra concert down there, but a good friend and that type of thing, but I think a lot of his emotion and energy and passion was what had been buoying in the end. We had a lot of crossover and they play hard and you have to be happy for them and you know Hep is keeping a good eye on them and Jane is there every day and there’s special people and good things happen when good people get to work.
REPORTER: Have you gained any knowledge on —
COACH TRESSEL: I thought you were going to say have I gained any weight. I was starting to get nervous.
REPORTER: Have you gained any knowledge about Illinois’ losses against Iowa and Michigan, anything that was exposed by the Hawkeyes, the Wolverines in those games?
COACH TRESSEL: The thing, as you look at all of their games and you take the things that are really big, it’s usually the turnover margin, costly penalties or miscues, and you have to throw Missouri in there, because they very well could beaten Missouri if it weren’t for some things, so it was nothing structurally. It was nothing — Iowa is as basic as you can be. They did what they did and didn’t make many errors and hard fought, tough Big Ten game and they won by four. And the Michigan game, it was a battle back and forth, see-saw back and forth and Michigan did some things, did err, but nothing like, oh, man, we can do this, because we’ve got to assume they’re not going to make mistakes. We’ve got to work like crazy so we don’t make mistakes and see how we match up.
REPORTER: You commented a little bit on the job Coach Zook has done there, three years, they were close last year, but didn’t win, what are you seeing this year that’s different?
COACH TRESSEL: Coach Zook is a good Ohio guy, was a Miami of Ohio guy that played with great intensity when he played the game. He was just a ferocious competitor. That’s the way he was always a position coach and he coached here as know, and the NFL and so forth, and as a head coach, he has the same personality. Ferocious competitor, believes in pressure, offense and defense, that’s his philosophy, that’s what he wants to do, he believes that’s the way you win games based on his experience and has done a great job of helping them understand.
If you watch the evolution since he’s been there, you see a greater understanding of what they’re trying to do every year, which is only normal, and so obviously there’s good merit to what he’s instructing them to do. They can see why he’s having them do it and they’re very talented. He’s done a good job bringing talent. When he was an assistant coach, he was always thought of as being an excellent recruiter. When he was head coach at Florida and now here, he’s been an excellent recruiter. So you add all that together and it’s not a shock that — Illinois’ a great place, Illinois ought to be good and they are.
REPORTER: Given how last year ended for you guys and all that you lost and your expectations coming in, is there any part of you that’s surprised to be where you are, just two wins short of a National Championship?
COACH TRESSEL: The only thing that’s surprising is how fast this year has gone. I was asked a similar question on the Big Ten conference call. Once the preseason begins and you walk in the door and you take a deep breath and you say, okay, we’re not going to breathe until who knows when, Thanksgiving dinner or something, then you go to work on each day, and you don’t really have a chance to look back, forward, hopefully you’re just looking straight ahead.
So you don’t have time to have an emotion like surprise because surprise kind of takes in a big picture and you just don’t have time or you don’t — I guess we have the same amount of time as anyone else, but you don’t take time to look at the big picture. You look at what needs to be done today. I said to everyone back in the spring that I thought we had very capable talent and we needed to grow, needed to gain experience, needed to find out about ourselves, and we’ve tried to do that, and we still need to grow and we still need to mature, but here we are in week 11.
REPORTER: When you walked in for the preseason, you said you don’t really breathe until Thanksgiving; do you feel if it goes right, we could play for a National Championship this year?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, didn’t really think this far out. We had a lot of things we thought we found out about in the spring. We felt we knew what our direction would be, but that we were going to need a lot more direction with those 29 practices in the preseason. And sometimes you hope to know more after spring than you really do, but all of a sudden after 29 practices, you get a little more feel for, this is what I think we’re capable of doing, but everyone else is practicing too, so then you go just day-by-day.
REPORTER: Coach, how do you try to contain the combination of Mendenhall and Juice Williams?
COACH TRESSEL: How do you contain it?
REPORTER: Stop it.
COACH TRESSEL: The thing about a group that hits across the board like this one, it’s like in the old days when you played an option team, you better have every single assignment right or it’s over. It’s kind of that way when you face this group. You better have every gap taken care of. You better have every zone handled. You better make sure that everyone’s doing what they need to do because anyone on their attack can beat you. They have homerun hitters everywhere. I guess it’s like facing the Indians, when you face Hafner and those guys all right in a row. Any one of them can hit it out, so you better be assignment perfect.
REPORTER: Do you guys have a hurry-up play on offense for situations where the punt last Saturday or a close catch on the sideline where you want to get up there and get the ball snapped before the review?
COACH TRESSEL: No.
REPORTER: Is it something you’ve thought about at all?
COACH TRESSEL: I’ve heard it discussed, but, no, we don’t have a hurry-up play. If the thing should be reversed, it should be reversed. We don’t want to gain a fumble when it wasn’t a fumble. You just go through whatever it is. I was surprised that it was reviewed, but I was surprised on Robie’s catch that one time, I don’t know if that was two weeks ago or was that last week? It all runs together. It was what it was, and we want a win, but we also want it to be the deal.
REPORTER: To have a field goal blocked, I know it hasn’t cost you games yet, but the kickoff returns and the field goals, how much of a concern has this become?
COACH TRESSEL: A huge concern. You know, I’m concerned about the carpet. Everything’s a concern to me. But we’ve had a couple blocked up the middle and this one in particular was off in about one three three, we need it off in one two five, we feel. There was a little push in the middle and I’m not sure we hit it high enough. It was a combination of those three things.
You talk to kickers all the time and the only thing we need on field goals is height. The ball — you’re only kicking from wherever. I’m not sure we got the height we needed. I’m not sure we had perfect protection, I’m not sure we had the exact mechanics, so they got one fingertip on the thing and it goes and that might be the difference in the conference championship. So that’s a huge concern and it’s something that I promise you — Ryan Pretorius told me Sunday, he said, Coach, I didn’t sleep last night. And I told him, I don’t sleep most nights, so don’t worry about it, but I told him when I get to his age I’ll worry about sleeping. It’s a concern.
REPORTER: Is there a difference this year? You guys have been so solid in the past, is there something you can pinpoint?
COACH TRESSEL: I don’t know that we get it up right now like Nuge and Josh did. If you’re talking about the past, that’s what you’re measuring it against. I don’t know that we’re getting it up at quite the trajectory. We’re not bad. Now, Ryan’s numbers, they’re not bad, they’re pretty good, but we’d like it to be perfect.
REPORTER: Is Chimdi Chekwa okay health-wise?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah. He may not go today, but he had a temperature and we have to make sure he’s fine, but he’ll go tomorrow.
REPORTER: What’s the status of Rob Rose?
COACH TRESSEL: Rob might be able to give us a little more this week than last because it’s a different style game, but I don’t know that we can count on him to be a 25 or more play guy.
REPORTER: Back to Ron Zook for a second, so many people have characterized him as a great recruiter and you just did, what is it that makes him a great recruiter? Is he a great closer with the family, is he great at seeking out talent that nobody else finds, you hear him characterized that way so often, what makes him great at his job?
COACH TRESSEL: I think it’s work ethic, he goes at it and goes at it and goes at it. He’s got a great staff. I think anytime anyone talks about a head coach being great at doing something, don’t forget it’s probably the staff that did it. I have to be honest. I used to try to explain that to Earle, we were doing all that for him. So really, he’s got an excellent staff of recruiters. He himself works tirelessly, he’s got a great product.
When you’re the head coach at Florida or Illinois, you’ve got a chance and his work ethic is excellent at it, and I’m sure his talent, ability to pinpoint talent, he and his staff is shown to be very good, but Arrelious Benn I think everyone in this room would pick out that he’s out of this world. Now, how do you get him there? That’s the key, he did a great job. We were recruiting him, he’s a great kid, a great player.
REPORTER: Does it overshadow his ability on the sideline? Is he a better recruiter than he is a game coach?
COACH TRESSEL: Only when he’s recruiting. I don’t know. How do you measure either? I guess your win/loss record, but nowadays they have recruiting scales which is crazy. A.J. Hawk was a battle to get him, us and Akron. It was not like he visited 19 places and all that, but A.J. Hawk became a great player. So I don’t know how you really measure recruiting versus side line coaching because inevitably the record is what is the indicator of both.
REPORTER: Does the opportunity to play, though, have you noticed even more than ever, a freshman looking for an opportunity to play, like Benn obviously went there, do you notice it being more than ever that way with young specially skilled guys?
COACH TRESSEL: I think, and I’ve said this, the question with parity and all that, I’ve said this, I think kids know more and I think they can diagnose more and they can see where they fit in and I think they have a good handle, especially a guy like Arrelious or someone says, you know what, I think I could fit into that. I think I could help that group. So I just think they make very informed decisions where there are some other guys that say, you know what, this is a perfect scenario for me, when I’m a freshman, there’s a couple guys at my position that are seniors, I can learn from them, I can get going in school, and maybe I can step in. So I think guys have good awareness, again, because they know so much.
REPORTER: Have you guys gotten more out of your defensive line than you thought you would this year or did you know you’d have the kind of production you’ve gotten?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, we thought we had talent coming and we knew we didn’t have experience coming. We had a great start on it, though. When you had Vernon and Lawrence, that’s a pretty good start on experience and you can get the other people rolled through. Where I think the D line, Coach Heacock, that whole room has done a magnificent job is you lose one of your top two guys after losing four of your guys to graduation and you lose one of the top two in the first game or second, whenever it was, and you still are pressing on and guys are stepping up and doing what they need to do and just banging away. So I’ve been extremely happy with them but I have the utmost confidence in the guys that coach our guys and in the guys that they choose to recruit and we face them every day, so I knew — they’re pretty good.
REPORTER: Vernon was talking the other day about the late start he got in football in general, his coach kind of pulled him out of the hallway, when recruited him, did he look raw to you, like someone just starting out and how has he obviously evolved since he’s been here.
COACH TRESSEL: The interesting thing about recruiting is sometimes the first chance you get to know them is in a youth camp situation and you’re not really playing football, you’re doing drills and he, for his size, his explosion and his movement and all that stuff, it was like it was a no-brainer. Now, was he that far along in football skills? I don’t know.
Again, I can’t even tell you I watched any film. But there was no doubt about it athletically, and the kind of kid he was, humble kid, you’ve talked with him, he’s humble, he’s respectful, he’s bright. He brought all the things to the table with that great athletic ability and I think he’ll do nothing but get better. I think he’s going to be a steal down the road for the next level.
REPORTER: If you look at the kickoff return unit, what’s kind of been missing there thus far or pop-wise, I think you’re 118th in the country this week.
COACH TRESSEL: You’re talking about the return group.
REPORTER: Yeah, return.
COACH TRESSEL: I think a couple things, one, we haven’t had much practice, which I just assume not have much practice at that unit. And two, we’ve had some different kicks at us and we haven’t hit that one that you need. A lot of times you move from 118th to 62nd with one homerun, and when you only get a couple a game and who knows how many you get down the road here, but I’d just as soon have less reps there, maybe not get as good there as you would if you had lots of practice than having more practice.
REPORTER: You’ve tried a couple different guys back there too, will you keep doing that or —
COACH TRESSEL: Really the three main guys are Brandon Saine and Ray Small and Mo Wells. Brandon was out for a little bit and Ray was out for preseason, so we’ve not gotten to the point where we said, okay, we’re just going to put one guy there and change our linemen and stuff like that, and maybe that’s continuity. A guy catching kickoffs needs reps too, and we just haven’t been consistent.
REPORTER: Jim, as good as Illinois is, Michigan’s still the red letter day on the schedule.
COACH TRESSEL: Not this week, but, yeah.
REPORTER: But your team has done a good job all year focusing on the task at hand, I’m just wondering if you have any concerns at all with Michigan so close now.
COACH TRESSEL: No, this group — I think this group really understands that we’ve got work to do. I hope they’re not in practice today thinking about Saturday. I want them to be thinking about what we have to do Saturday, but Tuesday’s different than Saturday and they’ve been good at being very attentive and staying on task.
REPORTER: It seems as though people talk about Michigan year around, that’s why.
COACH TRESSEL: Right.
REPORTER: Last year for the Illinois game, was there anything in particular their defense did to hold you guys down or did you think that maybe there was any lull in your preparation for that week, sort of what Rusty’s talking about.
COACH TRESSEL: You know, I didn’t sense any, but again, I can’t remember three days ago. I thought they played very physical and I thought we had some things that we could have executed better and we were doing pretty well for a little bit and then we hit a point in time where we lost the momentum and a lot of times, especially when we go to somebody else’s stadium, when the momentum shifts, it’s hard to get it back because of the energy and so forth, and we just — we didn’t — and we may have lost a guy or two, I think. Did we lose Alex during that game? We just didn’t seem to be in sync as we went, but to their credit, they knocked us out of sync.
REPORTER: Has Juice been up and down this year?
COACH TRESSEL: Has Juice been up and down? I think he got banged in a game, and Williams, is it — how do you pronounce Number 10?
COACH TRESSEL: McGee stepped in, and gosh, there’s no difference. They do the same attack. They’re good. I think like anything else, when you get into your second year and you start getting a little bit more responsibility, it takes some time to sort out, but you look at their big wins and he has been the catalyst. Lori, we’ve got to get those guys in here, I’m sorry, one second. We’ve got a couple guys now and then we’ve got every one of those seniors after, okay? We’ve got 15 or 14 people after practice for you.
REPORTER: You’ve said that Illinois’ defensive scheme is a little different than any you’ve faced this year. They have 34 sacks on the season, is that a result of disguising, how many people they bring in the box, how often they blitz? What is it that allows them to get pressure on the quarterback?
COACH TRESSEL: There may be a number of things. One might be that sitting back there as a quarterback, you’re not sitting back and saying, oh, yeah, I’ve seen this coverage every day from the spring and the fall and so forth, so the indecision might be part of it. The guys up front are good. They are great movement guys, they stunt and so forth, they love to blitz and they do a great job blitzing.
They don’t just blitz and play man, but they zone blitz from a little bit different configuration than our team does, for instance. And so it’s not like Todd’s going to sit there this weekend and say, okay, I see this configuration, it’s just what our guys do or it’s just what Penn State does or just what Wisconsin, so it’s a little bit different, there’s a little learning curve there and perhaps that indecision. That’s one of the reasons some coaches do things a little different because football’s a game of pressure and indecision creates pressure, but a lot of it is because those guys coming after us are good.