Nov. 13, 2006
COACH TRESSEL: Well, it’s finally here, what you’ve been talking about for six weeks. We’re excited to be at this point, to have the privilege of being in the Ohio State-Michigan game and having it right here in our stadium and the whole world will be watching two outstanding football teams. I think point number one is we have to make sure we do a great job of putting on the event, great sportsmanship by all involved and we’ve got to have great effort. I’m sure the kids are going to be so excited and it’s going to be a special day, especially in terms of our seniors. We’ve got 19 seniors, of which 18 of them are fifth-year guys and they’ve invested countless hours and effort and I think represented this group tremendously well. I saw — Steve mentioned, I think they’ve got 54 wins in those five years they’ve been here whether they were playing on scout team or playing in the game, making big plays, whatever it happens to be. This has been an outstanding group and this is their last opportunity to play in Ohio Stadium, this is their last opportunity to play in the greatest game that there is, and we’re excited.
We’re playing against a great football team, everyone knows that. That’s why the room is so full. Michigan is an outstanding football team. What I like about them is that they have tremendous depth. You can see that they’re very mature, lots of Veterans in virtually all places they play with great effort, they play with great toughness and they do all the fundamental things so well. They block well. They tackle well. They’re so competitive along the lines. They have a great senior kicker. You can start with the defensive side of things, I think their front is as good as any front we’ve seen the entire year. Their linebackers are veterans with Crable and Burgess and Harris and those guys that have been there forever and doing a tremendous job. Their secondary, they roll in about seven different guys that are very, very talented both as tackles and cover guys is what is impressive to me.
And if you flip it over to their offensive side up front, I think they’re powerful, they play low. What do you say about Hart? Just an outstanding guy, both as a runner and as a pass receiver. Their fullback, to me is underrated. He’s a guy that there’s not much glory in playing full back these days and he keeps pounding up in there. And of course their corps of receivers are outstanding, great skill, great size, great blockers. I think when you watch the film, you can’t lose sight of the fact what a great job they do blocking and they’re led by a veteran quarterback and he does a great job. He’s highly efficient, ranked in the top two or three in passing efficiency in the conference and he just does an outstanding job there. Their tight ends are big and strong and across the board, that’s why they’re 11-0, they’re an outstanding football team and our guys are anxious to compete with them and it’s exciting to be apart of this week. I suppose I should have mentioned last week’s game, but we haven’t thought much about it and so just being honest.
REPORTER: Jim, Troy always seems to step up in the bigger games. What is it about him or players like him that are able to do that?
COACH TRESSEL: Troy Smith is highly competitive. Joe Daniels and I were sitting in the office watching film early this morning and he came in with his — I don’t know what he had on, I don’t want to give a commercial out but he came in with whatever breakfast food he had there and came in and says, what are we looking at and almost grabbed the clicker to take over. He just loves competition. He’s got great respect for the guys he’s playing against because he’s played against them before and he has great respect for what they’ve accomplished and I think he just gets excited about competitive situations.
REPORTER: Why don’t you think a Big Ten quarterback has won the Heisman, I think in the modern era, does that say how competitive the conference is.
COACH TRESSEL: Gosh, I didn’t know that, the modern era.
REPORTER: Yeah, Les Horvath, I guess.
COACH TRESSEL: You know, I don’t know. That’s a good question. The Big Ten has had a lot of good quarterbacks. There are some good ones playing in the NFL and I don’t know the answer to that.
REPORTER: Can you talk about what Troy Smith does well, what you like about him, maybe some comments or words that come to mind when you think of Troy Smith?
COACH TRESSEL: When you think of Troy, the first thing that comes to my mind is leadership, probably the second thing is competitiveness, and maybe the third thing that jumps up to me about Troy is his hunger to be in command of what’s going on. He wants to know, we might have been sitting there this morning talking about a coverage and he’d say, you know, that was nickel, that wasn’t just cover whatever, that was nickel cover whatever. And he’s just got a hunger for knowledge.
REPORTER: Jim, what’s he been like in fourth quarter of the last two Michigan games, though, on the sidelines when you’re talking to him and stuff? What’s been his demeanor.
COACH TRESSEL: Kind of like, hey, get a play called so that I can go out there. He wants to have the ball in his hands. He wants to make a difference. He cares and maybe the first word that should have popped into my mind because I think it’s so true is that he cares so deeply for his teammates and he wants something good to happen for them. And I guess that’s the leadership part, but he wants the ball in his hands and he wants to get going.
REPORTER: You’ve won four of five against Michigan, are we reading too much into that, that you might have some answer that other coaches have not had or —
COACH TRESSEL: I was watching film this morning. I don’t have any answers at this moment, I’ll tell you that. No, there’s — Troy Smith spins and runs 46 yards, now come on, I don’t have any answers. I think our guys play hard. They have for however many years. The Ohio State-Michigan game has gone on and sometimes you come up on the good end, sometimes you don’t. But if anyone pretends to think they have the answer, they’ve got a problem.
REPORTER: Can you let that get to you if you’re the team that’s losing. I know Ohio State went through that period during the ’90s where it seemed like no matter what they did they came up three or four points short. After a while, does that play in your mind that you’re expecting something bad to happen?
COACH TRESSEL: I don’t think so. You’re so engrossed in the situation and you’re so busy trying to figure it out and trying to do what’s best for your players in terms of how can we put them in the best position and I don’t even think you have time to — whether it’s going good or whether it’s going bad, you’re always nervous about how is it going to go, so —
REPORTER: Talk about the role of coaches in this series, obviously coaches’ names or coaches’ reputations have been made and broken here all the way back to Woody, are coaches given too much credit or too much blame either way?
COACH TRESSEL: Oh, I’m sure that’s true. Not unlike the quarterback sometimes gets blamed for things and maybe there wasn’t good protection or a ball was dropped here or there, and the same as with a coach. And I know that it’s about our role is what our staff does, and then there’s a role that all the players have and there’s a role that the scout team guys have and so forth. What I hope that we can do as the staff is play our role the best we possibly can and get our guys in the best position and give them a chance, but we’re probably given too much credit when all goes well.
REPORTER: Also isn’t it also the coach’s role to set a tone for the big games?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, it can be, certainly. I’m sure there are times when we thought that we had things perfectly, you know, the tone set just right and the right ideas and so forth and you look out there and say, hey, they’re not playing that defense or they’re not running those routes, so you throw away those thoughts and tones, but we do have a role in setting the tone because our young people look to us for guidance, they look to our seniors for guidance, and those senior guys set the tone probably more strongly than we do as coaches, because they hear our sermons constantly, but when Troy Smith or Brandon Mitchell mentions something in the DB room, those guys are glued in, because he’s out there doing it.
REPORTER: Do you remember the first time that you really might have had a recollection of a Michigan-Ohio State game.
COACH TRESSEL: The first time you mean watching it or being in it.
REPORTER: Watching it, let’s say.
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, I’ve mentioned a number of years here of my dad being a coach in the Division III level, we were typically done by the time that the Ohio State-Michigan came to be it used to be about the first time I saw my dad in the light of day. And we got to watch the game and he was a huge Buckeye fan and probably the most important thing to me was I got a chance to be with him and watch it, and of course here he was rooting for his team so that became my team.
REPORTER: What’s it like coaching this game? You’ve had five games, what’s it like being out there? It’s got to be an unbelievable feeling, can you talk about that?
COACH TRESSEL: It’s a tremendous feeling. You can feel the electricity and the energy and you can’t quantify it, but you can feel it. I remember my first game as an assistant thinking I was preparing for just another game as a coach, and then all of a sudden you got into the environment, and I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t worth a hoot probably the first quarter because I was just in awe of the feeling. I probably wasn’t worth a hoot in the fourth quarter either, but it’s just a tremendous feeling to be a part of something that so many people are excited about and so many people count it special, I don’t know who else gets to sit at home with their dad and watch that game, I got an email from a guy that he’s flying to Las Vegas to watch the game with his son because he couldn’t get tickets to the game, and flying home that night, but he just wants to be with his son and I can relate to that and it’s special.
REPORTER: What’s the feeling about being 4-1 against Michigan?
COACH TRESSEL: It has nothing to do with 2006, that’s the biggest feeling.
REPORTER: Jim, you mentioned earlier, Troy spinning away and making a play, that kind of thing, against a defense this good, how often does it come down to a player maybe making plays that aren’t designed a certain way but it’s a guy creating on his own under duress and finding a way?
COACH TRESSEL: I think a lot of battles happen that way, that somebody’s going to break a tackle, somebody’s going to go up and grab a ball in the air that maybe wasn’t perfectly thrown or the coverage was perfect, but someone makes a play. I think that happens a lot when you’re getting in a battle like this one.
REPORTER: Do you find yourself, though, almost counting on that when you’ve got Troy Smith? I know you X and O, but those are really —
COACH TRESSEL: You know, you really don’t. Everything you X and O about you think might have a chance, and some of them do and some of them don’t. But you do know the thing about Troy is that he’s going to be careful with the football and he has the capability of making something happen with the football that you had no design involved with. Now, the thing that you like about him is that he doesn’t go under center with that thought in mind, he goes under center, he’s going to read the progression of what’s going on and if it was a bad call, who knows, he might think under his breath, boy, this is a great call, and I might have to do something, but you don’t ever sit back and say, well, you know, Troy’s going to do something or Pittman’s going to break three tackles on this play so who cares who we block it. But it is part of the game, you’ve got to — if you want to win the game, somebody’s going to have to make some special plays, and when you talk about legacies, there’s lots of people on both sides of the rivalry that are remembered by the plays they made in this game.
REPORTER: Jim, talking about Troy again, the wrap he’s been wearing on his thumb, do you think that’s affected him at all in games or do you think — have you done anything in practice to limit his reps at all?
COACH TRESSEL: No, he hasn’t missed a rep at all. I don’t know that it’s — from Troy, you can never get whether or not — to him, it never bothers him. He gets it wrapped, it’s obvious, but I think there will be so much adrenaline and so much flowing through his thumb down to his big toe that he’s not going to feel anything.
REPORTER: Chris Wells, did he pass a test from you, perhaps, this past weekend and how important would he be against a great rushing defense like the one you’re going to face?
COACH TRESSEL: I think Chris Wells is a big part of who we want to be and our chance of succeeding, because he’s a guy that’s very talented. He’s gotten to the point now where there’s not anything that he hasn’t experienced. He’s experienced some of the passing game. He’s experienced being in big games, Big Ten games, going through the test of time that endure of going every week and learning a different game plan and here’s what they do defensively. Until you experience it once, you don’t know what’s going to happen the next week, but I’m counting on Chris Wells to be a great contributor.
REPORTER: Do you have to run the ball effectively in order to win the game?
COACH TRESSEL: Oh, I think you do. Anytime. It’s one of the things we talk about every week is who wins the battle of the trenches and the rush yards and the rush defense is the greatest indication of that and that’s why you have to be so impressed with Michigan. Just look at their numbers. You don’t even have to look at their film, look at their numbers.
REPORTER: What concerns you the most about them of all the concerns you have? Is there one that sticks out when you’re playing this game.
COACH TRESSEL: What concerns us the most about Michigan? Oh, they’re good. They’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn every inch that you get. You’re going to have to play tremendous gap control defense and you better cover every zone and the whole thing. You better be spotless. But that’s not a concern, that’s something that you know. I don’t think there’s anything that concerns me about this game, we’ve just got to get excited to be out there and play and we’ve got to play well because Michigan’s going to play well.
REPORTER: Jim, you talk about the numbers, giving up 30 yards a game on the ground and you talk about the importance of developing your own running game, how do you game plan for a defense that that’s solid against the run.
COACH TRESSEL: That’s what we’re doing right now.
REPORTER: I know it’s a secret, but give us some indication.
COACH TRESSEL: No secret. If I even told you I had some of those secrets already. This is Monday, and that’s what we’re working on and that’s what you have to come up with is a way you’re competing against people and the ones we’re playing against are the best.
REPORTER: Do you sense Alex Boone will be back Saturday?
COACH TRESSEL: Oh, yeah, I think so.
REPORTER: Is Kurt Coleman?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, Coleman, Boone, and Brandon Smith is still out, Anderson Russell is still out, D’Andrea, of course. Quinn Pitcock’s okay, David Patterson is fine. We’re in game 12, 12 games in a row, I have no complaints.
REPORTER: Jim, with the magnitude of this game, how gratifying is it to be playing it in Columbus?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, it’s special for our seniors. When you have this many guys that have played this long and toiled so much and they’ve done so many things, so many of them have already graduated, so many of them have already made an impact in the community, they’ve done so much while they’ve been here and for their senior year to have this game here, it’s real special.
REPORTER: How much do you think the home field advantage of playing at Ohio Stadium will help the Buckeyes?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, I hope the home field advantage helps a great deal. I hope our crowd is tremendously loud. I hope it provides the energy that can raise us up to the level — in a game like this, you better play better than you are. And if our crowd can help raise us up playing better than we are, I think that’s a great advantage and we’re looking forward to that.
REPORTER: Jim, you mentioned earlier how important Chris Wells is to the running game. Do you feel after he was under much scrutiny last week with the issues as of late, do you feel he’s back on track? And also, how important is Mo Wells?
COACH TRESSEL: I think all three of those guys are important. Pittman would get the most carries in a perfect world, with good health and so forth. Chris would probably get the next most and Mo the third most, but when you say is he back on track, I hope so. I thought he did a good job running. I teased him a little bit Sunday about stumbling a little bit because he could have had one to the house, but he’s a good back and he’s going to be even better as time goes and we need him to have a great game.
REPORTER: Jim, after losing so many starters on defense, what was your expectation for your defense coming into this season and how would you assess them?
COACH TRESSEL: My expectations were knowing the defensive staff that we have, knowing the type of kids that we have, is that I expected them to roll their sleeves up and try to get good at their craft. And I knew they’d have good leadership, Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson and Joel Penton up front and Brandon Mitchell and Antonio Smith, you can’t mention the progress we’ve had in 2006 without mentioning Antonio Smith. With that leadership kind of surrounding the rest with their sleeves rolled up going to work, I think they’ve progressed.
REPORTER: As much as Laurinaitis has meant to the defense this year, in retrospect, how big was it that he got thrust into the Michigan game the last two years because of Bobby’s injuries?
COACH TRESSEL: I think anytime you get experience like the opportunities James had against Michigan and then got to play the entire bowl game, that’s huge. Practice, we can get as close to game-like as humanly possible, but it’s not the game. We try to have fast tempo and we try to make it as life-like as it can be, but getting that game opportunity, tremendous.
REPORTER: How much better is he now than he was then?
COACH TRESSEL: Oh, he’s significantly better. He’s experienced so many things. He’s played 11 more games now and 40, 50, 60 snaps a game over 11 games, he’s learned a lot.
REPORTER: Are you somewhat insulated or do you choose to be insulated from some of the stuff that goes on this week leading up to the game, there’s so much hysteria out there, and words bantered about, do you get involved in that or do you just tell people, hey, keep this stuff away from me?
COACH TRESSEL: We’re pretty insulated, which we’re insulated every week. That’s the life we live is one of insulation. It’s exciting. You can feel it, though. You can feel the energy about it. It’s fun. And so we’re a part of it too, we just have a different part of it.
REPORTER: Woody and Bo seemed to have a great rivalry but there was also a psychological gamesmanship, is it like that with Lloyd Carr, or is it just straightforward when you meet him before the game?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, we’ve only met a few times at games and obviously I’ve known him for years in the profession and we have opportunities to be together in meetings and that type of thing and I don’t see any gamesmanship on his part, I would hope he doesn’t see any on mine. We’re both trying to run programs to be the best they can be and he’s done a pretty good job.
REPORTER: Jim, along that line, the relationship between Ohio State and Michigan is different, I suspect, than anyone else on your schedule. Is it natural that the relationship between the coach at Ohio State and the coach at Michigan is different than any other relationship you have with any other coach?
COACH TRESSEL: Not really. I don’t get any more time with Coach Carr, I don’t get any less, and I have great respect for every coach in our league and every coach that I happen to know over these many, many years and there might be a little bit more understanding on my part knowing exactly what he’s living every day, because the expectations are tremendous. Just like ours are. So there might be a little bit more feeling from that standpoint, but no — we’re so busy, we don’t have a whole bunch of time to feel. But the thing that I do know about Coach Carr and one of the kids in this class, I remember way back when we were both recruiting him, and I’ll never forget this, because it was like my second recruiting year, I remember Coach Carr, I didn’t hear him say that, but the youngster told me five years ago, he said, you know, one thing you want to make sure you do is you want to go to one of these two schools because this is the greatest rivalry in college football and you want to be a part of that. And that was my first time being in this seat and him in that seat and I was tremendously impressed with his feeling for what Ohio State and Michigan are both all about.
REPORTER: Will your future be based on how you do in this game?
REPORTER: Did you have any rematches or how did you feel about those.
COACH TRESSEL: Rematches.
REPORTER: When you had a 1-AA playoffs, did you have to play a team you’d already played in the regular season?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah.
REPORTER: The whole dynamics of it.
COACH TRESSEL: I felt good about it because we were at the third round and we were still in there. I felt even better about it when we won in the last play of the game.
REPORTER: Who was it against.
COACH TRESSEL: Eastern Kentucky.
REPORTER: Did you beat them during the season?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah.
REPORTER: Was it more difficult to prepare for a second time? Did you feel like they had the psychological edge or anything?
COACH TRESSEL: Gosh, I don’t know. When we won and they won, we didn’t spend any time figuring out if it was difficult, we went to work. They were a great team, but it’s always difficult playing great teams.
REPORTER: Jim, should a coach’s future be based on his success or lack thereof in this game?
COACH TRESSEL: In part, your success in everything you do, dictates your future, so I guess the obvious answer to the question is yes.
REPORTER: What makes the rivalry singular to you?
COACH TRESSEL: Singular.
COACH TRESSEL: It’s the one I know the best. Growing up with it, having been an assistant coach within it, and now being a part of it, I can’t fathom anything else being like it, from my perspective.
REPORTER: Jim, watching that rivalry as a kid, then, did you not only like Ohio State, did you really dislike Michigan?
COACH TRESSEL: No, I liked them both, but I just liked Ohio State better.
REPORTER: You can really like both Ohio State and Michigan?
COACH TRESSEL: I think if you like the game of football, you can.
REPORTER: Once you knew you wanted to follow in your dad’s footsteps, did you envision yourself coaching in this game before it became a reality?
COACH TRESSEL: No.
REPORTER: You mentioned the electricity that you can generally feel during the week, is there any difference, given the fact that the stakes are a Big Ten championship and a trip to the National Championship game this year 11-0, or is the game, Ohio State-Michigan enough? Is the game extra electricity or —
COACH TRESSEL: The only electricity I feel at this moment extra is the fact that I’ve known these fifth-year seniors for so long and seen what they’ve done on our behalf. So really to me what it’s about is it’s about those guys and this game and what happens after that seems like a long way from now, because what’s important is it’s the last time they get to step out there and it happens to be in this game.
REPORTER: You mentioned that you liked them both and every year we hear both sides, coaches and players, former players, talk on and on about the respect that they have for each other and that’s all valid, but the fact is, outside the football programs, there’s a real hatred out there. Why do you think people in Ohio hate Michigan so much?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, I think it’s kind of a nice release to be so passionate about something. I don’t know if dispassionate is a word, about something else, but that’s your team and that’s who you’re rooting for. I guess, I don’t know.
REPORTER: With your single-minded focus, have you thought about the ramifications of a victory, outright Big Ten title, National Championship game, also that you probably are going to go to a BCS bowl win or lose, are any of those things in your mind or is it all Michigan-Ohio State.
COACH TRESSEL: Right now it’s all Ohio State-Michigan and a bunch of seniors who — my mind just whirls back to the fact that, I remember when we were recruiting them and I remember when they were on the scout team and I remember when they got their first little bit of playing time, when the light went on on certain things and you just kind of — when you get to the end, that’s the beauty of — I’ve always said, there’s two things that make this game so important, one is it’s Ohio State-Michigan, and two, it’s the last regular season game and there’s something about that. So here we are at the last time for these guys and the bowl is a whole different world. That’s a different season unto itself, but this is the end of this season and to me, that’s what it’s about.
REPORTER: While your mind is whirling, think back to 2002 about that game and what that game meant?
COACH TRESSEL: While I’ve got my mind open.
REPORTER: Yeah, I read that was the greatest Ohio State victory in this game and stuff, but I’m just wondering, do you remember what you felt coming off the field that day? I don’t know if satisfaction, completion, obviously you were going to the National Championship game, but what did you feel?
COACH TRESSEL: Boy, that was such a hard fought battle, it ends up with one second left on the clock, you know, I don’t know. I can’t remember what I felt.
REPORTER: With everything at stake, where does the outright Big Ten title fit in, in terms of what you can achieve?
COACH TRESSEL: Oh, that’s huge. We haven’t had an outright Big Ten title since 1984 and we’ve had a number of co-championships and so forth, but that’s huge. Now, where does it rank in comparison to the real things? Below them, but it’s big.
REPORTER: When you have a place with such —
COACH TRESSEL: We have an anarchy here or whatever with my open mind, this is tough. Go ahead.
REPORTER: When you have a place like this where there’s such history and such tradition, do you find that each team seems to find their niche in that history in winning an out right Big Ten title or going wire to wire as a number one possibly would be something that this team could do that not many other or no other Ohio State teams have done?
COACH TRESSEL: I think all teams or all individuals have a goal that they would like to be remembered and they would like to leave a legacy and primarily from one another, because they know everyone has worked so hard together, but also from themselves. They like to be able to say, hey, I was on that whatever, 2002 team or I was on that ’68 team, so absolutely people desire to leave a legacy.
REPORTER: Just following up, do you think to play in the National Championship game a team should have to win their conference?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah.
REPORTER: Just philosophically?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah.
REPORTER: Why, because there is a very real chance the loser in this game could finish second in the Big Ten and play for the National Championship?
COACH TRESSEL: The thing we say as we go into every year, if you want a chance to play for the National Championship, you better make the assumption that you need to win every game in college division I-A conference and be a champion and that’s the way we enter it and hadn’t thought about it, but you asked the question so I gave you the short answer, I guess.
REPORTER: Is there something you can do to help your team alleviate the pressure? Has this ever been bigger? Or is this kind of what’s inside them that —
COACH TRESSEL: I think all the kids will handle it differently. The guys playing for the last time have a different set of circumstances. The guys younger who might not even be getting into the game, they’ll probably be just staring around the stadium. There’s such a broad view of how they’ll handle it, but I promise you this, every one of them will remember it, and you talk about a privilege to play in a game like the Ohio State-Michigan game, forget our records, and then to play in one where the records are as they are, I think every one of the kids will remember it forever and everyone will handle it differently, but it will be an exciting day for all of us.