Oct. 5, 2004
TRESSEL: I consider the primary responsibility of the coach to make sure that we prepare ourselves to do what we need to do to be successful each time we take the field and I guess before anyone would ask what is it that I’m most concerned about, I always like to start with what I’m most concerned about that I can do something about. I was disappointed that we did not have that preparation to play the best we were capable of playing and do the things that we needed to do to win.
I think the other responsibility that, as I sit back and analyze and think what can we do better is, I think it’s important that we be able to make it crystal clear what the difficulty of the challenge is, and I don’t know that we did as good a job of that. I think Northwestern can be a very, very good football team and proved that on Saturday night and I’m not sure that I did as good a job of getting the point across as to how difficult that challenge was going to be as we took the road against a good, solid Big Ten football team. So that’s obviously a concern.
We talk a lot and we’ve talked with this group about the fact that there are certain things that you need to do if you want to win on the road against a good team and we always start with the fact that we need to be superior in our special teams. Unfortunately, as we evaluate the outcome of the special teams battles, we had our poorest punt production that we’ve had all season. On our punt return game, we did come up with the one big play that could have been the spark that turned the ball game around with Santonio’s return, some great blocking leading the way and so forth, but unfortunately, we had some penalties on that group as well that gave us poorer field position than we needed. Our kickoff coverage allowed one out the gate to mid field which turned the field position and again, in a tight game, every single drive start is critical and we didn’t do quite as good a job there.
I thought our kickoff return unit did a good job. The one time they kicked it to us, Mo Hall brought it out across mid field which was a tremendous spark for us. The other times they chipped it and pooched it just as we expected and tried hard not to have us have a chance and we handled all those situations and I think our average start after a kickoff return was out near the 40 yard line which is pretty darn good. Obviously we missed a field goal that we would rather not have happen if we want to win the special teams, and we probably didn’t have as much field goal pressure on their kicker as we needed to force misses. Those are the things that you need to do to win the special teams. So the first part of what you need to do, we didn’t get done. We always talk about playing relentless defense and just continuing to come and come and play disciplined and play in our gaps and tackle well and all of those things if you’re going to win on the road. We probably didn’t have as good a performance there as we’ve had all season which is obviously disappointing to us.
Over on the offensive side, we talk about being mistake-free. We had a receiver open for a touchdown and we had someone not get their job done and all of a sudden a route that could have been a touchdown was an interception and we also had a fumble at mid field right before the half which allowed them to move and go take control of the game 13-10 as we ended the first half. We had some opportunities on offense that we just didn’t get them done, so if you put together all of the parts of what you need to do to win the game, we didn’t do those, so it’s not a mystery to me why we didn’t win.
I guess the thing that I need to work hard on is making sure that we do the things that we need to do and understand what it takes to win tough ball games on the road in the Big Ten. The great news, though, is that we had a tremendous opportunity this weekend when we have the top ranked team or the first-place team or whatever you would say in Wisconsin coming into our stadium. Wisconsin’s got a tremendous veteran team. I think 18 or 19 starters back, 12 or 13 of them are seniors. They play well. They’ve played a lot of games. They’ve had a lot of moments, both pros and cons in their careers and they play with a lot of tremendous confidence and understanding of what needs to get done to win football games and it will be a great challenge for us to see if we can match up understanding the difficulty of the task, understanding what needs to be done if we’re going to win the football game and climb back in the race in the Big Ten conference which is really important to all of us.
We did have some guys grade winning performances this past weekend, not many. I think we had a handful. I think Mike Kne and Nick Mangold. We had A.J. Hawk and Quinn Pitcock and a couple of those guys were awarded with players of the game. The special teams player of the game was Santonio Holmes for his big play on the punt return touchdown. The offensive player of the game was Nick Mangold who played a very solid game. The defensive player of the game was A.J. Hawk who had an 87% grade and double digit tackles and did an excellent job there, some pass break-ups. And the attack force player was Quinn Pitcock, who did an excellent job there in the trenches. So we had some guys grade winning performances, but not enough to win in a good Big Ten football game. Some of those guys are with us today. Justin Zwick, I thought, progressed well, did some things that show me that every day he’s learning a little bit more about what it takes to run the show, what it takes to get the job done, and we all know how talented he is, and as we’ve said from the get-go, experience is the greatest teacher if you’re willing to learn from your experiences. And he’s been doing a great job of learning from his experiences and he’ll continue to have tough experiences with the next one coming. I think Wisconsin’s given up two touchdowns this year in five games, which is pretty darn good. So I know Justin’s looking forward to that. And Bam Childress has risen up as a leader on that offensive group. He’s a passionate guy, he’ll run through a wall to win a game. A.J. Hawk was tied up with a class. He was originally scheduled to be here and had to stay put in a class. So with that, questions?
REPORTER: In your opening statement, you said something about you weren’t sure you prepared as well as you could have. I wonder, given the off week, looking back on what you did work on during that off period, maybe what mistakes did you make in preparation and what was lacking in your preparation?
TRESSEL: Well, I think whenever you evaluate yourself, you evaluate it based upon the results and then you look back and say, you know, what could I have done differently, what could we have done differently, was there anything from an approach standpoint and you always make decisions as to how you’re going to approach things based upon your experiences approaching them, and then go back and now you have more to add to your data bank, if you will. Is there anything that I would jump up and say, hey, we should have done this or we should have done that? No, I don’t think so. We just needed to do it better and that’s the key to trying to seek excellence is to gain a sense of consistency, do things better and better and better, do them well enough to be successful and we didn’t do that. So the first thing you do is you go evaluate, and they’re not big things typically, they’re usually little things, and that’s — we’re not afraid to say we need to do that.
REPORTER: Coach, did some of the players seem kind of shocked, I guess, Saturday? I mean, where do you think the team is mentally and what’s the challenge psychologically, I guess, this week to get them back, ready to go?
TRESSEL: You know, I think anytime you look at any one of us and we look shocked, you know, whatever that means, I would bet that’s more of a look of disappointment in not doing as well as you’re capable of doing. That’s usually when you have the blankest expression on your face is when you know that you didn’t do what we needed done for the group. So I don’t know if I would term that shocked or I would term that just kind of looking inward. Sometimes if you’re looking inward, you look funny outside, and I think all of us are and were looking inward saying, you know what, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t do the best. I know I may have looked shocked and I can assure you it was because I was disappointed I didn’t do my part.
REPORTER: Why was it Northwestern had so much success moving the ball? Was it counters, misdirection or exactly what was it after you looked at the films?
TRESSEL: I think part of it was that they did well. I think part of it was we didn’t do as well as we needed to do. I don’t think it was all of one or the other. I don’t think we were terrible nor do I think they were mistake-free. I thought they did a nice job of doing what they do when they did it. I thought they mixed in their run it straight at you with their misdirection, with their pass game. The quarterback, I thought, made good decisions. You might be standing there talking in a different tune if a couple balls that we had a chance to pick, we pick and maybe they go the other way and that’s how games hinge, but I think it’s a combination of they did an excellent job within the consistency and the discipline of what they do and we didn’t do as well within that consistency and discipline of what we do.
REPORTER: In the aftermath of Saturday night’s game, Coach Bollman seems to be taking a lot of criticism for his role as offensive coordinator and for the offensive line’s performance. I wonder, can you take us through who calls the play, how the plays are called and I wonder if you’re confident in the techniques the offensive line is being taught to block.
TRESSEL: Well, I would have to say that I’m not an expert in offensive line technique and never spent a day there in my life, but to answer the question, am I confident, absolutely. As to who calls plays or whatever, hopefully you have a plan going in and you stick with that plan unless all of a sudden they’re doing some things that you weren’t expecting, which happens every week and you need to adjust from a different standpoint. You see something that seems to be the best things for the people that you have in the ball game or the best way to deploy. And then all of those discussions, when we’re on the field, happen within a group of coaches and when we’re off the field, probably the greatest contributors to what are we going to do are those guys that come off the field and say, hey, here’s what they’re doing. In fact, the one play I was talking about that could have been a touchdown, Bam Childress called that play and he was exactly right. That’s the play that should have been called and that should have been a touchdown if we would have executed it. So it’s a little bit of a combination and, you know, I’m not sure how many years ago the title of offensive coordinator began but it became so and so calls every play, you know, type thing and I’m sure the people that are most uncomfortable with that are the offensive coordinators because they know they sit around with three or four other guys all week long who have every bit the contribution to that and I would think that obviously Jim Bollman knows, just as the head coach knows or the leaders of the team know that whoever are in those positions, that’s who’s going to catch the heat. Justin Zwick knows that it’s going to be, man, I can’t believe we threw that interception and you accept that and you go.
REPORTER: I assume somebody has a final — somebody in the end makes a play call, is that routinely Jim or is that you or —
TRESSEL: Well, we give the signal. I give the signal to Troy Smith, let’s take this last game, or Justin may come over, or someone may go in with it, but the final line of communication, which is the way it should be, the buck stops here, is I give it to the person that is supposed to communicate.
REPORTER: Jim, someone suggested internet and calls and stuff, you guys might be better off thinking you were 14-0 offensively because they like the way you throw the ball and stuff, what are you doing right now offensively and obviously what needs work?
TRESSEL: Well, I would say this. I don’t know that there’s anything that we’re doing right now that is to the level we would like it to be. I think that we’re improving as a pass protection team which will allow us to improve as a passing team. I think our quarterback is every moment, every opportunity he has to see something has got that into his arsenal as to, he’s been there before and he knows what we need to do with the ball and so forth. I think our receivers are coming along from that standpoint, so that’s the way I would talk to the pass game. Run-wise, I think that obviously we’re lacking consistency there. We haven’t had any of those breakout runs where all of a sudden outside of the first game, Cincinnati game, we were doing okay, but then all of a sudden we had one of those 68-yard runs that gets the ball rolling and gets the confidence going and I don’t know that we’ve had that confidence bang on the run game side whereas we’ve had it on the pass game side. And I guess the other thing I better say, especially because Justin’s here, to me, one of the greatest things that is evolving and has evolved and I don’t know if it’s part of the run game or the pass game, is Justin Zwick stepping up and making things happen with the football in his hands. That’s why Kyle Orton’s so good. That’s why Basanez is so good. That’s why Elway was so good. That’s why Joe Montana was so good. That’s why Favre was so good. And to see Justin recognizing opportunities and to go and hurt the defense, there’s nothing more frustrating, I’m sure Quinn could tell you, to have the good pass rush, have them all covered and have the quarterback leak out of there and get 17. That is as devastating on the defense as anything, so I think that’s a step in the right direction.
REPORTER: In the game, it looked like you moved away from Lydell a little bit the second half and got Branden Joe.
TRESSEL: I gave you that scoop last Tuesday. I told you we were going to play Lydell and Antonio.
REPORTER: A mix of all those guys carrying the ball going forward or —
TRESSEL: Yeah, I would anticipate that going forward. When you look at the good run teams, they’re bringing multiple backs at you and if you get your run game going, you need to, so, yeah, I would anticipate that and really look forward to that.
REPORTER: And what you just said about Justin, I wonder, can you be a little bit more specific in what you see that you like. I mean, the flip side, I think, of his performance —
TRESSEL: You want me to tell you which plays I like so you know which —
REPORTER: I think the naysayers have said he’s turned it over twice in three out of four games and you said after the North Carolina State game the number one thing you want to do on offense is not turn it over.
TRESSEL: Well, you asked me the things I liked and I told you that. Now are you asking me what we’ve got to get better at?
REPORTER: I’m asking you in Justin’s evolving as a quarterback which you’ve spoken highly of today, how do you separate the two or when do you know you see enough on the plus side to outweigh the stuff on the negative?
TRESSEL: I guess you’ll always find me talking more about the plus side because it shows what we have the ability to do. The things on the minus side, you know, we’re going to work on to get better, and not unlike gaining consistency in the run game, we’ve got to gain consistency in not turning it over. One of the four games, we were good in that category, and it was a victory against a solid football team. So now do we have to be better than one out of four, absolutely. Can we? Yes. Will we? We plan on it.
REPORTER: Coach, defensively —
REPORTER: The last couple years, Ohio State’s done a very good job of stopping the run, not quite as much success so far this year. How much of that is attributed to the personnel that you lost last year on defense and how much of it is the way the teams have taxed you? How do you see your run defense, I guess, at this stage of the season heading into a team like Wisconsin?
TRESSEL: I think you’d have to say that this would be a great indicator and answer to that question. This is the first run-first team we will have played. I thought Cincinnati did an excellent job with their balance. Now, they didn’t have great success running, but at least that was their attack. Marshall, I thought, started it off with the pass and did a good job mixing in their running and gained a little balance there in the latter stages of the game. North Carolina State, kind of led with the pass and had a little spurt of running, but it wasn’t enough. This team will make you stop at running. So the assessment will be on Saturday at 3:30, but I think our guys will be up for the task.
REPORTER: Would you go back to the overtime; any thoughts about the first play? It kind of put you behind the deep ball a little bit distance-wise and maybe set up what came after that and obviously Santonio dropped the pass after that, but anything about what transpired in that series, I guess, when you had the football in overtime?
TRESSEL: Well, there’s three things because there were three plays. One, I would have liked to have gained four yards on the first play, and we didn’t. Secondly, I would have liked to have completed the second pass and had been first and goal on the eight and could have, didn’t. And then the third down, if I had it to do over again, I think I would have had the quarterback in more of a freedom situation to decide on his protection, which then decides on how many people you get out in your route. And if I had that one to do over again, I think I would have made that decision come out on the field, which Justin has done a pretty good job of making those decisions out on the field, so that’s your autopsy of that.
REPORTER: Jim, Lydell and Antonio both got the same number of carries Saturday night, and Antonio, I think, got six in the fourth quarter, Lydell none. I just wonder if that represents a change in your mind in terms of what order you want to go with those guys or how would you describe your tailback situation right now?
TRESSEL: I think there’s good competition there and there’s not enough production there, and that’s not a slam at Lydell or at Antonio. Production happens to be a universal issue. And I think Branden Joe adds a little different dimension as we go forward. I hope that that competition leads to production. As long as the rest of us do our part as well, coaches and guys up front and receiver blocking, and there is no part of the game that isn’t important, and that’s what’s difficult about — when you talk about this guy or that guy, it’s all in relation to the rest, but I would characterize it as, should have some good competition there which we plan on leading to increased production.
REPORTER: Jim, would you evaluate the running game, you coaches and stuff, what do you keep seeing? From the press box we keep seeing a big glob a lot of times at the point of attack. I just wonder, do you feel like you’re a little bit predictable or there are some things you’re doing that are tipping things off or is it all on the backs? You know what I mean?
TRESSEL: Were you asleep just now?
TRESSEL: Oh, okay.
REPORTER: I just wonder, what do you see?
TRESSEL: I’ve never seen what I would call a glob, but I’m not sure what a glob looks like. But what you see is all the parts that are important in production aren’t all getting done. Now, it could be a receiver one time not on a block, it could be a lineman another time. It could be a back maybe not getting it done. And I think sometimes lack of production leads to not just letting loose and playing with the zest you’d like to play. I’m sure Justin would tell you, you can’t stand there as a quarterback being worried about things. You have to stand there as a quarterback, having confidence, I know where everyone is, I know my ability, I know my receiver’s ability, I know my protection’s fine, I can’t worry about any of that, I’ve got to play. And sometimes when you don’t produce, you lose a little bit of that confidence or that feeling that, hey, this is fine, let’s go. So I don’t know if glob is any part of that.
REPORTER: Given that then as a whole, do you feel the team’s confidence is shaken a bit?
TRESSEL: Is the team’s confidence shaken? You know, that’s probably an individual thing. There may be somebody that since they’ve been playing significantly at Ohio State, they haven’t lost, like the first-year starters, and I’d like to think, and I believe that we’ve got the kind of young men that have a lot of confidence in who they are and what they can do and a lot of desire to do that for that group of people. So I suppose if you’re lacking confidence, the first time you get blasted out there against Wisconsin, you’ll forget about that and you’re going to go to work, but I think you’d have to ask each guy.
REPORTER: Do you believe that Wisconsin, having looked also at the Northwestern tape from last week, will challenge between the tackles and just run straight at you?
TRESSEL: Wisconsin’s going to do what they do. That’s who they are and what they do and a big reason why they’re 5-0 is that they’ve had a real solid run game, given up two touchdowns, which means they probably haven’t turned it over. I don’t have that number in front of me, but it’s probably they haven’t left the ball on the ground on their own end of the field a whole bunch, and they’ve made plays on defense. I think their only touchdown against Arizona was a defensive touchdown, if I’m not mistaken, so they’ve made things happen with a great defense. So, no, they’re not going to change who they are.
REPORTER: Can you discuss maybe James and Hawthorne are their two —
TRESSEL: Yeah, James was out all of last year. We faced him two years ago. He’s an outstanding player. He leads the team in sacks. He’s a great player, a great defensive end. Hawthorne, 77, a whale of a good inside player. He’s good, fast, strong. He has a lot of confidence in the guys around him so he knows if he plays his job, the rest are going to do the same. That whole group, that whole front four, I think, is seniors. And then a couple guys in the back end, number 2, is it Starks? He’s a 40-some game starter. Leonhard, I love him, he’s a great punt returner and a great safety. I don’t know how many career interceptions he has, but it’s a bunch. And that whole group, they play with good confidence. They’re tough. They know what they do. They’re not going to come out and play a different defense. They’re not going to come out and play a different offense because they know who they are and what they do and we’ll play accordingly. Their special teams are always good. Their punter — coming into the year, you might say, we need to have a new punter, but this year’s punter is better than last year’s, so they’re very good at everything they do.
REPORTER: They have been a successful team on the road the past several years in the Big Ten. They’ve won their last two, in fact. What is it about their style or what could possibly make them a dangerous —
TRESSEL: It starts out they have very good players and they have a very good system. If you go and look at the games that they’ve gone on the road and won, they’ve done those things that you have to do. Their special teams are always solid. Their defense is excellent. They don’t make mistakes with their offense and they go and win on the road. They had a little bit of a bump in the road, if you will, near the end of last season away from home, but they obviously got that squared away and are playing well away from home. That was a tough ball game in Arizona with the rainstorm and the delay and the whole thing and they just kept focused on the task at hand and won a tough ball game.
REPORTER: Are they a big blitz team or do they just man up and —
TRESSEL: No, they’re a smart blitz team. They blitz when they feel the time is right and maybe that you offensively have gotten into a rhythm where you’re not worried about the blitz and then all of a sudden they’ll catch you. No, they have a lot of confidence in their front four to get pressure and when you have that you don’t need a whole bunch of blitz.
REPORTER: Jim, you were talking about the development of Justin. If things develop now where you’re moving maybe to a different level conversation-wise with him on the sideline that you could go to now where you couldn’t the first couple of games, when you talk about his development, what does that translate to offensively?
TRESSEL: The one thing you always knew about Justin is he cognitively knew what’s going on, he’s smart. He did it for years in high school and he did it every time he got the opportunity here, whether it be in practice or whatever and the only thing that you weren’t aware of is, will that translate on the field when the new things arise. He’s got an excellent ability to know what’s happening out there and know what needs to be done next and I think he’s got a good tutor in Coach Daniels, and Joe is one of those guys who doesn’t get too crazy either direction, and he’s a difficult grader. I thought I graded the quarterbacks hard until I met Coach Daniels, he’s worse than I am. So I think the combination of Justin’s awareness and ability and talents and the fact that I think he and Joe are on the same page, and I tell you, the other thing is our receivers do a heck of a job of knowing what’s going on out there and I think that helps a quarterback.
REPORTER: I know you don’t look at the Wisconsin offense as much as you do the defense, but Anthony Davis’ impact looks to be pretty obvious based upon Saturday’s ball game. Can you make any assessment of him or what they like to do offensively?
TRESSEL: Anthony Davis has so much patience and he’s aware of how they block things. He’s very aware of how people try to stop what they do because they’ve been doing the same thing, he’s been carrying it — I don’t know how many carries he’s got in his lifetime but it’s a bunch. He’s got great patience waiting for things to happen and great confidence in what the guys in front of him are doing and then he’s got that burst and that ability to break a tackle and I don’t know, he had 200 and some this last weekend. And we’ve seen him firsthand. You might stop him for two or three plays, that doesn’t shake him. He doesn’t worry about that, he worries about the next play. That’s what a confident, experienced veteran football player does. He’s good at it.
REPORTER: Back to the preparation point you made earlier in your opening statement, did you feel that going into the game? Did you anticipate maybe? Did you see anything that you thought you didn’t feel good about in your preparation beforehand?
TRESSEL: No, I think anytime you make preparation, you go and whether it’s designed preparation or how we’re going to go about things preparation, you don’t know the results of that until you see the results of it. I’m sure I’ve gone into a lot of games saying, man, I don’t know if we’re ready and we do wonderful. And I’m sure there have been times I’ve gone into games saying, gosh, everything’s in line, we’re ready to go and it wasn’t necessarily that way. So I’ve kind of gotten away from guessing over the years and just trying to make decisions as to how we get prepared and not afraid to own up to it when we didn’t prepare the way we should have.
REPORTER: Coach, you lost or sent 14 games to the NFL so on a lot of levels, this is a young team. In many areas, very young. What about this team that you see going into Saturday makes you optimistic or like the way they’re going to respond to what happened last week, in terms of coming off the loss and turning it into a good experience, the upcoming game?
TRESSEL: I think this group, and I’ve said this, heck, all the way back in winter conditioning and spring and preseason, this group is very interested in being good, and not afraid to watch the him and say, you know what, I should have done this or I made a mistake doing that. I don’t think it’s a group that looks the other way or starts saying, if so and so would have done better or we’d be fine or — I think it’s a group that takes things very personal as to what role that they need to play if they get that privilege of playing a role on that game day or what role they need to play in the practice field or whatever. So what makes me feel like they’ll respond to the challenge is the fact that they want to be good.
REPORTER: You mentioned, I think, one of the first things you said is you weren’t sure you made it crystal clear the difficulty of the challenge at Northwestern. You’ve spoken a lot about your goal being to win an outright championship. Do you think that not understanding the difficulty of the challenge would be a problem any longer since it seems like this one would be a must game if you want to continue to entertain hopes of winning a conference championship outright?
TRESSEL: Well, you know, I would like to think that. We talked a lot going into last year about the difficulty of the challenge of being the defending national champions and how much harder it’s going to be. And whatever the scenario happens to be, we need to talk about and internalize and thoroughly understand the difficulty of the challenge and my comment about that was I don’t know that I did a very good job of getting that done. Now, can you measure that? No. Is that true? I’m not sure. You know, I’d like to think whenever we visit together with this nice group we tell you how we feel and I never said that we were right, but that’s just a feeling I have, is that I’m not sure I got across how difficult it is to go on the road and play a good team in the Big Ten and do the things that you need to do. Obviously we didn’t, because we didn’t do them. Thank you much.