Oct. 25, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. I know it’s a sensitive subject, but can you address the Jaamal Berry situation.
COACH FICKELL: Well, with the situation, obviously it’s something that’s ongoing. Believe me, we have to let things take its course.
I tell you this, I know we represent in everything we do something much bigger than ourselves, that’s coaches, players. Nothing goes unseen.
Wherever we are, on the field, off the field, we represent a group much larger than ourselves. Everyone on the team understands that. We take that very seriously.
Don’t be mistaken that we aren’t looking into it and we’re taking it very seriously.
Q. Will he play this week?
COACH FICKELL: We’re looking into it and we take this very seriously. There’s nothing we don’t think about that’s much more important in this entire group than how we represent this team.
Q. Did you watch the Wisconsin/Michigan State game? Your initial reaction when you saw the pass?
COACH FICKELL: I was probably about 45 minutes to an hour into sleep by then. I did not stay up. I’ve probably seen it five, six, seven times now. Obviously an unbelievable play. Something you work on each and every week.
That’s what games come down to. It’s somebody making a play. You can say it’s one person not doing his job or another person doing a heck of a job. Again, it’s an unbelievable play, but it’s part of the football game.
Q. Based on your experiences as a coach, how does a team come back from that? Do you think Wisconsin will be down because of that?
COACH FICKELL: I wouldn’t expect them to be down one bit. Obviously it’s hard. What’s harder? I don’t know what you could say that’s harder. Whether you have a 21-point lead, end up getting rolled, whether you have a last-second play on the last play of the game.
A loss is a loss and it’s hard no matter how they happen. The sign of a program is getting back up and continuing to battle. I think that’s what you’ll see. Just like any good program, good team, sometimes that’s a wake-up call and burns that fire in your belly a little bit more.
Q. With Dominic Clarke, is his situation cleared up? Do you expect him to play? Curtis Grant is in the two deep. What has he done, what has he exhibited?
COACH FICKELL: Dominic is back with us, part of the program, part of the team. He’s been competing. He’ll be back in the fold.
As far as Curtis, he started to come into his own. Special teams-wise has shown some things. Has been a guy getting a lot more reps with us. Sometimes the personnel dictates that. That’s probably why you see a little bit more of a switch with him, getting a lot more reps on the defensive side of the football.
Q. Some of your players were reacting after the Wisconsin loss. They feel like they’re back more in control of their own destiny with what’s going to happen in this division. Do you think that has any effect on the psyche of your team? Is that uplifting to you at all or does it not matter to Ohio State whether Wisconsin won or lost on Saturday?
COACH FICKELL: Ultimately it comes down to us taking care of our own business. Whether you need help, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s something you look at. Obviously 18- to 22-year-olds evaluate that more than the coaches.
We have a lot of things to play for. We understand that. Maybe it’s another little something that our guys saw. Maybe they believe in themselves a little bit more. Maybe they see vulnerability. I don’t know what it is.
Whatever it is, it still comes down to us handling our own business and taking care of what we need to take care of.
Q. I’m assuming during the bye you did work on the passing game?
COACH FICKELL: No, I did not work on my passing game (smiling). I did throw at home with the kids all weekend. Maybe my passing game is a little better.
Q. Any improvements? Anything you tinker with in your time off?
COACH FICKELL: We stretched out his hand. We talked about that last week.
You know, we worked on things all week. We think we’re seeing a lot of growth, we really do. Until it shows up on Saturday afternoon or Saturday night, it’s still just talk.
But we consistently work at it. It’s probably one of the biggest focuses the three days we had practice. There’s still steps that we’re taking. We still most importantly have to perform and show it on Saturday.
Q. In terms of what Braxton has shown you in terms of composure, poise, is that up common for a freshman in that kind of situation?
COACH FICKELL: I don’t know. I haven’t been involved with a ton of true freshmen starting at quarterback. Whether it’s any freshman, it’s important to see how they can react, how they respond, how they handle the ups and the downs. I think that’s one of the things you count on the older guys to be that guy to soften the blow, help them out, especially here at Ohio State, the microscope and the magnitude of the things you’re under.
He’s done a very good job. I think he’s learned each and every week. We look forward to seeing him continue to grow.
Q. Russell Wilson is the opposite of that, fifth-year senior. Talk about your impressions of him, the poise and cool he shows.
COACH FICKELL: I think it first starts off with his ability to blend in with the team. That’s probably one of those things as a coach you wonder how is he bringing in a new guy for a first time, fifth-year senior, how does that affect you and your team, the chemistry of your team. Obviously he’s that kind of person that is mature enough to be able to step in and show a work ethic and obviously win a job.
You’ve seen what he does on the field. His patience, his cool, calm, collective ability to hold the football, scramble when he needs to, make the plays when he needs to. That’s been obvious.
He is a good fit for what they do in their system. I think obviously his maturity and things shows not only in their locker room but on the field.
Q. You were talking about Russell Wilson. You talked about his cool and collectiveness in the pocket. What type of things does your defense have to do to get him rattled and make mistakes, specifically the defensive line?
COACH FICKELL: Any quarterback, changing up some looks, getting a chance to get him. I think that’s probably what he had not had happen to him all year. They do a good job with play-action and protecting their quarterback. Ultimately it comes down to that with the quarterback. You have to find ways to get to him, whether it’s picking a ball off, sacking him, getting hits on him, getting guys in front of his face. There’s all different kind of ways, but most importantly you have to be able to affect the quarterback.
Q. Coach Tressel always knew how many days there were to the Michigan game. Did you have any countdown to Wisconsin?
COACH FICKELL: No. I told them on Sunday. This isn’t redemption, this isn’t repayment. None of us forget the feeling. That’s probably the most important thing. You learn from losses. You learn how to react and respond. But you never forget the feeling. That’s the one thing I reminded them of. We’re not going to dwell upon last year. That was last year. We’re focused on what we do, but don’t forget the feeling.
Q. Nothing really replaces Michigan still?
COACH FICKELL: Each and every week it’s a battle. Believe me, we know what the target is this week. The following week we’ll know what the target is that week.
Q. Do you know how many days it is to Michigan?
COACH FICKELL: 34, I think.
Q. You’ve played a couple of night games already, but both on the road. You’ve been in the stadium for night games. What kind of atmosphere do you expect and can that make a difference in a game like that?
COACH FICKELL: Of course, it can. Somebody asked me in the Quarterback Club, Maybe you can bring in Coach Bruce to fire up the troops on Saturday. I said, If you have to bring in somebody to fire up the troops on Saturday, you got the wrong troops. The whole buzz around the stadium…
It still comes down to us making sure we know what we’re doing. We can feed off that energy. That’s a big part of it. We still need to make sure we’re under control, know what we can do and enjoy the moment.
Q. Last time we saw you down here, Adams had a great game. You have two guys behind him that are pretty good. Will you find other ways to get them involved and will Boom continue to be the bell cow for this offense right now?
COACH FICKELL: We want to find a way to get the best 11 guys on the field. Sometimes that’s in different ways. Might not be as easy with runningbacks. We’re going to find different ways. That’s what we’ve worked on. We had a week to figure out different ways to get those guys. They all have roles.
Ultimately you get in games, things start to happen. It’s hard to change. You go with what’s got you there, what’s working. You feel bad for Carlos who is there ready to roll, the game kind of the way it was. Boom was warmed up, lathered up, doing well. It’s hard to change a little bit.
We have a plan for them all. We have to make sure we can continue to flip that page, continue to get them all their opportunities.
Q. Continuing the conversation about the atmosphere on Saturday, you’ve referenced the involvement of the students, how the players fed off that after home games. Anything special you’re looking forward to from the student body in attendance this Saturday?
COACH FICKELL: It is an emotional thing. I don’t know that there’s any one chant or something they’re looking for. Again, it’s the kickoff, it’s the bounce. All those things I think are something that gives us a little bit more, gives those guys a little bit of energy. That’s what you love. That’s what you love playing at home for. You’ve been on the road for a couple weeks and you really miss that.
You could see it be in effect when we were at Nebraska. Things start to roll, emotion happens, the crowd gets back into it. That’s a big part of a little bit of that momentum.
Q. I think you’ve addressed this from time to time. If you get hot, let’s say you run the table at 9-3, do you think you can have a shot to retain the job? Do you ever entertain those thoughts about the future? Do you think you still have a shot?
COACH FICKELL: No. We’re focused on what we need to do day in, day out, week in, week out. Those are all things that will take care of themselves someday.
If we waste our time worrying about something like that, we’re not giving it all to those young men, this team, this program.
Q. Has anybody told you what you have to do to keep your job, laid out any kind of outline, This is what we want to see from you?
COACH FICKELL: My wife tells me all the time what she wants to see from me. That’s all I have to worry about.
Again, it’s day-to-day. My focus is those men, this program, this team. Everything else will take care of itself.
Q. Corey Brown, what did you see out of him the last week? Did you get him a lot of rest? Do you see him stepping back to what he was pre-season?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah. Corey had a high-ankle sprain, one of those things you come back, you think you’re fine, but maybe that gear isn’t there. Hopefully each and every week he’s going to be better and better and better. With that one week off, he’ll hopefully feel a little bit better.
A bye week doesn’t bring everybody back to 100%. Sometimes the byes are good. Personally I don’t know that I really like them. It might be more of a mental thing that allows you in a bye week to mentally regroup and gather your thoughts, those kinds of things. Your body by Wednesday will probably be pretty similar to what it was the week before.
Q. You talked about Russell Wilson. What about their Montee Ball, James White, their running game? They’re putting up big numbers. What makes them so good rushing the football?
COACH FICKELL: I think it’s their consistency. With them it’s always going to start up front. They’re always going to have a couple tailbacks that are very good football players. I think you’ve always noticed them up front, whether they’ve had a first-round draft pick, an Outland Trophy winner. They’re very consistent in what they do. They’re very good in what they do. It allows them to have some balance.
Obviously, they’re going to be a little bit of a running-focused team. I think you see the consistency over the years of what they’ve been. They haven’t changed a whole lot, which means they believe in what they do. They recruit to it and they do one heck of a job at coaching it.
Q. We talked about the linebackers earlier this year. You were talking about leadership there. What have you seen from them lately as a linebacker group, especially against Wisconsin with the run game, with Wilson’s ability to move around, how big is this game to get good linebacker play?
COACH FICKELL: It is every week. I think sometimes there are a lot of things that go unnoticed. Our linebackers are like the quarterback out there. They have to control a lot of things. The game is won up front. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need great linebacker play. You need that great guy that can control and get you checked into different things and move the front around a little bit when we have to. I think they’re getting better and better at that.
They’ve grown throughout this year, got a little bit more confidence in what they’ve done, whether it’s Andrew Sweat, Etienne Sabino or Klein. Again, they’re guys that are getting better each and every week. This will be a big test for them.
Q. We’ve seen Tyler a lot this year. Based on this matchup do you think Sweat, Sabino and Klein will be out there?
COACH FICKELL: Tyler is still a big part of it. Sometimes what they put out there dictates what you put out there. We’ll have a game plan and continue to go with it. I would imagine you’ll see a little bit more of a three-linebacker set at times that we haven’t seen much of this year.
Q. You mentioned a couple times the game is won up front. Obviously two weeks ago Hankins and Simon had a huge game. Are they to the task to help you win the game up front?
COACH FICKELL: John will be in here. You can ask him that question.
I like who we got. They know what it’s about. They know the challenge they have in front of them. It’s all talk until we go out Saturday and perform.
Q. Every day that passes probably gets you a little closer to the window when the NCAA sanctions could come down. Have you been led to believe when there might be anything that comes down? Is there any concern on your part that the timing of this might not be ideal for the coach?
COACH FICKELL: We’re going to continue to focus on the things we can control. Those things are out of our control. We have not been given any insight. I don’t know that it would change the way we prepare, the way we attack the things we’re doing. Probably not something that is a thought in our minds.
Q. Do you ever hear the players mention the NCAA?
COACH FICKELL: No. I think they’ve done a really good job. They’ve been through enough. The way we talk, the way we go each and every day, it’s about that day, it’s about going to work. I’m sure inside our walls it’s not something that’s brought up or talked about. Try to focus to them, Hey, let’s not waste our energy on things we can’t control.
Q. Last year when you played up at Wisconsin, you fell behind early. The defense gave up some long drives. When you look back at what they were able to do to your defense to put you in that hole, what did you have to change up, and does that affect the way you game plan for this week?
COACH FICKELL: No. It still comes down to being sound. They did a good job at what they did. It took us some time to settle in, make some adjustments.
But it’s not going to be a secret a whole lot to the things they do. They don’t come in trying to trick a lot of different things. They’re very sound in what they do. They’re going to continue to pound it, throw the ball down the field. They’re going to play very good special teams.
If you look back, last time they were here they faked two punts, maybe that same year they faked a field goal. They’re thorough in what they do, sound in what they do. We obviously have to come down to playing.
Q. Just how different is it playing at night versus the afternoon?
COACH FICKELL: For what? You sit around and wait a long time.
Q. Is it harder?
COACH FICKELL: It’s more of a difficult thing to sit and wait all day. If you had your pick, you’d want to play at noon every week so you could get up and go. Sitting around and waiting is the toughest thing.
But it is a part of it. The atmosphere is a lot different on a night game. So our guys enjoy that as much as anything. This is why they come. I’m not sure they remember a whole lot of the noon games as much as they might remember a lot of those 8:00 under-the-lights games like they are in high school.
Q. Is it harder to wait when you’re the visiting team?
COACH FICKELL: I think it’s hard to wait no matter what. You get used to it because obviously you’re going to do it three or four times a year.
Q. Read stories about players in prominent schools wanting a cut of massive TV money. I read something about a proposal of two grand for players. Do you think they deserve a bigger cut, more stipend? Would that cut down on some of the issues?
COACH FICKELL: You’re getting into things that obviously I don’t know much about. Haven’t thought a whole lot about them. Don’t have a whole lot of comments on those things.
We’re worried about Wisconsin.
Q. With it being a night game, such a big game against Wisconsin, is it hard finding a balance between having a big recruiting weekend and not losing man-hours for coaching for preparations?
COACH FICKELL: It’s a part of what you do. We know recruiting is a huge part of our everyday taking care of the program. On a big weekend like this, you know it’s going to be a big part of it, whether it’s official visits or unofficial visits. You want them to see this atmosphere.
Does it take a little bit of your time? Yeah, but sometimes it’s not a bad thing to take your mind off of it before you get rolling anyway.
Q. Former teammate of yours is going to be honored, Eddie George. Your memories of him as a player, if you have a story. What does he mean to the program?
COACH FICKELL: Well, I think I’ve talked to a lot of the guys about it. Eddie George is probably to me one of the best stories that I’ve ever been around here at Ohio State, from a guy that came in, things didn’t go his way to start with. For the next three years, he was the hardest-working guy on the team. I’ve told guys that story several times.
People see the Heisman Trophy, figure he was a big thoroughbred guy that was a big runningback from the get-go. Yes, he might have been a big runningback from the get-go, but things don’t always go your way. I don’t know in my time here that there was anybody that out-worked him. That’s why he is where he is today. That’s why he’s going into the Hall of Fame. That’s why he has a Heisman Trophy. It’s not just on the ability. It’s on the person, the character, the work ethic that he had to get better.
Q. On the throw-back uniforms, what are your thoughts on those? We keep on hearing the kids like having the different looks, but sometimes some of the fans aren’t necessarily a big fan. Where do you fall in that category?
COACH FICKELL: There’s an opinion on everything. I think a few years ago when coach brought it up to me, I was against it. I said, I’m not a guy that likes a whole lot of change. I’ve seen how the young men, the guys like it, the team likes it. I think it’s a part of our culture now. I’m sure there’s a lot of traditionalists that don’t.
I think it’s a good thing. I really do. It brings some excitement, different things, whether it’s a marketing thing or a recruiting thing. Our guys enjoy it. We enjoy it.
Q. Have you seen enough of Kenny Guiton in the last two weeks? Is he now your backup quarterback?
COACH FICKELL: Kenny gets a lot of reps. He’ll probably get more of the two reps than Joe does. But we still have the ability to have Joe, as well. There’s still some things there that we know Joe can do. If we get in a situation, we’ve always got that ability.
Q. Should Wisconsin or any game down the stretch become a field-position battle, talk about Ben Buchanan’s play, kick coverage, special teams overall, how that’s going to be crucial down the stretch.
COACH FICKELL: If you look at our special teams, it’s probably kept us in the games where we are right now. They’ve done an unbelievable job. Punt unit especially. Ben has sacrificed a lot of things as far as numbers-wise, when you’re punting into the 40 yardline into the wind at Illinois, to punt that thing 19 yards, gave it to them on the 11 yardline.
Our coverage has been unbelievable. We’ve done a good job on focusing. Coaching-wise we’ve done a great job. Our guys have understood that’s probably one of the areas where we have to make sure we can dominate or take advantage of a lot of the other situations. We’re looking for any way we can to make plays and create field position.
We’ve been very impressed with the guys, their attitudes, how they’ve taken it and attacked the special units.
Q. On the special uniforms, you like to wear black. Do you think we’ll see black uniforms ever?
COACH FICKELL: Right there is the uniform (laughter). I don’t know in history that they’ve worn that. People ask why you wear that. We wear black, just be the signal guy. It’s not anything history-wise. Unless they have something back in the archives, I don’t know that we’ll be changing that uniform much.
Q. Does black make you feel tougher?
COACH FICKELL: Al Davis thought so, I think. For me, it’s just what we wear.
Q. Did you think you got a lot accomplished over the bye week?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, I think we did. We got a lot of work done. Our guys did a heck of a job on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. You look back in the years past, ask around how people handled their bye week, you still have to look at your team and figure out what you guys need as opposed to how everybody else does it. I think we did a very good job with the attitudes and getting the work done we needed to get done.
Q. You’re coming off your biggest win. Is it difficult to maintain that momentum you built up?
COACH FICKELL: This game is a game of emotions and momentum. Being at home, being a night game, I don’t think we’ll lose any of that. The most important thing is we have to maintain it and keep it. Our guys have the right attitude. They have the right focus. Now it’s time to just do it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by John Simon. Questions.
Q. How much has (indiscernible) enhanced their offense?
John Simon: He’s a veteran. Brought composure to their offense. While they’re a heavy run team, he brings versatility, can throw the ball effectively as well. It’s going to be a big challenge for us to stop them.
Q. Are you a fan of night games?
John Simon: Yeah, I mean, really don’t matter what time of day it is. We have to make sure we go out there and execute. When we do, everyone does their job, it’s a good day for us. Doesn’t matter what time.
Q. In terms of the atmosphere Saturday night, what are you expecting?
John Simon: It should be pretty crazy. I know our fans will get up for it with a power-ranked team, coming into Columbus. We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a fun night. We’re going to have to play well.
Q. John, the fact that Wisconsin was the only team to beat you guys last season, what effect, if any, does that have on the attitude of this team going into the game this week?
John Simon: I would say that was last year. They’re a new team. We’re a new team. We can’t really focus on things like that.
I would say they’re even a better team than they were last year. Like I’ve been saying, it’s going to be a huge challenge for us. Every day we’re going to have to work hard and prepare ourselves for Saturday.
Q. Assuming Penn State loses another game, you control your destiny. How much of a boost does that give you knowing that you do have that potential to control your destiny?
John Simon: I would say it gave a lot of guys motivation. We have to take it one week at a time. We can’t get ahead of ourselves or anything like that. Really one practice at a time, make sure we’re continuing to get better every week. If we do that, we should be all right.
Q. Is that what you thought when you saw the end of the Michigan State game: Now we control it?
John Simon: We couldn’t really worry about what other teams do. We just have to focus on what we can do.
Last week we had a great week of practice. Really we were motivated. Got to take it one week at a time.
Q. After a team loses, you can say they’re going to be fired up by the loss or if they’re winning, we can surprise them. The way they lost last week, what was the first thing that popped into your head on how they might come out of that game?
John Simon: I mean, we know they’re a great team. They’re not going to back down or anything like that. We know we’re up for a fight on Saturday. We’re looking forward to it.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Montee Ball.
John Simon: Very good runningback. Very versatile. I know he’s protected by a tremendous offensive line. When you think they’re going to run, they can mix it up with the pass, too, with the great receivers and Russell as their quarterback position.
Q. John, Coach Fickell was saying that games are won and lost up front. Wisconsin has a very imposing offensive line. Are you and your defensive line comrades prepared for this task?
John Simon: Yeah. I mean, we definitely know they’re a good offensive front. Games are won in the trenches. It’s going to start up front with us on the defensive side and with our offensive line on the other side of the ball. We have to make sure we are having a great week. We had a great week last week. If we can continue that into this week, we’ll be okay.
Q. You play a lot of physical games, teams that like to run the ball. What is it specifically about Wisconsin? You talked about the offensive line being big and strong. They always seem to have this running game. Did you notice something different about them?
John Simon: I would just say it’s a combination of everything: the speed, quickness, they’re very smart, they know what they’re doing, well-disciplined. When you put it all together, they’re a very good offense.
Q. Back to the Michigan State/Wisconsin game, the tendency for people who haven’t played the game think a player or a team or a defense is going to react one way or the other. If that had happened to you, what is the tendency? Do you let something like that carry over into the next week? Do you come back angry, more fired up?
John Simon: You just got to move on, learn from it, watch tape the next day, make the corrections, come out fighting.
We know they’re a very good offense, defense, a very good team. We’re going to have to prepare ourselves because we know they’re going to come out and battle us for 60 minutes. If everyone does their job, we should be all right.
Q. Is there emotion that carries over from one week to the next?
John Simon: I don’t know. I would say they would be fired up, they’re going to come after us and we have to be prepared for that.
Q. Coach Fickell said he was asleep for the end of that game. Were you awake for it?
John Simon: I was half awake (smiling). It was late. But it was a great game. I couldn’t fall asleep.
The way it ended made it a classic game. I was happy I stayed up. But both teams fought hard. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Michigan State came out with the win.
Q. Did it wake you up more when you saw the end? What was your reaction immediately in the moment?
John Simon: I don’t know if I knew what happened really right away until they started showing the replays.
But it was a great play, a lot of heart shown in that play by both sides. Like I said, unfortunately for Wisconsin, Michigan State got the win.
Q. If you could design the special uniform you would wear once a year, what would you like to wear if they said John Simon, you can wear whatever you want?
John Simon: I’m not a big uniform guy. Doesn’t matter to me. Shows tradition. Puts honor into the year that we’re representing and things like that from years past. Good for the university, things like that. We enjoy wearing those uniforms for games like this, especially when it’s a night game.
Q. With Eddie George being honored at halftime, is that something you as the players notice or something that goes unnoticed by you guys? John Simon: I didn’t know that as of now. He’s a great athlete. He made Ohio State what it is today. We’re probably going to be in the locker room. It’s a great honor to be in his presence and to have him on the field with us.
Q. You said you’re not sure whether the emotion carries over from week to week. You’re coming off your biggest win against Illinois. Is it difficult to maintain that or carry that over over a bye week?
John Simon: We just have to play our game. Bye week, we got a little extra time to focus in on Wisconsin that they didn’t have. We just really have to get after it in practice and prepare ourselves. We can’t just go out there Saturday and play. It’s going to be the practices building up to it, things like that. That’s what we have to focus on right now.
Q. Do you feel like you got a lot out of the bye week or was it rest and healing?
John Simon: I feel we got a lot of work done. We improved ourselves as a whole. Couple great practices, good film study. I think we took advantage of that bye week.
Q. Can you talk about your fellow defensive linemen, what do they each bring to the table?
John Simon: We got a lot of guys up front who are versatile. Hank, you can see him play inside, outside, nose tackle, a bunch of different things, effective everywhere. Garrett can play multiple positions. So can Adam Bellamy, Michael Bennett, everyone.
I think we’re versatile, very athletic up front. There’s a lot of passion in those guys. Being around them every day is something special.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, John.