Speaking at his weekly media luncheon, Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel did not rule sophomore quarterback Justin Zwick out of Saturday’s game with Indiana (noon, ESPN-Plus).
But the coach said Zwick needed to make a quick recovery from his shoulder injury to be able to play Saturday against the Hoosiers. If Zwick can’t go, sophomore Troy Smith, who played all but one series in the second half of Saturday’s 33-7 loss at Iowa, would get the start. Todd Boeckman, who is redshirting this year, would be the emergency backup.
“Right now, Justin is on a day to day situation,” Tressel said. “He won’t throw today and we will evaluate it as we go. As far as the answer to who would start, I would say if we played today it would be Troy and Todd would be the backup.”
On Saturday, Tressel said Zwick left the game in equal parts because of the injury and the fact he had committed two turnovers (an interception and a fumble). But Tressel confirmed that, other than the injury, Zwick would remain OSU’s starter. When asked about Zwick’s play, he replied:
“The biggest thing – and coaches look at things so differently – is the turnovers. We can’t have any turnovers if we want to have a chance to beat a good team. The thing I like most is I think he does have a handle on what the defense is doing and what we’re trying to do. Turnovers occur sometimes when you’re trying to make something happen. But the best decision might have been, `Let’s kick a field goal or punt.’ ”
Tressel was asked about what Smith showed at Iowa.
“I thought Troy did some good things,” he said. “I think we have to deal with reality. That was Iowa’s second defense. They were playing a vanilla defense. But you still have to execute. He did some good things there. But he also did some things we can’t have on a daily basis.”
The coach was later asked if he truly had confidence in Smith’s abilities.
“I don’t look at as you say that we’re having to go with Troy,” Tressel said. “I feel Troy would be prepared and Troy would be excited. I know he would prepare very hard. If it’s Troy, I will be as excited as I would be if it was anyone else.”
Tressel was asked if he had any trepidation in “burning up” Boeckman’s redshirt year.
“Todd would burn it up if he plays,” he said. “It would not be the coaching staff. We tell our guys they redshirt on a daily basis. If it’s what the team needs and what we need to do, then he would play. I suppose if it was game 10 we might think about it harder than we would in game seven.
“Todd Boeckman knows it is sure a lot easier burning his redshirt than playing against the scout team every day. Our defensive coaches have said for some time they think Todd Boeckman is going to be a good one.”
Tressel was asked about Zwick’s interception late in the first half in the end zone, denying OSU a key scoring opportunity and keeping the halftime score at 10-0.
“I think there were two things,” Tressel said. “We probably shouldn’t have called it. But the fact is we did. And the second thing was the execution. If we had dropped down (underneath), we had a guy who might not get the first, but we had a chance. We could have also thrown it through the goalposts.
“It might not have been the best thing to have on and it certainly wasn’t executed like we would have hoped.”
As for Zwick’s reaction to the pick, Tressel said, “Justin, like all kids would, came over and said, `I thought I could get it in there.’ That’s a mark that sometimes you try and make something happen. But sometimes discretion can be the better part of valor.”
Tressel spent the first six minutes of his address to the media likening his team’s current struggles to those of Iowa, which bounced back from a 44-7 loss at Arizona State and a Big Ten-opening loss at Michigan to win its next two games.
“They did a great job of analyzing why they hadn’t done as well and figuring out ways to get things done,” Tressel said. “For us, now it is a matter of how we get those lessons taught and learned. Those are the challenges we have here at Ohio State.”
Tressel said a former OSU player called him and relayed a story about the 1982 season, when OSU lost three straight games in Ohio Stadium before rallying to beat Michigan and finish the year 9-3.
“You could feel the tension and it was unbelievable,” Tressel said. “But this former player said it wasn’t until Coach Bruce and the staff made it known to all of us that we were in this thing together. He said that was the most fun year he had at Ohio State and some of his other years were better. That ability to care as a team from top to bottom and side to side, that is one component that makes up an excellent team.
“As teachers, we have an opportunity to work on our lesson plans and on our designs. And, like Coach Bruce did in 1982 with the team and the staff, the only way we will get the job done will be if we do it together.”
Along those lines, Tressel said he has accepted a plea by the team’s seniors to limit interview access to underclassmen. In recent weeks, Smith, freshman tackle Kirk Barton and junior linebacker Bobby Carpenter, among others, have been outspoken about facets of the team’s lack of success and other topics.
After practice today, Tressel said only the seniors would be given a chance to meet with media. The move even restricts access to Smith, who figures to make his first career start on Saturday.
“The fact that we are having the captains and some seniors handle this today is a reflection on what they want to do and I concur,” Tressel said. “It does not have much to do with not allowing you to (have access) to them.
“Those guys said, `We’re the captains. Let us step out in front.’ I thought that would be a good thing.”
The coach also discussed:
* The state of the running game -- “The thing I have talked, maybe from a universal standpoint, is when we have good team play you play with a lot of velocity. I don’t know that I am seeing that in the running game standpoint. Is that which plays we’re running lack velocity or just in general I don’t see velocity? But in my mind, playing with that great velocity allows you to create pressure on the defense.”
* The play of the offensive line -- “That’s the Big Ten. I thought the two inside guys from Northwestern were very good and I said that. I thought all four guys from Wisconsin were very good. Going into the Iowa game, I said those guys were veterans and a solid group. We’re not a victim. That’s the Big Ten.”
* On how he is handling the losing skid -- “This is the 19th year I’ve been doing this. Certainly, we have been in this ballpark before. It is no easier or no more difficult than years when you still had all of your goals ahead of you. We noted that five times we have been at this juncture and did not have the chance to realize all of our goals. Thirteen times, we did. I can’t put my finger on which is more difficult. Last year, we were 5-0 and I don’t know that it was any different than this year when we were 3-2.”
* On the predictability and lack of production of his offense on first down -- “Well, you can do two things. If you run the ball, you need to get 4 yards or more. Number two, if you pass you better make sure you complete it or it’s going to be second-and-10. Good teams do a great job on first down. I don’t know that you could label us right now as a good team from that standpoint.”
* On Indiana -- “They’re tough. They’re flying around. They believe in special teams and they turn it over. They commit themselves to the run. Their quarterback (Matt LoVecchio) is a senior. Their receiver (Courtney Roby) is now the leading receiver in the history of the school. The running (BenJarvis Green-Ellis) is now a veteran. They have all of their linemen back.
“Defensively, they have nine guys back. I see an improvement simply on the things I know.”
* On his defense getting discouraged over the play of the offense -- “You are always affected by what the other guys do. If the defense makes a big hit, that raises our offense up. If the offense is crunching them, that empowers the defense. One of the great bonuses our 2003 defense had was the opponent started 57 times behind their own 20. That’s huge and that was none of their doing. It didn’t have anything to do with them. But we feed off of each other and right now we’re not feeding each other enough.”
* OSU has won 11 straight against Iowa, dating to a 1988 loss.
* In terms of the depth chart, David Patterson is now listed ahead of Marcus Green at defensive tackle, although Green has been hobbled. Also, Jay Richardson, who has started every game this year, is listed ahead of Mike Kudla at end.
Dustin Fox and Ashton Youboty are listed as the starting corners with E.J. Underwood moved to a backup role after starting the first six games. (Youboty had replaced Fox in the lineup when he suffered a broken arm in Week 2.)
Tressel also stopped by for his usual noon slot in the Big Ten
teleconference. Many of the questions centered around the funk the Buckeyes are
"We (the coaching staff) feel bad because we think it's our
responsibility to prepare our guys and design the things for them so we can be
the best we're capable of being," Tressel said. "We think we're better
capable than what we've demonstrated. It's a very personal, negative feeling
when you don't think you're doing as well for your team and your individual
kids, so that's very difficult."
The Buckeye fans have been vocal about what they have seen on the field so
far this year, but Tressel said the coaches haven't been able to notice.
"Interestingly enough, us coaches aren't around the fans too much,"
he said. "We're nestled in our offices watching film and in our practice
fields, kind of in a cocoon most of the time. I'm sure that as passionate our
people are about winning and how excited they get about doing that, they do the
same when it doesn't go that well, and we understand that."
Tressel was surprised a bit by a question asking whether or not he thought
about if the presence of Maurice Clarett would make an impact on this year's
"Have I thought about it? No, not at all," he said. "What you
do as a coach is you look at the people that come in and go to work everyday,
whether it's your staff or the players or whatever and try to create the best
possible group that you can out of that. Very seldom, if ever, do you think
about the guys that aren't here. I haven't given any thought to the 14 guys that
are in the NFL right now either. That's irrelevant, and what's important is
these kids that are here right now, these coaches, so I guess that's for others
to think about."
The next step is to move forward. Tressel talked a bit about what needs to be
done to take that step.
"What you hope to do, whether you're 3-0 or 0-3, is appeal to a person
to do what they can at that moment to do their job better than they've ever done
it," he said. "I remember when we were, let's say, 6-0 at this point
after six games two years ago. We appeal to the very same thing - the record's
irrelevant. What we can do about getting better is what it is all about, and
whatever it is we deserve record-wise, that's what we're going to end up with
anyway. So let's just focus on getting better, and it starts with today's
"It sounds a little canned or clichéd, but I don't know that that's any
different in anyone's line of work. They better work on what's important today
Tressel was also asked whether or not the team's goals had changed as a
result of the slump.
"At the outset of every season, we talk about that the reality of the
season in college football is that you better win all your games if you want a
chance to play for the national championship," Tressel said. "We just
have to think that that's the only save vantage point. Then, obviously, when you
start your league play, you focus on the fact that you better win all your
league games if you want to have a chance to be league champions, and then you
go to work each day. We don't sit down and evaluate how we're doing on our large
goals each day.
"I would say this - the goal that we're putting out in front of
ourselves is to try and get ourselves moving in the right direction beginning
with today. That's our goal."
The quarterback situation remains up in the air as of now. A published report
in the Canton Repository stated that Justin Zwick could miss multiple games, but
Tressel said Zwick's status was day-to-day.
"Our quarterback got banged a little bit in the game against Iowa, and
our second guy Troy Smith finished the game," he said. "Right now,
Justin Zwick, who has been our starter, is on a day-to-day medical situation.
Beyond that, we haven't talked anything in terms of change that wasn't prompted
by what our injury situation is."
A recurring theme in the Big Ten teleconferences this year has been instant
replay, and Tressel was asked about it once again this week. He discussed the
incident during the Wisconsin game, which may have shaped his feelings about the
system a bit.
"We had a game a couple weeks ago that I thought exposed a little bit of
a snag in the replay system in that there was a play that the people upstairs -
actually two different plays - thought needed to be replayed," Tressel
said. "They were turnover situations, and indeed the wrong call was made on
the field. But then it was superceded by the fact that on the field, they said
that there was an inadvertent whistle. When there's an inadvertent whistle, you
go back to the original possessor of the ball. I thought that was a little snag
in that the time shouldn't have been taken. The emotion shouldn't have been
taken in and out of the game with the replay system if indeed it was going to be
superceded on the field with an inadvertent whistle.
"Like anything else, when you first do it, you see there's some
shortcomings in it. Like we all said coming into the year, we were going to take
a good look at it, see if it made a real positive difference, and evaluate that
after the year. I don't know that we've seen that, but there's a lot more
Tressel was also asked whether or not he would vote for replay to be used
again next year.
"I wasn't gung ho for it to start with because it's not
comprehensive," Tressel said. "It doesn't correct all of the human
errors that are made in officiating; it only corrects selected it. I was never
gung ho about it, but I haven't gained any more real passion toward it. I'm not
sure that I think there's a great place for it in college football because
there's human error in college football from the coaches, the players and the
Meanwhile, Indiana head coach Gerry DiNardo has also been dealing with a
struggling team, which has also had the misfortune of having several injuries on
the offensive line.
"We have lost two of our starting offensive linemen for the year through
surgery," DiNardo said. "There's chance for them to come back, and we
had finally built to a point where we felt good about our depth. We also lost
another offensive lineman to surgery who was in our second offensive line depth,
and we've had two injured the last couple weeks. What started out to be one of
our deepest positions - and we haven't had a lot of injuries, but several of
them have happened from the offense line. Last game, only our right tackle
played the same position out of the five that started the season."
Indiana had a bye week this week, and DiNardo was asked if he had any
problems keeping the players focused on the task at hand.
"I think you always have to do that, especially in these types of
situations, so that's a day-to-day deal here, probably most places,"
DiNardo said. "We attend to that on a daily basis unless it's when we don't
see our players, and there was a point when we gave them entirely off. I think
also what it's done for us is it's allowed us to get back to some of the things
that we started the season doing, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
We've kind of bounced around a little bit, and I wanted to refocus our attack,
so it's given us some time to do that."
DiNardo was also asked whether or not he was surprised at Ohio State's lack
of rushing attack this season. The coach said that it wasn't so much Ohio State
as it is the quality of Big Ten defenses and the schemes they are using.
"The defenses in our conference are pretty stout defenses," DiNardo
said. "I think that all of us as coaches only control half of what's going
on. The other team has control of the other half. I just think that we're all
seeing eight- or nine-man fronts because that's the trend in college football. I
believe, especially in our conference, we're seeing some of the better defenses
in the country. I don't think that any rushing statistic would be surprising by
itself. I think you have to look at the whole picture."