The mood was a bit lighter at Jim Tressel’s press luncheon this week.
Ohio State escaped with a 35-24 win over Michigan State on Saturday. Tressel knows the Buckeyes were sloppy and can play better, but winning will always put him in a good mood.
Junior cornerback Ashton Youboty was selected as the defensive player of the week, as well as the special teams player of the week. He returned a blocked field goal attempt for a touchdown, and later blocked another field goal attempt.
Senior outside linebacker A.J. Hawk was the attack force player of the week.
Junior left tackle Doug Datish was the offensive player of the week.
Senior center Nick Mangold was the Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week.
Tressel believes that Mangold could be one of the best that has ever played at OSU.
“Nick Mangold, you know, (former OSU center and current Arizona Cardinals starter) Alex Stepanovich was in for the weekend, and hopefully he's not out here listening now, but Nick Mangold is as fine as a center as you could possibly have,” Tressel said. “His intellect is where it all starts. He knows what's going on and he directs all decisions that are made up front. His ability to play low with power is unlike any center that I've ever seen. And his ability to get out there and a couple of our big plays, a couple tosses and screens and so forth, and he's down there, you know, his 300 pounds flying down the field. And he's a great one.
“You talk about Hawk and Mangold, if there are All-Americans, those are All-Americans, and they've done a great job for us.”
Ohio State is last in the Big Ten and 104th nationally in turnover margin (minus-6). Not exactly the mark of a Tressel team.
“I guess you need to stress it more and stress it better and be more effective in helping people understand how important it is,” Tressel said. “But, you know, it still comes down to there being a deep-seated belief and that's important. Obviously as you looked at the ball game, there's a deep-seeded belief in our games, they're going to play hard no matter what's going on. You know, the clock's ticking down with five, four, three, two, one before the half, and we're down by ten already, and we had the disappointment of giving them the ball. It's built in, if they just play hard, that's what we do. It's got to get built into us, we don't turn it over.
“The takeaway part of things, if we keep playing the way we're playing, we're going to knock it loose, we're going to make those things happen. We can't change what we're doing on defense, you know, to have more takeaways. I think we just need to keep doing what we're doing. And offensively, you know, if I have the privilege of touching that ball, I've got to make sure I hand it to the official, and then there's no questions.”
True freshman right tackle Alex Boone received his first career start against the Spartans and seemed to play well for the most part. Tressel was asked if Boone could possibly be the next great tackle at OSU.
“Alex Boone could be very good,” he said. “He got baptized at Penn State, when you're out there in that scenario, and I thought he hung in there pretty well, and then got 42 snaps on Saturday. And hopefully we'll learn a lot from there. He wasn't perfect, didn't rate a winning performance. But, you know, he's – for a true freshman – playing a tough position, against 300-pound defensive ends, I thought he played very solid.
“Can he be the next great tackle? I got home in time to see a little bit of the end of the Rams game (against the Colts on Monday Night Football). But that guy that plays left tackle for the Rams (Orlando Pace), you know, Alex's got a ways to go. But that's a great thing to shoot for. I don't know exactly, you know, what Orlando looked like his freshman year. But Luke Fickell tells me he looked pretty good.”
The Buckeyes are in fairly good shape health-wise for this point of the season. Tressel gave an update on the few players who are banged up, including Tyler Everett, Kirk Barton and Marcus Freeman.
“Everett, out,” Tressel said. “Barton would be questionable, still uncertain there. He hasn't done anything football-wise since, you know, last week. Because we don't -- it's more fitness oriented and so forth on Sunday, and we didn't practice yesterday. Freeman would be out. But practicing and coming along and just not ready to put him in the game.
“As you look at this particular week with Miami, (head coach Terry) Hoeppner coming taking all that stuff, now it's Indiana stuff, I don't think you're going to be in as much base defense as you would be in a normal game. So I don't know if (Freeman will) get as many practice reps. The same would be true with (Mike) D'Andrea, we'll probably be in more nickel, I don't know how many reps he'll have, but D'Andrea played special teams and did fine and hopefully will continue to play more special teams and be ready to play, you know, in the linebacker unit.
“I would expect -- I don't know what our breakdown was when we played Miami, nickel versus base, but I would guess 25/75, I would guess. Probably be similar when we play Indiana, because it's a very similar system. So Freeman, probably, you know, won't jump in there.”
Since Freeman has only played in one game thus far this season, the staff might decide to redshirt him.
“That's a possibility,” Tressel said. “This is probably a nickel-based week, down the rest of the Big Ten, as we were talking about those medical issues, you know, maybe two of the last five games you'll be in more base defense than you will be in nickel. So that could happen. We'll have to see.”
But for sophomore offensive lineman Steve Rehring, the decision has already been made.
“Redshirt,” Tressel said. “Rehring's coming off a serious issue (pneumonia) and we're happy he's getting well and getting stronger every day.”
Tressel also mentioned that Youboty has a hip pointer, but will play.
Brandon Mitchell will be the nickel back this week, filling in for Everett.
Junior quarterback Troy Smith seemed to have a solid game against Michigan State, but Tressel is a tough man to please.
Troy did not rate a winning performance, but I thought he made some strides,” Tressel said. “We had the ball 42 plays and we had some short drives, sometimes you don't like short drives, but I think we had a couple three-play touchdown drives. I thought he made some progress in some areas and had some experiences that will help him make progress, I hope, down the road. And he only netted 42 yards rushing, which our goal is always to have our quarterback net 50. But I thought he did a good job on a couple of throwaways. A couple big plays. He probably didn't get to run as much because we didn't have the ball as much as we'd like. He made some progress. He and we have a ways to go.”
Tressel warns not to pay too much attention to the fact that Smith did not grade a winning performance against Michigan State.
“Craig (Krenzel) probably had two winning performances out of 14, the year we won 'em all,” Tressel said. “It's a hard position. You know, because, it's a decision you make or a throw you make or whatever, and you're so affected by the others. But yet we grade you independently. It's very difficult. We probably get two or three a year from a quarterback position.”
Tressel thinks that Smith is improving in terms of reading defenses and going through his progressions.
“I thought as we went through this particular game, I thought he was right on as, you know, a lot of time you grade the film or you watch the film and you say, ‘Gosh, I wonder why he did that.’ Then I watch the film and I say, ‘I wonder why he did that.’ Not just Troy, but any quarterback. But then you sit down and watch the film with him, he said, ‘I felt this guy, so I wasn't going to throw it.’ Or, ‘My feet weren't ready at that moment.’ So, I thought from a conceptual standpoint, as I listened to, you know, the synopsis -- and the same thing really happens on the offensive line, too, you say, ‘I wonder why they did this or that. This happened, I rubbed off on here, I wanted to help, saw this guy losing this guy.’ But to answer the question, I thought there was an improvement.”
Tressel was asked if Ted Ginn’s touchdown reception against MSU was a boost for his confidence.
Teddy's going to be Teddy,” Tressel said. “He's just -- he's a guy that loves to play, and he's so happy when his team wins, and so happy when he can help. And I thought he played a very solid game. I don't know how many snaps he had. But probably in the high 30s out of 42. And graded winning performance. So I think any time something good happens to you, it helps.”
Sophomore receiver Anthony Gonzalez had a big game against Iowa with two touchdown receptions. But since then, Gonzalez has caught just one pass.
“We had a couple of opportunities to get him involved,” Tressel said. “You know, one in particular that had a little bit of a footwork problem. If the QB had been a little more balanced, it would have been a good play down the seam. You know, that's what you have to know when you're one of the people out there is that some guy goes here, another guy goes here, and we're going to throw to the open guy. And we're not going to say -- to me the worst thing you can tell a quarterback is, ‘Hey, we've got to get Teddy the ball the more, we've got to get Gonzalez the ball more, or get the ball to (Santonio Holmes).’ That totally is against your teaching. The teaching is we've got to get the ball to the guy the coverage dictates.”
Sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman continues to improve and is establishing himself as one of the top backs in the Big Ten. Last season, Pittman says he was banged up, even though he didn’t play every much. But this year, he’s getting the ball a lot and it appears his body is holding up just fine.
“I think any time one wears down there's an emotional side to that, too,” Tressel said. “When you're young and it's new and expectations and you're learning lessons every day, I think that has a wearing factor on you. So, he's beyond that. Plus he worked hard in the weight room and the conditioning and so forth.
“I expected him to end up being a very good back. I think he's on his way to being that.
You know, our goal, as we talked often in the spring and preseason, was, ‘Hey, he needs to be our next 1500-yard back.’ You know, that's our goal, and that continues to be our goal. I think he's making progress.
“Now, we only had 42 plays and he had 18 carries, it's going to be hard to get 1500 yards if you only get 18 carries a game. But we're hoping he can get in the 20s each game. I think he's coming along.”
Tressel was asked what redshirt freshman Erik Haw needs to do to become the No. 2 tailback.
“Improve on all the things we measure people against,” he said. “You know, you've got five backs out there, and you watch everything they do every day, and then you measure which one does it best. Antonio Pittman does it the best. Brandon Schnittker is probably the next most experienced and comfortable with what he's doing. Mo Wells is the third. And right now we would probably, because Shaun Lane is so involved in special teams, when it comes to a travel situation like Penn State, you're going to opt on the side of your fourth going being a major special teams guy, and that's how that traveled out.”
Tight end might be the least-productive position on the team for OSU this year. Senior Ryan Hamby is having a season to forget and sophomore Rory Nicol is out for the season with an injury. Redshirt freshman Brandon Smith is trying to fill in and do what he can do. But one player that might be able to help is sophomore Marcel Frost.
Likely a “doghouse” resident early in the season, Frost is now getting a chance to show what he can do.
“I thought Marcel showed he got a chance to make an impact for us,” Tressel said. “He worked his way through the early season, trying to work his way up the ladder and so forth. And he had fought the injury bug early in his career with various things. And moving over from defense and then not having that many reps and so forth. But he's worked his way into, you know, I think deserving some playing time. I don't know how many snaps he got, like 14 or 15, something like that. But, you know, I look for him to help us.”
Ohio State seems to be running less shotgun-spread formations, and more two-back sets. Tressel was asked if he’s more comfortable using two backs since that is what he has used for years (going back to his time at Youngstown State as well).
“Hopefully not,” he said. “Hopefully when you make decisions you make them on what's good for the kids and not what makes you feel better. As we looked at who we were blocking and who we were running routes against and so forth in every particular week, you know, we will base how we deploy on that. So I hope the answer to the question is no.”
Tressel was asked if he thinks the Buckeyes will use the two back/power-I formation roughly half the time the rest of the season.
“Probably not half the time, no,” he said. “Not that much.”
Tressel also commented on junior defensive lineman David Patterson who is enjoying somewhat of a breakout season.
“He's becoming more of a veteran,” Tressel said. “If you talk about the good defensive fronts you've seen in our league, and you've covered -- you think about ours in '03 and '02 and Iowa last year and hours right now and, you know, Penn State's right now. What's the common denominator? Experience. So David has had, you know, some playing time as a true freshman, significant as a sophomore, and now here he is as a true junior. He's a veteran. He's a veteran with a lot of ability who spends countless hours in watching film. Great combination. And he gets better all the time.”
As for Hawk, he is in the running for the Butkus Award and the Lombardi Trophy. He is having a great year, which does not surprise Tressel one bit.
“I think you learn when you're around A.J. not to imagine,” Tressel said. “He's amazing. All he does is work. He loves it, loves practice, loves the weight room, loves to hit people. You know, he loves being with his teammates. You guys heard all the comments at the end of last year, everyone was asking him, ‘Are you going out early in the draft?’ He was like, ‘You kidding me? Leave this?’ He loves it. Someone who loves their job and works at their job and happens to have a lot of talent in their job … you ought not be surprised at what they can accomplish. As I mentioned about Nick, you know, we've been around a few All-Americans, and they've got to be, you know, A.J. and Nick have got to be considered in that vein because of their performance.”
The Players’ View
It’s been a solid season for Datish, who is learning a new position on the fly. For him to be named the offensive player of the week over Holmes was a bold statement by the coaching staff.
“I think so far this year has been pretty good for me,” Datish said. “I’ve kind of established myself. Since Steve had his illness, it’s kind of been my job solely. So far, I think I’m having a pretty good year.”
Datish was a guard/center his first three years in the program. But he was shifted to left tackle in camp and has held his own.
“Yeah, I guess I’m learning on the job,” Datish said. “But I think I bring a different – since I’m not a traditional tackle – I think I bring kind of the guard, center aspect to it. A lot of defensive ends aren’t ready for that kind of play.”
Datish says that Indiana will be no pushover this Saturday in Bloomington.
“They seem like they’re playing with a little more purpose; a little more toughness than maybe has been associated with them in years past,” he said.
But Datish is looking forward to seeing OSU fans take over Memorial Stadium.
“Yeah, last time I was there, it was like we had a home game, it was really loud,” he said. “We had a lot of fans there. I think they did the O-H-I-O around the stadium, which is always an interesting sight to see at someone else’s stadium. But it’s great for our fans to travel like that for us.”
The Buckeyes have been unable to put together back-to-back productive offensive performances this season. But Datish is hoping all of that changes this week.
“That would be great for us,” he said. “I think it would boost everybody’s confidence and it will give everybody maybe a little more sense of security of what we’re doing on offense. I just hope we get consistent this week and keep it going from last week.”
Datish thinks that Smith is getting better each week behind center.
“I think he’s settled down and he’s gained a lot of confidence,” Datish said. “And I think that he’s trusting us as the O-line to stay in the pocket more and find those guys instead of looking to run, more often than not.”
Was Smith uncomfortable early in the season?
“I wouldn’t say he was uncomfortable,” Datish said. “I would just say – just like myself – playing last year and playing this year is a huge difference in maturity. I think he’s just matured and is feeling more comfortable with what he needs to do in our offense.”
As for Pittman, Datish believes that a 1,000-yard season is very much in the cards.
“I think Tony is a great back,” he said. “He is seeing things now that he wasn’t seeing last year. He put on some weight and he’s a tough kid. He wants the ball a lot. We just want to get him in the end zone so he can have some (glory).”
* Senior middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel does not want to leave OSU empty-handed in terms of a Big Ten championship. He says the Buckeyes’ quest for a Big Ten title continues this week at Indiana.
“I think it’s that time right now where we know every game is crucial and we’re trying to win the Big Ten here,” Schlegel said. “You can’t win it with two losses and fortunately everyone has a loss now. So, every week is for the Big Ten championship and you can’t take anyone lightly and you just got to keep playing hard.”
Schlegel is expecting a tough game against the much-improved Hoosiers.
“I think they changed the offense – they spread it out now. They have good receivers and they have a good running game. They are a lot like Miami of Ohio in what they do and it’s like they are really comfortable in it and the guys have responded to that. Anytime you’re comfortable with the scheme you’re running, you play with confidence and you play fast. I think that’s what the new coach has really brought to them.”
During the Michigan State game, Hawk was yelling, trying to get his teammates fired up. Usually Hawk is a player that leads by example, but he proved he can be a vocal leader when the situation calls for it.
“Oh yeah,” Schlegel said. “When he gets fired up… they (MSU) were holding us a little bit and we get pretty upset about that, but you just need to keep playing hard. And that’s the thing: everyone on defense is playing hard and A.J. is no exception. He plays hard every play. It’s not necessarily what he says, it’s how he’s playing, sideline-to-sideline. Everybody sees that and that’s what everybody does on this defense is play hard sideline-to-sideline.”
As for Youboty, he continues to make big plays for the Buckeyes. Against Michigan State, it was his work on special teams that might have saved the day. But he’s also one of the top lockdown corners in the Big Ten.
Schlegel revealed that Youboty has been given a nickname by his teammates.
“Oh Ashton’s tough,” Schlegel said. “We call him ‘Prince.’ Why? I don’t know. That’s what Nate (Salley) always calls him: Prince. But he’s a tough guy. He couldn’t catch his breath. I mean, those DB’s are out there running around 30, 40 yards every play. He’s just out there and I remember he couldn’t breathe like two plays before that play. Nate and him came off and made a great play and changed the game. That just shows the character of our team that we’re playing for each other. For him to do that was huge.”
* OSU also announced that Tyler Whaley was the scout team offensive player of the week, Todd Denlinger was the scout team defensive player of the week, and Austin Spitler was the scout team special teams player of the week.