Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel began his segment at the weekly Big Ten
teleconference with a statement about OSU's victory over Indiana and the
upcoming game at Minnesota.
"Every time you go on the road in the Big Ten, it's a heck of a
challenge and a heck of a test," Tressel said. "We just came back
being from in Indiana and had a tough ball game over there -- well into the
third and fourth quarter it was tight. We were fortunate enough to score a
little bit late in the game. Every time you go on the road, it's a tough one.
We're going to a tough place up at Minnesota, a top 25 football team. I think
it's our fifth or so top 25 football team we've played this year, and none of
them I've seen run the football like Minnesota, and that's going to be a great
challenge and we're looking forward to it."
The Buckeyes will be facing the top-ranked rushing offense in the country
this Saturday when they square off against the Gophers. Tressel was asked if too
much of a focus on Minnesota's rushing attack might result in the Buckeyes
getting burned with the pass, and he responded by saying that the Buckeyes will
need to be wary of both.
"I think all of us in the Big Ten and really around the country have a
variety of ways that we can defend," Tressel said. "We all have
defenses that we can load the box up, and then we're kind of leaving our corners
and some of our DBs on an island and see how they do. Then we have other ways
that we can deploy where we can give the people on the back end a little more
help and be a little more vulnerable to the run. I think you have to be able to
do both and do it at different times and not be able to have a team say 'We know
they're always going to do this or always going to do that,' because Minnesota
does a nice job with their passing game. It's a great compliment to their run
"You know you're going to have to attempt to stop their run to keep them
in check. There's no doubt about it. Them knowing that, they have designed their
pass game with that in mind, and they do it efficiently. It's not huge numbers,
but when you spend as many of your plays running the ball as they do, you're not
going to have huge pass numbers. But you do it very effectively, I think."
One of Minnesota's lesser-known weapons is running back Gary Russell, who has
644 yards on 85 carries and 10 touchdowns while splitting time with starter
Laurence Maroney. Tressel was asked how hard Ohio State recruited Russell, who
played his high school ball at Columbus Walnut Ridge.
"It's interesting," Tressel said. "There are 89 players on Big
Ten rosters from the state of Ohio, not counting the Ohio State players. We've
got I suppose 60 or 70, maybe more. But one thing's for sure is we've got good
football here. We've got excellent high school football coaches and training.
Culturally, our people love the game.
"In terms of guys like Gary Russell, absolutely we knew of him and were
on to him and the whole thing. He's done a great job there. We take a little bit
of pride in the Ohio guys elsewhere except for when we play them. That's a
little difficult. But we take a lot of pride in the kind of football they play
in our state. We wish we could have every one of those 89, but that's not the
way it works."
On Ohio State's side, the Buckeyes have a developing go-to guy at running
back in Antonio Pittman after having struggled at running back the past two
seasons. Tressel was asked if there were concerns about the running game coming
into this week's game.
"We always want our rushing attack to improve," Tressel said.
"I think we've made improvement. Antonio, I think, has turned into a good
number one back. I think he's a darn good one. Our number two rusher right now
is our quarterback Troy Smith. I think I would probably prefer to have another
running back be the number two guy from a results standpoint. It was good to see
Maurice Wells get in (against Indiana) and get 50 yards on about 8 or 9 or 10
carries. My concern probably would be more on the number two spot than the
Wide receiver Ted Ginn had a breakout game against Indiana as he was named
special teams player of the week by the Big Ten. Tressel talked about what makes
Ginn tough as a receiver and a return man.
"Teddy's a great kid," Tressel said. "He's a great competitor.
This is his first year as a full-time starter, and obviously also keeping his
return duties as well, and he's doing a nice job blocking as well as we think a
very good receiver. He's got 20-some catches I guess, and he's a threat out
there every time you get him the football. Then in the return game, he's a guy
that there might be three returns where he just looks average, and then the
fourth one, there he goes. He's had a couple called back; he had one punt for a
touchdown called back, one kickoff for a touchdown called back and a couple
other long returns called back. We've got to eliminate penalties and Ted Ginn
will look even better than he is."
Tressel was also asked about linebacker A.J. Hawk and how Hawk gets his
passion for football as compared to linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who comes from a
well-known football family.
"It's true that a lot of people know Bobby with his brothers and so
forth because one plays at Cincinnati and what not, but A.J. had a brother too
who played at Ohio University and was an excellent player and was a couple years
ahead of A.J," Tressel said. "A.J. comes from a tough football program
in Centerville, Ohio. That's the same place that Kirk Herbstreit played and Mike Nugent, just an outstanding program. If you're going to be a good player in that
program, you're going to have to be tough. Having guys like A.J. and Bobby with
their background and with their passion and with their habits and their
enjoyment of the game, we're certainly very fortunate."
Minnesota head coach Glen Mason was the last coach on the teleconference, and
he discussed his team's bye week as well as the upcoming opponent.
"We had a bye week last week, the first time in a couple years that
we've had one, so it was kind of an unusual deal around here," Mason said.
"We tried to get a couple things accomplished, which we did, or hope we
did. This week, we're preparing for Ohio State. They're a great football team,
and I don't say that loosely. (They're) very talented; every place you look,
there's talent -- offense, defense, kicking game -- good as anybody in the
"I watched like probably most of the country when they played Texas
earlier in the year, and now Texas is No. 1 in the BCS poll, and Ohio State
people and a lot of Big Ten people thought Ohio State should have won the
football game. It'll be a real challenge for us, but that's what you get excited
about -- challenges. So we're looking forward to this week."
Mason was asked what his main concerns were with Ohio State's defense, and
his answer was a familiar one -- the linebackers.
"You don't get to be the No. 1 rush defense in the country and No. 3
overall unless you're pretty darn good in all areas because you're going to see
a variety of attacks, and if you're weak in an area, the offense can dictate
where it's going," Mason said. "There's one thing that stands out is
those three linebackers. We've got some good linebackers in this league and
we've had some good linebackers in this league, but I can honestly say I can't
ever remember facing three linebackers to these guys' equal. They're awful good.
They're big, strong, physical and they've got great savvy. Good football
Mason also briefly discussed the Ohio State defensive line.
"They're big and strong," Mason said. "If the front four
wasn't so good, you'd figure a way that you could probably handle the
linebackers, but the first line of defense, they're stout. I'm impressed.
They're very well coached. They're tough kids that play hard and they let those
linebackers clean up the rest."
Minnesota is known for having a good percentage of their players from Ohio,
including starting quarterback and Cincinnati McNicholas product Bryan Cupito,
who will be back this week at quarterback after sitting out due to injury
against Wisconsin. Mason was asked what he saw in Cupito coming out of high
school that made the Gophers decide to recruit him.
"I just liked the way that he operated out of a shotgun offense but he
was a very, very accurate passer," Mason said. "I think that's
typically what we need in our attack is someone who is people overplay the run,
we can exploit the pass. We need to do that a little bit better than we have
been doing, but that's our thought process. Bryan was playing well and
then he was injured against Michigan in the latter part of that game. We laid
him out a week, but he's back now. He's practicing and looks good."
Another Ohio product is wide receiver Jared Ellerson, who has had a solid
career for the Golden Gophers.
"Jared's played a lot of football around here," Mason said.
"He came to us from Copley High School and really three years ago had I
think a tremendous season. He's been a steady performer for us. He's been
a little banged up; no major injuries, but we haven't been able to seem to get
him 100 percent healthy for a long period of time. But he's a very steady
performer for us. As most people know, receivers here are not only called on to
catch the ball but are very prominent in our blocking and run game."
One more Ohio player who will be getting plenty of focus is running back Gary
Russell. Mason was asked about Russell's style and how it compliments starter
"Gary Russell is an awfully good running back," Mason said. "I
got asked the question all the time to compare Marion Barber III and Maroney
last year, and I get asked the same questions now. They're all different, but
Gary runs with a very low center of gravity. He's a very strong guy. A number of
times you see people try to take him down and he moves the pile. And he has
deceiving speed, which I think was very evident in his run against Michigan at
the end of the game."
Maroney is one of the favorites for Big Ten offensive player of the year as
he currently has 1,133 yards and 8 touchdowns on 208 carries. Maroney's number
of carries is one of the highest in America, and Mason was asked how Maroney is
able to carry such a big load.
"In this league, you better be awful tough, I can tell you that,"
Mason said. "I don't think there's anything tougher in football than when
you get tackled. I think all you have to do is ask any defensive player what's
the worst and they say when you have to be the ball carrier in defensive
practice when you're the guy getting tackled. But you better be pretty durable
and I guess you better know when to pour it on. You better know when to duck
because you'll take a beating."
A criticism of Minnesota in the past has been their inability to win the
games against the upper echelon teams of the Big Ten, but this year's victory at
Michigan silenced some critics. Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said this
year's team is the best Minnesota team he's seen, but Mason says that the main
difference has been experience.
"I heard Coach Paterno say that," Mason said. "I really don't
give it much thought year to year to year. The only difference I see, we've been
an awfully young football team the last couple of years with really just a
handful of seniors. This year, we've got more seniors, more seniors playing,
especially on the offensive side of the football -- some guys that have played a
lot of football. I think that really helps."