Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel held his weekly press luncheon on Tuesday. The No. 1 Buckeyes are coming off of their huge 24-7 win over Texas and will host Cincinnati on Saturday (noon, ESPN Plus).
First up, Tressel addressed the questionable roughing the passer penalty on OSU defensive end Jay Richardson that led to Texas’ lone score of the game.
“(The official explained to me) that his job was to protect the quarterback and he was going to protect their quarterback and ours as well, and I understood that, kind of,” Tressel said, drawing laugher from reporters. “He just said he was protecting the quarterback, which you know, it was a tough place to go play. I’m sure it was a tough place to go officiate, so the game was fast. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t, and whether they did or they didn’t get it right, it’s not for me to say. But I can voice my opinion like the other 89,000.”
What would Tressel tell Richardson to do different if the same situation arises again?
“Nothing,” the coach said.
Tressel also addressed the confidence level of freshman kicker Aaron Pettrey who was one of two in field goals against Texas, made all three extra points, and boomed his kickoffs deep.
“I think his confidence in his kickoffs is very solid, three or four touchbacks, hits the ball hard, knows he needs to get a little bit better from a hang time standpoint, but I think it’s very solid there,” Tressel said. “I saw his placekicking confidence grow a little. The first one, he hesitated a little bit, then rushed it, and didn’t hit it well. The one that he did then make was OK. It went through the goal post, but it wasn’t wonderful, but then his next couple extra points, you could see him get a little stroke. If you saw the ball on the extra points, they were dead center, not that it’s worth any more points if it’s dead center, but I think that tells you something about that’s hopefully now seven or eight placekicks he’s had in his career and I’d like to think he’ll just keep getting better.”
Tressel will be coaching against his good friend and former assistant Mark Dantonio when the Bearcats come to Columbus on Saturday. Of course Tressel wants to win, but he admits that it’s hard going up against a friend in the heat of battle.
“Oh, absolutely,” Tressel said. “I remember his first game at Cincinnati and you looked across the side line and there was Jeff Uhlenhake who had just been on our staff and Mark Staten and Mike Tressel, and who I’d coached at Ohio and who had coached with me at Youngstown, and Pat Narduzzi who had played for us at Youngstown. And of course Dino, you felt like you grew up with him, so no question. Those are the kind of games you just like to get over with. You like to get focused on the task at hand. Where does Ohio State need to get better and forget about who we’re playing. It is different, though, honestly.”
Freshman safety Anderson Russell has surpassed sophomore Nick Patterson on the depth chart. Russell was the nickelback in the opener against Northern Illinois, but drew the starting assignment at safety against Texas. And the way he’s been playing, he likely won’t give up his starting spot anytime soon.
“We started Anderson Russell,” Tressel said. “Anderson has been playing well and demonstrating that he deserved that. So Nick, in essence, at that position was replaced by Anderson. I think (Patterson) was on significant special teams and I’m not sure how much defense he played. I know we played seven or eight defensive backs. I can’t swear to you how much Nick played.”
One of the primary concerns for OSU entering the season was how the secondary would hold up with three new starters, or four new starters if you don’t count Malcolm Jenkins as a returning starter (he started three games in 2005). But through two games, the defensive backs look solid.
“Yes, I think it’s a pretty good coverage unit,” Tressel said. “One, I think they limit their missed assignments. And two, I think they’ve got a defensive line in front of them that creates a little disruption and doesn’t allow people to do things on rhythm and that’s got to continue, both those things. We have to keep growing as a good coverage unit and we have to keep finding ways to disrupt the guy with the ball in his hands because that’s the key.”
Junior wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez burned Texas for eight catches, 142 yards and a touchdown. A few announcers like to say that Gonzalez is “sneaky fast.” But there is nothing sneaky about a young man that runs a 4.3 40.
“There’s some debate that Gonzo versus Teddy (Ginn) in a race, who would win, I don’t know,” Tressel said. “I don’t think Gonzo cares if he’s thought of as the second fastest or the 50th fastest. He’s a smart football player. He’s highly competitive. He wants to become the best receiver he can possibly become. He’s just healthy for everybody he works with, because he shows them the work ethic, he shows them what to be thinking about and how to prepare for things and I don’t think he cares.”
Tressel also announced OSU’s players of the week. They include linebacker James Laurinaitis (defense), Gonzalez (offense), punter A.J. Trapasso (special teams), center Doug Datish (Jim Parker offensive lineman), Quinn Pitcock (attack force), Larry Grant (Jack Tatum hit of the week), Marcus Williams (scout team special teams), quarterback Antonio Henton (scout team offense) and defensive tackle Dexter Larimore (scout team defense).
The Players’ View
Laurinaitis didn’t want to take too much credit for his big game that included 13 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. The sophomore is already carrying himself as a veteran leader.
“I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time a few times,” he said. “I think it’s a whole team effort the way things happen. If Brandon Mitchell doesn’t come up and force (Billy) Pittman then I don’t have a chance to hit him on the goal-line there. If the D-line doesn’t get pressure on Colt (McCoy) then I don’t get the ball thrown right to me. So, it could be a little luck either way. It was a great game, but we have a lot to work on and get better at.”
Laurinaitis was a middle linebacker in high school, but played outside linebacker as a freshman for OSU. He was asked when he knew that he would probably be a MLB for the Buckeyes.
“I felt like I was going to be moved to the middle in the spring a little bit,” he said. “They worked me in there in certain situations, but it was still up in the air. We didn’t really know what three of us were going to play and who was going to start and who wasn’t. So, I’ve just got to keep working hard every day.”
As the middle linebacker, Laurinaitis is the one who calls out the defensive signals. He enjoys that aspect of it and pretty much everything else associated with playing the position.
“Yeah, I like the middle,” Laurinaitis said.
As for Trapasso, he just continues to improve. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2004, then claimed the starting job last year and averaged 40.1 yards per punt. It was a solid year, but he knew he could get better.
And this year, he is looking like one of the best punters in the Big Ten after averaging over 50 yards per punt against Texas.
“My form has gotten a lot better,” Trapasso said. “In high school, I would be so tired from running the ball I would just get back there and kick it. I didn’t put too much thought into it. Now, my form is a lot better. It’s still not perfect by any means, but I’m getting better.”
Everyone is finding out first-hand why Trapasso was the first overall selection in the 2006 spring game draft by the current crop of OSU seniors.
“I think that was because they had to take a punter first,” Trapasso said with a laugh. “I don’t consider myself really the first pick of the draft.”