Well the Senator was back at it again this week and this time he not only had to face questions about the game this week, but also questions about the national reputation of the Buckeyes as they head into possibly the biggest statement game played under Tressel at Ohio State.
Tressel started out the press conference this week discussing last week's game against Navy. The Vest downplayed the close score of the game, but did expand upon some issues that both the media and fans had on their minds after the game. One of those was putting Joe Bauserman in during the second quarter, and Tressel had this to say about his decision to play the back-up quarterback:
We were able to get Joe Bauserman in, which I thought was critical to make sure we did that because we feel as if you always have to have two quarterbacks ready to step in front of that huddle.
I agree with Tressel that getting your back up meaningful snaps is important, and the drive did result in a field goal, but there was a chance to put away the game and I think you take that chance when you have it. That is the difference between a coach like Tressel and say Urban Meyer or Pete Carroll, and it could be the difference in winning Saturday's game or not.
Tressel then went on to speak about USC coming to town, and highlighted Matt Barkley's performance. Barkley played in his first college game against San Jose State last week going 15-19 for 233 yards and a touchdown in his debut. Tressel seemed impressed with Barkley's performance and thinks he is going to be a good quarterback:
I thought their young quarterback demonstrated a command that might have been beyond his years for a youngster that just came in in the spring and had some spring practice and probably had some increased reps a little bit this preseason because of the injury to the other fellow and took advantage of that, grabbed the job, and stepped up and was very efficient. He's got some great people around him and he recognizes that and distributes the ball very, very well, gets them in the right plays, make the checks and all those things.
Tressel obviously said the things you are supposed to say when talking to the media about the opposing quarterback, but I think he brings up a valid point about Barkley participating in spring practice. While Barkley is a freshman, he does have a full slate of practice in the spring, summer, and fall which is very important when you think about how well he has a grasp on the offense and play calls. Imagine if Pryor was able to go through spring practice before last season. As good as he was, the plays Tressel called for LiC were very limited and if he had a better mental hold on the system, we could have seen more results earlier on. Barkley is certainly in for a challenge as practice in no way can simulate the environment he will face Saturday night, but he is as ready as he can be for the biggest game of his life.
As for USC's other weapons, Tressel discussed the rest of the USC roster, and like the rest of us, knows that it is going to be a big challenge to stop the Trojans this weekend:
And their offensive line is a veteran group. They had a couple injuries off and on last year, so they're probably deeper right now than might be normal because they've had some other guys play. And we understand that their outstanding center, O'Dowd, will probably be back, which he's a heck of a football player. And their receiver corps is very, very talented and dangerous and they spread it around whether it's throwing to the backs or throwing to the tight ends or throwing to the wide people. They have a great group of running backs. Joe McKnight is as talented as perhaps they've had, and so our defense has got a tremendous challenge.
Offensively we face a group that conceptually is very, very similar to what they've been. They do have a significant number of new faces, although those faces were on the field a year ago, a lot of them in the special teams and some of them in back-up roles and throughout the course of the year did have some opportunities to play, very talented, great speed, great team defensive speed, excellent knowledge of what they're doing. They're not extremely complicated, but they are extremely good at what they do and you're going to have to earn every yard you can possibly get.
From a specialist standpoint, their returners are frightening. They have any one of two or three guys that could bring a punt back on you and the same on the kickoffs and the pressure they can put on you with the speed they have on their field is outstanding. Their specialists that kick and punt are a little bit newer, but did a solid job. I think they had three touchbacks on kickoffs which, when they moved the kickoff back, it became a lot more difficult to get touchbacks and they got three of them there.
It's a long one, but when talking about USC's team, the one thing that stand out is their depth. I think Tressel recognizes this and knows that even though they lost a ton of players from last year's squad they will be locked and re-loaded for Saturday's game.
The Vest hit the nail right on the head when talking about USC's offensive line. They are the best in the nation and will be the toughest wall to crack in pursuit of victory. If the OSU defensive line can get pressure on Barkley and get into the backfield to stop the run, the Bucks have a great chance to win the game. If O'Dowd & Co. take care of business on Saturday, we could be in for a long night.
As for the Trojan defense, I agree with Tressel once again. I think USC is not going to surprise anyone. They run their system and they run it well. They will have big, strong, athletic players who are going to get after you and make you beat them. They dictate how they want you to play and if you do what they want, the game is ultimately over. While some of the big names are gone, some fresh talent comes in and should not be underestimated by the Ohio State offensive unit.
When asked about the psychological impact last year's game has on this year's team, Tressel did not shy away from answering the question, but did not exactly say how he plans to use the game for motivation either. Similar questions were asked several times throughout the press luncheon, but Tressel did not give much away in terms of how his team is handling last year's 35-3 defeat:
I'm sure the guys that played in the game last year have a little bit different vantage point than the guys that didn't, and I think motivation at the end of the day ends up how does it motivate you personally. So there will be some guys that say, hey, I could have done this or that better the last time we played, but I hope they said that the week following that game and started working on that. But as a whole, will we sit and pound on the fact that we weren't successful? No.
I take a different viewpoint than The Senator when it comes to this. I think it is important not to put too much pressure on this year's team to have to avenge the embarrassment of last year's loss, but something has to motivate this team to want to bury USC on their home turf. The Buckeyes are 6.5 point under dogs at home. When was the last time you remember the Buckeyes being under dogs at home? Maybe Tress just doesn't want to let the cat out of the box, but something needs to be done to get this team going and not just for the opening kickoff. The effort needs to be there all 60 minutes and the intensity needs to be off the charts for the entire night.
Speaking of a 60-minute effort, Tressel went on to say:
Gosh, I hope they're not thinking about that, because if you're thinking about something that's at the end of those 60 minutes, I'm not sure you're going to play each of those minutes the way that you should. As they watch the film and you ask them what they're thinking, I hope they ask you, what play was called, because that's what's important. What play's called? What defense is called? What's the situation. And not, well, I was thinking if we win this game that will be awesome.
Now that is what I want to hear. Some players admitted that they kind of took the second half off after getting a good jump on Navy, and that is not ok by any means. USC, Florida, Texas, etc. do not take plays off and that is why they are the best teams in the country and the front runners for the MNC. If the Buckeyes want to beat the Trojans they must play all 60 minutes and I put that responsibility on the shoulders of the coaches.
Finally, the Michael Vick eye black. If it wasn't for USC, this would surely be the hot topic of the week. When asked about Pryor's decision to put Vick on his left eye black and if he would institute a policy to have players' eye blacks checked, Tressel said he would not limit a player's individual expression:
In fact we talked a little bit about that because it's not the first time that we've had letters and emails and so forth about something that someone has personally expressed, whether it's on their eye patches or someone might write something on their shoe, or on the tape on their wrist and those kinds of things.
So it's a little bit tough in this country to have too much of a policy on personal expression, but it's unfortunate when that distracts from situations that were so extraordinary as the weekend we had. And I guess you'd have to know Terrelle like I know Terrelle. There's probably not a more compassionate human being in the world than Terrelle. We were sitting watching film last night and a text came in from Terrelle and he said, hey, Coach, we've got to pump up T-Wash. He's a little bit down. He dropped a ball or whatever. And that's just the way he thinks all day long.
I remember about 1:00 in the morning after we lost the National Championship to LSU I got a text from Terrelle saying, hey, don't worry about it, Coach, we're going to get it done in the future. And unfortunately I couldn't text him back.
Very interesting to see that Tressel will not be instituting a policy on this behavior. I see Tress as the type that would be very politically correct when dealing with these types of things and I didn't expect to see LiC punished for his actions, but thought we would see a ban on such things in the future. I guess whatever makes Terrelle happy is what JT is going to do and as long as he keeps winning games, I doubt you'll see his eye black censored.
As for Tressel defending Terrelle's character, you can really see there is a personal relationaship there that goes beyond football. It kind of reminds me of when Troy Smith was here. You knew Tressel had certain players that he loved, but Troy Smith was like a son to The Vest. I think Terrelle has started to develop this type of relationship with his coach and if it leads him to a similar career of Troy's (hopefully a MNC win though) then I have no problem with it. Also interesting to see TP was thinking he was a Buckeye all the way back to the LSU game. Seems like all that Michigan, Penn State, and Oregon talk was just nonsense.
Here are some other player interviews from the post-luncheon interview session courtesy of the A/V room at 11W HQ: