Change On The Way For Buckeyes
Sitting at 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten for the first time in more than a decade, things are going to begin to change around the Ohio State football team.
And that change may or may not include the Buckeyes' starting quarterback, a position currently up in the air depending on the health status of Justin Zwick, who suffered an unspecified shoulder injury during OSU's 33-7 loss to Iowa last Saturday.
"Right now, Justin is on a day-to-day situation," head coach Jim Tressel said at his media luncheon Tuesday. "He won't throw today, and then we'll evaluate it as we go. So I suppose the answer to the question as to who would start at quarterback if we were playing today would be Troy (Smith), and Todd (Boeckman) would be the back-up and then we'll evaluate it each day."
Whether there is a new quarterback under center against Indiana Saturday or not, changes are already in place. For instance, the only players who will be available to the media this week are captains Simon Fraser, Dustin Fox, Mike Nugent and Lydell Ross and perhaps some of their senior classmates, whereas in past weeks any number of the Buckeyes -- senior or not -- spoke with reporters on Tuesday.
Tressel also did not bring any players with him to his Tuesday luncheon, as is usually the case. The coach chalked that up mainly to the fact that so many players who would attend have conflicts with their class schedule, but it's also part of a renewed effort by the seniors to make the 2004 team their own.
"Some of the older guys who do want to lead this team came to me and said, 'You know, Coach, you've always made it more of a premium for the seniors to have the responsibility of visiting with the media and letting the people who want to know know what we're thinking and what we're doing and so forth, and we'd like to get more involved,' " Tressel said.
"So what we're doing this afternoon in response to that is our captains and a couple other seniors are going to handle the media responsibilities, the opportunity to share with the people that are interested that here's where we are, here's where we want to take our team, and we think that that will be a positive thing because I think we do have guys that want to lead."
The announcement that player access would be cut back this week in the wake of an unprecedented losing streak under Tressel and a potential change in the Buckeyes' starting quarterback did not sit well with some of the assembled reporters. Some questioned whether comments such as those Smith made a few weeks back, when he expressed his unhappiness with his lack of playing time, contributed to the lack of player availability this week.
Tressel attempted to put such concerns to rest.
"The fact that we're having the captains and some seniors handle things today is a reflection that that's what they would like to do," he said. "You know what? I think that's a great idea, so I concur."
The head coach also did not announce any players of the week at his press luncheon, as has been custom under Tressel. He did not announce an offensive player of the week following the loss to Wisconsin because of the unit's poor performance, but he did not specify Tuesday why he did not name any players of the week after the loss in Iowa City.
Tressel did go into a bit further depth in his discussion of the quarterback position and what he has seen out of both of the primary competitors at the position. Smith got his first playing time in three games when Zwick left with a banged-up shoulder in the second half of the loss to the Hawkeyes and directed the Buckeyes to their only touchdown on the team's final possession.
"I've always been a person that wants to deal with reality," Tressel said. "That was Iowa's second defense, playing a vanilla defense, but you still have to execute and I thought he did some good things there. I thought there were some things that he did that we can't have on an everyday basis, but I thought it was a good experience for him."
One thing Smith did not do was throw an interception, the same of which could not be said about Zwick. His pick was a crucial one, coming late in the first half with the Buckeyes on Iowa's 13-yard line and appearing primed to get on the scoreboard before the half, cutting his squad's deficit to either 10-7 or 10-3 at worst.
"If I had to put it in two things, because now I see it after, is we probably shouldn't have called it," Tressel said. "But that fact the we did, what went wrong was the execution of it. (The ball) probably should have been dropped down to the guy in front. He might not have got a first -- where the guy was that was available to throw to was about two yards shy of the sticks, although his defender was back in the end zone, so we had a chance. Or throw it through the goal posts. So it might not have been the best thing to have on, but it certainly wasn't executed like we would like."
Turnovers have been Zwick's biggest bugaboo this season, as he has thrown six interceptions to five touchdowns and has lost multiple fumbles, including one deep in his own territory early in the second half at Iowa.
"We can't have any turnovers if we want to have a chance to beat good teams," Tressel said. "So that's obviously the thing that I've liked least. The thing that I've liked most is the fact that I do think he has a handle on what defenses do and what we're trying to do and unfortunately, sometimes, those turnovers occur when you're trying to make something happen when the best decision might have been to kick a field goal or punt. But I think the's got a handle on what people try to do against offenses and what offenses try to do against defenses."
Should Zwick be forced to sit out the Buckeyes' noon contest with Indiana on Saturday, true freshman Todd Boeckman would be the backup. Boeckman graduated from St. Henry high school in 2003 but did not enroll at Ohio State until January of this year.
The coaches had hoped to save a year of eligibility and put two years of separation between Boeckman and the duo of Zwick and Smith by redshirting Boeckman this year, but Zwick's injury may scuttle those plans.
"Todd Boeckman does a great job," Tressel said. "It's a different situation (playing scout team quarterback). The play is on a card and you know what the defense is going to be and you don't have to think through it and so forth and the defense tells you, 'Hey, here's the weakness, see if you can exploit our weakness.' But still our defensive coaches have said for quite some time that they feel that Todd Boeckman is going to be a good one and I feel the same way."
* Continuing with the theme of change, there were a couple notable moves on the depth chart this week.
Perhaps most significant is that while senior Dustin Fox returns to the starting lineup after having been absent due to a broken arm for the past month, he did not replace Ashton Youboty, the man that filled his starting spot. Instead, Youboty remains a starter, while E.J. Underwood is listed as Fox's backup.
Tressel had little to say on the matter, deferring to his defensive coaches.
"I would say this," Tressel said. "This week's practice will impact anything that's written there."
Also returning to the starting lineup after time away due to injury is senior fullback Branden Joe, who is listed No. 1 at that position. Sophomore Stan White Jr. is behind Joe with junior Brandon Schnittker third.
Defensive tackle David Patterson also made his first appearance as the starter inside on the defensive line. He supplants Marcus Green, who the depth chart notes has been "slowed by (an) ankle sprain the last 3 games."
* Tressel shared that he has heard from some former players in recent days, including one unnamed player who played under head coach Earle Bruce in the 1980s.
"It was interesting," Tressel said. "He said, 'I was on a team where we lost three games in a row in the stadium and you could feel the tension. It wasn't until (then) Coach Bruce and his staff made it known to all of us that, hey, we're in this together and we're going to solve this thing together. That was the most fun year I've ever had at Ohio State, and some of the other years were even better (from a record standpoint).'
"That ability of a team to care for one another from top to bottom, side to side and all be pulling the oars in the same direction is one of the components that makes up an excellent team."
Tressel said that the majority of the former players have not been making specific suggestions but instead have primarily been offering their support.
"The thing that's beautiful about former players is they know that they've been there too and the ones that are true to themselves know that they've been in those moments where they needed to raise up and get things done better and that that's really not a time to talk about it," Tressel said. "Former players who care so much about their school many times take that opportunity to say, 'Hey, we've been there before and we need to head it in the right direction.' "
* Other topics Tressel addressed included the following:
OSU's defensive effort thus far this year: "I've always felt that defense is so much emotion and I guess what disappoints me the most is that we have offensively given opportunities for our defense to lose a little bit of emotion, like leaving the ball on the 25 last week or leaving the ball on the 13 or something when we dropped that punt (against Wisconsin). You can't do that against good teams. You can't help the other guys and hurt your own guys at the same time."
What has gone wrong with the rushing attack, which is averaging 97.7 yards per game and is ranked 104th out of 117 Division I teams: "When you watch a god team play, whether it's in their offense, their defense or special teams, you see them playing with a lot of velocity. I don't know that I'm see that in the run game. Now, is that which plays we're running or lacking velocity in general? I don't know that I can answer that, but I don't see the velocity which in my mind creates the pressure on the defense which then allows you to do well there."
Whether other changes in the starting lineup could be coming: "I do think we have some guys that have lacked some consistency that need to get better and maybe need to have someone have some opportunities that haven't had the opportunity. Exactly where we are there, I don't know. There's pretty good competition at some positions."
* Game time for Ohio State's Oct. 30 home game with Penn State has been set for noon, although it has yet to be determined whether the game will be carried on ABC or ESPN.
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