COLUMBUS, Ohio - Members of the Ohio State football team couldn't quite remember what head coach Jim Tressel said at halftime in Saturday's 38-14 win over Penn State.
And it didn't matter. It was how he delivered his message that couldn't be forgotten by any of the players on the receiving end of it.
"He got really fired up. I haven't seen him like that before," said Ohio State junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor. "We were getting embarrassed on our home field and when he turns it up he starts getting guys' attention.
"He was yelling," Pryor continued. "I can't remember exactly what it was he was saying, but I don't think we even needed to hear the words. I just think it was his demeanor and the way he was going about it, he was pretty fired up. I think he may have been at the top of his lungs."
Tressel has been known as an even-keel guy in his 10 years at the helm of the Buckeye football program. Seldom does he lose his cool, regardless of the situation, and Tressel has become synonymous with keeping his attitude, along with his playbook, close to his sweater vest.
But just three weeks removed from the team's lone loss of the season at Wisconsin, Tressel found a time to deliver a crucial message to his team. A message, in fact, that has seemingly kept his team's shot at a Big Ten Conference title and BCS Bowl berth alive.
"It is a rarity," safety Orhian Johnson said. "He is a guy you don't ever want to disappoint. He shows so much love for our team and for his players, so when he is upset with you, it is time for somebody to step up and make some plays. You could see it in his face and the way he was moving. It was time for us to step up."
Tressel was fired up because the Buckeyes waltzed into the locker room down 14-3 to the 17.5-point underdog Nittany Lions, making for an eerily similar feeling to the game in Madison.
While the Buckeyes didn't face the same deficit they did at the half against the Badgers - the team trailed Wisconsin 21-3 after 30 minutes of football - the same feeling that Ohio State could be in jeopardy of losing the game at home was prevalent.
"We kind of had a week-off hangover in the first half and I was having a few flashbacks (to the Wisconsin game)," junior center Michael Brewster said. "Tressel doesn't come out and yell much. He stays pretty even, so when he gets after us people listen."
Despite being down by 11 points at the half, the Buckeyes made a big play right before the team made its trek to the locker room that Tressel described after the game as the turning point.
Already down 14-3 to the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes had their backs against the wall with Penn State driving late in the half. With less than four minutes remaining in the first half, Penn State faced a fourth-and-1 from the Ohio State 30.
Though Tressel said he looked over and saw Penn State head coach Joe Paterno talking about sending in the field goal unit - which would have allowed Penn State to extend the lead to two touchdowns - the Lions decided to go for it.
Despite the fact Penn State had already converted on a fourth-and-1 on the drive, Ohio State got a big stop from Jermale Hines and Johnson on the conversion attempt, stopping the Lions' drive and keeping the deficit to just 11.
"Well, we talked at halftime about the fact that the turning point in the game was when we stopped them on fourth down in the second quarter and that all the stories were going to be written as that being a turning point," Tressel said. "And our guys went out the second half and took over, but I think it was fueled by how hard that defense fought in that last series that they had to stop them."
Tressel admitted that he was surprised Paterno in his staff didn't opt to take the points and increase the lead over the lackluster Buckeyes.
"I was looking at it across the field and I thought (Paterno) was suggesting (to kick a field goal), and I thought, 'Oh, shoot, I hope they go for it,'" Tressel said. "The kicking team kind of stepped out there a little bit and I'm glad they didn't. Sometimes when you have committee meetings, things get all screwed up, but that was crucial."
Pryor mentioned he felt Tressel was competitive this week in his desire to want to knock off the legendary Paterno, who got his 400th win last week. After the win Paterno made a comment about beating the Buckeyes.
"He even said that the only reason (ESPN's) 'College Gameday' came was because Paterno said after the game last week, 'let's go beat the Buckeyes,'" Pryor said. "I think in a way, maybe Tressel was offended. Coaches compete, too. He wants to beat Paterno as much he can."
For now, the Buckeyes will take a win that needed the biggest comeback at home in the Tressel era at Ohio State. With the win, Ohio State still controls its own destiny to at least share a portion of the Big Ten title.
But it was at the halfway point in the game that the players, and even Tressel, realized the biggest change had occurred. Then with 35 unanswered points later, Ohio State now seems poised to take on Iowa in Kinnick Stadium next week.
"Well, the halftime locker room was not a fun place," Tressel said, "but it was not a place that looked like there was any quit in anybody."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.