A Winning Preparation

Ohio State's coach has been planning for an LSU matchup for months

Dec. 4, 2007

By Carolyn Braff



Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for CSTV.com.
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Last spring, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel scheduled a business trip for his coaching staff. The destination? Baton Rouge.


"We called Les up and said we fully expected him to be in the championship game," Tressel said last Sunday in a conference call with LSU head coach Les Miles. "We wanted to come down and get as much information as we can in case we had a chance to play," he continued with a laugh.


"You know, get all the info," Miles interjected, a chuckle in his voice, as well.




The exchange was good-humored, but something in Tressel's tone said he was not joking.


After last season's 41-14 basting at the hands of Florida in the national championship game, no one was more embarrassed than Tressel, so his eagerness to avoid anything remotely close to a repeat scenario is completely understandable. Given the deafening preseason hype surrounding LSU's defense, which was proclaimed to be the best in the history of college football before it played a snap, Tressel's destination was a logical choice that may pay him significant dividends on Jan. 7.


"LSU from the get-go was one of those teams to beat," Tressel said. "We had a chance to see little bits and pieces and see some of those battles that they had. We were so impressed that they could have a game like they had with Arkansas and come back emotionally to win the SEC Title."


Tressel had plenty of time to watch that SEC Title game, because his team had finished the regular season two weeks earlier. But even with the head start in preparation, all odds in this contest seem to be stacked firmly against the Buckeyes.


The "neutral" site of the game in New Orleans roughly translates into a home contest for LSU, which spells logistical bliss for the Tigers. Instead of having to decide how much time to spend at the bowl site or handle the disruptions to a routine that travel entails, LSU can stay at its home practice facility until game day, if Miles is so inclined.


"We'll enjoy it," Miles said of the game's favorable location. "Instead of getting on a plane to go to a bowl game, you get on a bus. It's a really different feeling that way."


Sure, different - like winning is different from losing.


Ohio State is also perceived to be the underdog in the waiting game. While the Buckeyes are expected to be forgetting their plays while filling up on eggnog instead of egg whites, the Tigers will be taking advantage of their five weeks off to heal their myriad injured players - including starting quarterback Matt Flynn and Nagurski Trophy-winning defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.


"Dorsey basically got himself a nice butt contusion," Miles explained with unmatched eloquence. "I think this time off going into the bowl season will allow him to heal and get some elasticity back."


When it comes to bowl-break preparation, Ohio State lost the benefit of the doubt 11 months ago. The Buckeyes had 53 days between their final regular-season game and the national championship. When they finally did take the field and showed zero ability to match Florida's speedy offense, Tressel came under fire for what was assumed to be an inadequate use of the more-than-adequate prep period.


To anyone who watched the title game, it was painfully obvious that Ohio State was at a loss to keep up with the Gators' speed and style. The discrepancy opened the door for an off-season's worth of debates to crown the nation's fastest conference, most ending with a coronation of the SEC in a landslide.


When the BCS pairings were released, Miles was not prepared to get into the speed debate, but he had the good sense to applaud the quickness of Ohio State's offense. The Buckeyes do have some speed in their arsenal, even if they have not faced the toughest teams against which to show it.


"Except for [wide receiver] Trindon Holliday, he's the fastest guy on the field - except for that guy, I think the speed component is very close," Miles said.


Even if Miles' comment was only meant to gain an inch in the PR-tug-of-war, he has a point. For better or for worse, this year's Buckeyes are not the Buckeyes of that season past .


In 2007, Ohio State played only three ranked teams, and none ranked above No. 20 (Purdue, which finished the season 7-5, held the No. 20 spot when they faced the Buckeyes on Oct. 6). The 2006 squad beat two No. 2 teams during the season (defending champion Texas and Michigan) to earn its place in the title game, while the 2007 edition took the sleeper route into the championship with help from a West Virginia meltdown.


"We're a whole different team than we were a year ago," Tressel said.


You can say that again.


For the glass-half-full crowd, that means this year's team is no longer relying on a Heisman Trophy winner to quarterback them to victory, so the inept play of the starting quarterback (Troy Smith was 4-of-14 for 35 yards with an interception) will not be an immediate death knell. Ohio State's 2007 weapons are spread among its unquestionably talented quarterback, Todd Boeckman, a hotshot receiving corps led by Brian Robiskie and a couple of running backs by the last name of Wells.


As for his inability to plan during the layoff, you can bet Tressel has every hour of every day scheduled from here until Jan. 7, perhaps drawing on some of the mental souvenirs he acquired during that springtime business trip.


"It'll be a little different scenario in that we won't be at the bowl site quite as long," Tressel said of the changes he's making for this year. "We were out there at the bowl site for double-digit days because we couldn't practice back here. We'll be here a little bit longer. Outside of that, we'll be studying the film and practicing like crazy and hopefully we'll tailor our plan to the abilities of our players."


Something about him indicates that Tressel already has. Don't count the Buckeyes out of this one just yet.