Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook for another week of Ohio State football, beginning with head coach Luke Fickell’s weekly press conference and moving on to the players and assistant coaches.
Ohio State’s head coach said obviously everyone is disappointed with how they finished the game at Nebraska, but they are ready to move on and will continue approaching the season with the same energy and passion they had before.
Braxton Miller looked more comfortable before begin injured, and that was in part because they did things to make him more comfortably by making plays around him. You could see him growing. He said Miller looked OK physically to start the week but they would have to see how he ran around on it during practice.
Quarterback Kenny Guiton has been getting more reps with the first team offense recently and that would continue. He could also play some special teams (he didn’t say what unit or units).
Someone asked essentially if Joe Bauserman looked as bad on film as he did live, and Fickell said yes. Nebraska changed how it was defending Ohio State when Bauserman came in the game, and that made things more difficult. But everyone could have played better. It wasn’t just him. His attitude is still right, and he wants to do better.
He was asked if the game plan gave the team its best chance to win and he said they evaluate everything, especially when things don’t work. They just needed one more play somewhere along the line to get over the hump. If his interception had been better executed it might have been a touchdown and then been a great move to check out of the run that was called.
The defense was the victim of an unbelievable snowball effect, and it comes down to tackling. The first half they were lights out, played sound. In the second half, Nebraska brought out a different formation and gashed them and the Buckeyes never adjusted. Their tackling then went down the drain. They might have been tired, and they might have been drained mentally.
Asked what the biggest challenge has been so far since he took over as head coach, he said it’s keeping balance in his life and the program. He has to make sure he divvies up his time with the defense well with the rest of the team, and has to do a lot more media and club speaking engagements. That means re-hashing a lot of stuff over and over again. All an assistant coach usually does is go back to work after a game like that. There is nothing else for them to worry about.
Boom Herron will play this week, and the first time we see him might be on special teams. He is a big part of who they are because of his enthusiasm and leadership.
The coaches can help the defense stay mentally strong by being consistent themselves, staying the course. He also said for about the 1,000th time they need to play more guys so they can get as much out of everyone as possible.
Illinois’ success on offense begins with their quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase. The rest of the offense is similar to last year, but he is better as a sophomore. He is a threat as a runner and a passer, and his confidence looks like it is very high. Their defense is sound and mixes up what it does.
The Ohio State offensive line will probably look a lot like it did last week, but it’s nice to have guys available to roll through if they want to.
Nathan Williams is likely out for the year and will need another surgery on his knee, but that was all the information he wanted to give out. Storm Klein is sore after getting banged up at Nebraska but needs to play through it.
Fickell had no explanation for why Illinois has always played Ohio State tough even when there was a big disparity in the teams’ talent level. It goes all the way back to his playing days in the early ’90s.
Guiton has shown them he has a passion to play, and they like to find ways to get guys like that on the field. They tell them to always be ready because they never know when they might be called upon.
Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins is Illinois’ big playmaker, but his chances are often a result of the threat of the running game and the quarterback. He does a good job of taking advantage.
He kind of avoided a question about the defensive line getting handled at Nebraska. He said it was really the whole group struggling. He has been there and knows what it is like when things aren’t going well up front. They needed to settle down and have someone make a play. The coaches need to help them with that, too.
The team overall has been through a lot, but they must get tougher every week. He is confident they are all together. He knows they are hard workers, and that helps him sleep better at night.
They will not revisit the idea of setting permanent captains during the season. They want to keep emphasizing the importance of the group.
Asked abut Jaamal Berry, he said the tailback has ability but is behind some others on the roster based on how they have played. He needs to be ready when the time arises for them to need him. He has a good attitude.
He doesn’t have a problem with the pressure from the fans. He knows there is a lot of passion around the program. That’s why there are 106,000 fans cheering for them every home game. They know who is with them and who is not.
Tight end Jake Stoneburner said Miller looked OK at practice, although he seemed to hold back when he was in scramble mode. He expects Miller to be good to go.
Illinois has a lot of good athletes, and their 6-0 start is no fluke.
Boom Herron is excited to be back with the regular offense and has been his usual vocal self.
The offense struggled late at Nebraska because no one executed like they needed to.
They don’t feel like they are losing a handle on the season. There is still a lot to overcome and a lot to play for. The mood of the team is fine.
Guiton practiced some with the first team, but it was less than a 50/50 split with Bauserman. He is sure Guiton would do a good job if pressed into action.
Stoneburner has a good relationship with fellow tight end Reid Fragel, and they have their own roles on the team.
Cornerback Bradley Roby said the defense did not feel any effect from Miller’s absence at Nebraska. He sees a lot of positives from the loss to the Cornhuskers, and it is a shame they had to come in a loss. The most important lesson is they have to finish games.
Illinois’ receivers are playing with great confidence, and Scheelhaase looks like he is throwing the ball better than last year.
The defense believes it can play with anybody, but they have to do a better job of maintaining their composure. There were guys who seemed to lose their focus as things started going badly in Lincoln. They were gassed because of how fast the offense was moving, but that is part of the game. That just means they should have worked harder to maintain their focus.
A.J. Jenkins is one of those confident receivers. They get him the ball by moving him around in the formation and creating mismatches with linebackers and safeties. Someone asked if his 7.7 catches and 135.8 yards per game is an indication he is a big-time player, Roby said he looks decent on film but is nothing special. They will want to locate him before every play since he moves around.
The team did not watch the Nebraska film as a unit because they know what they did wrong, but he watched the whole game because he always does. That is because he wants to be perfect in everything always. Asked to name one thing he needs to work on. he said playing lower.
He felt like they did a good job against the Nebraska option until late in the game.
The defense did not change anything schematically, it just stopped executing like it did in the first half.
He sees Guiton as a good quarterback who makes the right reads and does not turn the ball over in practice.
Center Mike Brewster said the team needs to keep winning and see what happens. Their pride is hurt by this losing, but sometimes it happens. They had a great week of practice after the debacle against Michigan State and thus played better against Nebraska.
Herron is a powerful back, and we might see him on the field at the same time as fellow tailback Jordan Hall.
Guiton can run and pass, and Brewster is sure he would be fine if they had to put him in a game. Bauserman is not begin negative right now, he is still moving forward, doing what he can. It’s got to be hard dealing with all the criticism and negativity from the fans, but coming in cold off the bench is harder than people probably realize.
Linebacker Andrew Sweat said Guiton is a great competitor.
He said lack of execution was more of an issue against Nebraska than missed tackles. They did not beat enough blocks up front.
Nebraska changed things up schematically, going with some unbalanced line formation to run their toss play out of and getting the zone read going out of that pistol triangle formation. The Buckeyes knew they could do that but did not execute what they had worked on against it.
He feels terrible for Nathan Williams, who is a good friend of his. He is sure he will be back eventually. He missed part of the 2009 season with a torn ACL, so Sweat knows what rehabbing a bad knee is all about.
Defensive tackle Garrett Goebel said the team’s spirit is good. They need to keep it up.
Scheelhaase is a dual threat, and there is some carry over this week from the Nebraska offense because both runs various types of option plays.
They have good players behind Williams, but he is a big loss. He is disappointed but will get back to working hard. He is still leading in the locker room.
The defense has a lot of vocal guys, even some of the younger members.
Quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said Miller looked good in practice these past couple of days and seems to have no physical limitations.
He would not say who is going to be the No. 2 quarterback this week because he didn’t want Illinois to get an advantage in preparation.
The main thing that would limit Guiton if they needed to use him would be inexperience. He knows the offense and what they want to do.
The coaches told Bauserman he needs to keep competing. Sometimes things don’t go your way, and you have to keep your head up. That’s a message for the whole team, too.
He came in saying he felt like the guy wearing a meat poncho in a deodorant commercial, so someone asked if he is feeling any pressure from fans and the media and he said no he was just joking. He doesn’t know what people are saying about him, but he understands the quarterbacks have not played extraordinarily well so far this season and that falls on him.
Miller was more calm at Nebraska than he was when the Buckeyes played Michigan State.
He was asked if Miller might be a guy who needs to learn the difference between being injured and being hurt, and Siciliano said no. He doesn’t know how much pain he’s going through right now, but he assumes he is gutting it out some because he’s been practicing this week.
The biggest thing for a freshman is adjusting to the speed of the game. He thinks Miller understands what it takes to be great at this level.
Ideally they could let a guy wait until his third year to play, but things are what they are. You never really want to have to play true freshmen at any position, but sometimes you have to.
Asked how Miller is handling the overall experience of being a college freshman and a quarterback, Siciliano said pretty well so far. He is very mild-mannered and takes everything in stride.
Philly Brown is improving and will continue to with time. He didn’t have much experience as a wide receiver in high school even.
Siciliano thinks Miller saw the MSU tape and came to practice the week after that realizing someone needed to step up and lead the team and provide a spark, and he seems to have tried to do that.
Lastly, he was asked if the offense misses the influence of Jim Tressel, and he said he isn’t sure. Jim Bollman called 97 percent of the plays last season with Tressel occasionally vetoing. It was always nice to have a guy like Tressel with 40 years in the profession to bounce things off of, though.
Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said they are seeing a lot they like about the defense. They are giving a great effort and showing toughness but need to play smarter. They do have a lot of guys seeing things for the first time.
Asked about the fourth quarter at Nebraska, he said it just comes down to getting a stop. The momentum changed, and they needed to force a punt but couldn’t do it.
He thinks they are getting better and looking forward to getting to show it.
Scheelhaase is a mobile quarterback who looks to pass first this year. He runs, but his passing differentiates him from Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez.
Vrabel is still learning as a coach, and he is constantly bugging Fickell and Heacock with questions about how to do things and what is going on.
The main difference he has seen between the NFL and college is in college you don’t get to spend nearly as much time with the players. You have to be careful in how you present information to them in a way they can grasp it in a short amount of time.
He is more worried about helping them improve and be ready to play than whether or not this is a fair chance for Fickell to show if he is worthy of being head coach here for more than a year.
Asked about leadership, he said it is still developing. Sometimes it only takes one play for a guy to become one. They are looking for guys who want to win and will call people out when necessary.
Ryan Shazier’s role is developing each week. He is a confident kid, smart and athletic. He smiles a lot and brings a breath of fresh air to the facility. He slithers around blocks. They joke he hits ball carriers a lot harder than he does blockers.
Asked about advice to the players for getting over a gut punch like the loss at Nebraska, he said he called upon the example of his losing the 2006 AFC Championship game with the Patriots. That team went on to win its next 18 games (then lost in the Super Bowl). So they should know they can overcome this adversity.
The guys need to understand that what happened last week or on the last play doesn’t matter for the next play. The next play is the most important.