OSU’s Tressel back where it all began

Todd Porter

Six years ago when Jim Tressel led Ohio State onto the field for the first time, the new coach was nervous. He just hoped his team would line up correctly.

They didn’t. And that was against Akron, which happens to be Saturday’s opponent for the 12th-ranked Buckeyes.

“The first time we were down by the goal line, we called a wristband play,” Tressel said. “Our guys lined up in a formation that wasn’t a formation on the wristband, and we’re yelling to get them lined up ... Steve (Bellisari) threw a touchdown and comes off the field and says, ‘What?’

“He had Thursday’s wristband on. We didn’t even have the right wristbands on our guy.”

The Buckeyes beat Akron that day 28-14. They’ve come a long way since then — winning a national title, a Heisman Trophy and getting through a scandalous period with Maurice Clarett. But Ohio State hopes it makes progress in the week since beating Youngstown State 38-6 in the season opener Saturday.

Tressel is nervous again. Michigan’s upset loss the Appalachian State probably doesn’t help him sleep easier.

Saturday afternoon’s game at Ohio Stadium could be a David vs. Goliath trap game.

“From a standpoint of they’re earlier in the year and you know less about yourself, you’re a little more uneasy at the start,” Tressel said. “When you get into the season, you’re really starting to get a grasp: Here’s what we can do. Let’s feature this. ... You don’t have quite the rhythm of what your opponents are doing. Yeah, you’re a little bit more uneasy.”

The Buckeyes had obvious problems on the offensive line. So much so that line coach and Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman shunned the unit from the weekly awards. Tressel concurred with the decision.

“I’m not 100 percent sure there were a ton of things missing,” Tressel said. “We had a new center playing for the first time, making all the calls. I thought Jimmy (Cordle) played pretty well but not like he’s going to play in six weeks. ... We weren’t as far along as Coach Bollman wants us. I’m OK with that.”

The Zips are 29-point underdogs. They beat Army, 22-14, but the Black Knights recovered a blocked punt in the end zone at the end to make the score closer.

The strength of Akron’s team is its 3-5-3 defense. It’s a scheme the Buckeyes have not seen since South Carolina beat them in the Outback Bowl, again in Tressel’s first year. Akron cornerback Reggie Corner (McKinley) was named MAC East defensive player of the week. He returned an interception for a touchdown.

YSU’s defensive plan was to stop Ohio State’s run. That left the Penguins open to a 225-yard passing day from Todd Boeckman. Akron might be able to limit Boeckman, but OSU’s offensive line and tailback Beanie Wells have something to prove. Wells blamed himself for a sub-par performance (46 yards, 16 carries) against YSU.

On the bright side, Boeckman came away with a film-review grade in the “low 80s” percentile. A winning performance is 85 or higher.

“That’s hard to get ... but I thought he was solid,” Tressel said. “There were a couple of times from a decisions standpoint maybe he could have been better. I didn’t see anything glaring that gives me reason for like, ‘Oh, gosh, we’re going to struggle.’”

Akron should be bigger and faster than Youngstown State. The Buckeyes need to play faster and improve against a higher-caliber opponent.

“We’re very realistic and know that we need to be much, much better than we were a week ago,” Tressel said.

If not, Ohio State has a cautionary tale in Michigan. It was a point Tressel drove home over the weekend.

“Any time you see an alleged upset anywhere,” Tressel said, “it’s a great reminder.”

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or todd.porter@cantonrep.com.