‘Jury is still out’ on Ohio State as they take on Washington
After a five-hour flight to the Pacific Northwest, Ohio State turned into tourists Friday. The Buckeyes tasted Seattle culture with a trip to Pike Place Fish Market. They saw the Space Needle.
What Head Coach Jim Tressel wants to see today from his football program is progress and growth.
Tressel took an untested team and “underwear” on a five-hour flight Thursday to Washington.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes play unranked and unbeaten Washington at Husky Stadium in a game that will be a gauge for both teams and both conferences. Ohio State brought a smothering but untested defense to Seattle and an offense with a lot to prove.
“The jury is still out from that standpoint. You have to do things over time,” Tressel said, talking about his defense as much as his team. “I don’t think there’s any question about the fact we’ve got some very capable guys.”
The Buckeyes treated part of Friday as business as usual with a walk-through. But Tressel also wanted his team to see the sites.
“This is a great test for us, and experience is important in everything,” Tressel said.
The Buckeyes prepared for a hostile environment this week by not using verbal commands in practice. Most communication was done with hand signals. Ohio Stadium is loud, but this will be a different kind of noise than what Tressel’s young team is accustomed to.
“They’re all cheering for you when you’re at home. It’s loud, but it’s kind of a friendly loud,” Tressel said. “Then you go on the road, and it’s not the same situation. You don’t have the comfort levels. But I think our guys always have enjoyed going into great environments.”
The Buckeyes won at Texas last year. In fact, Tressel has lost just two games in September since he’s been at Ohio State.
The Huskies, meanwhile, want to put their program back on the college map. This is Tyrone Willingham’s third season. Washington is 2-0 for the first time since 2001, opening with a road win at Syracuse and snapping Boise State’s 14-game winning streak. In beating the Broncos, the Huskies earned its first win over a ranked team since 2003.
“The evidence always comes from when you win, and we still have a lot of challenges in front of us,” Willingham said. “When you talk about changing the culture, it was simply trying to go back to what Washington has been, and that’s a football program with great tradition, one of the top 18 or 20 programs in the country in terms of winning percentage.
“We wanted to go back and do things in a similar pattern to that great coach, (Ohio native) Don James had done. We want to try to resemble that program in a present form.”
The program turned a corner when Willingham landed Jake Locker. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore, like OSU’s Todd Boeckman, has just two college starts.
Willingham has stressed to his players they are playing the 2007 Buckeyes. Not the 2006 national title runners-up. Not its history and tradition. It is a team trying, like the Huskies, to prove its worth.
“What you look at often when you play a team of this nature is sometimes you play not only the current team but also their tradition,” Willingham said. “For us, the focus will be on this year’s team. Obviously, it’s a good football team.”
Not great. Good.
With plenty of questions left to be answered.
Reach Canton Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TV: ESPN, with Ron Franklin and Ed Cunningham. Jack Arute works the sidelines.
RADIO: Ohio State Radio Network (WHBC-AM 1480, WKNR-AM 850, WAKR-AM 1590) with Paul Keels, Jim Lachey and Marty Bannister. The game can be heard on Sirius Satellite radio (123).
ODDS: Ohio State is a 4 1/2-point favorite.
THE SERIES: The Buckeyes have won seven of 10 games against the Huskies. The last win was in 1993. Ohio State has lost the last two at Washington (1994, 1986). Ohio State is 18-14-1 in Pacific time zone.
THEY’RE FROM WASHINGTON: Parents of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates graduated from UW. Former Ohio State President Karen Holbrook is a graduate. Actors Patrick Duffy and musician Kenny G are graduates. If Washington loses, it might win a trivia contest afterward. Ken Jennings, of “Jeopardy” fame, is a graduate.
THE COACHES: If Ohio State wins, congratulate Jim Tressel. It will be the head coach’s 200th career win. “I supposed all it means is I’m old,” Tressel said. Tressel has a streak of 20 regular-season wins. He has lost just two of 23 games in September, both against top-15 opponents. Tyrone Willingham is 8-16 in three seasons at Washington. The former Notre Dame head coach is in his 13th year as a college head coach and is 73-67-1.
HOW IT WILL GO: The Buckeye offense seemed to find a rhythm in the second half against Akron. If it takes to the second half again, it will be too late to recover. The Buckeye offensive line is under scrutiny. Tressel said the unit is close to providing enough room for RB Chris Wells to break some runs. If LG Steve Rehring gets off to a slow start, Ohio State may go to Bryant Browning quicker in the rotation. The defense will get its first true test. Ohio State has been dominating on that side of against slower and weaker opponents. Washington isn’t slow and isn’t weak. The Huskies like to get QB Jake Locker on the perimeter, where he is dangerous with his feet and arm. Locker throws well on the run, but he is an inexperienced player capable of making bad decisions. Ohio State’s front seven has to play within the scheme and remain in lanes, or Locker will hurt them. If Washington gets in the red zone, Locker is tough to defend. The Huskies have scored seven TDs in eight trips to the red zone against Syracuse and Boise State. RB Louis Rankin is a key to Locker’s success. Make UW one-dimensional on the ground, and Locker has problems.
PORTER’S PICK: Tressel looked calm and collected this week. He seemed that way leading up to the Florida game, too. Ohio State has talent on the defense. QB Todd Boeckman is yet to be tested. He has a lot of learning to do, but Ohio State passes its first true test, 17-13.