COLUMBUS - There are those who are fidgeting and fretting at the halfway point in the college football season, since Ohio State has lost twice, is out of the national championship picture, and does not control its own destiny in the Big Ten.
But Jim Tressel, whose Buckeyes play high-scoring Michigan State here today, has not pulled out the worry beads just yet. Tressel said the emphasis is kept on the business of the day, not on what might have been, or what could be.
"We don't talk a whole bunch about what's going to be going on in the third week of November," Tressel said. "We talk at the beginning about our goals
- to be the national champions, and the outright Big Ten champions.
''But you almost don't need to say it because that's why they all came here. Now, let's go to work today."
The job list for the Buckeyes - win the rest and see what happens - starts today with the Spartans, who are averaging 45 points per game. Ohio State has had the Big Ten's best defense, allowing just 13.6 points per game.
Something has to give.
Tressel sees the Michigan State spread offense, with athletic quarterback Drew Stanton on the throttle, as presenting its own package of problems.
"I think the heartbeat of the group is that quarterback Stanton - he does a great job throwing the ball and an excellent job running the football. He has a great grasp of what they're trying to accomplish," Tressel said.
"They're very diverse on the offensive side. They've got two or three running backs that play significantly, they have a bunch of receivers who are going to end up 50-catch people, and their
offensive line is very solid at what they do."
Ohio State senior linebacker A.J. Hawk said putting pressure on Stanton is a point of emphasis for the Buckeyes, but he cautioned against going too far in that direction, focusing on just Stanton.
"You can't just focus on him because their whole offense is playing well," Hawk said. "He does a great job in the pocket. Plus, he is very tough to stop when he gets outside of the pocket. We need to work on getting off blocks and getting to the quarterback."
Tressel said he expects Michigan State to play an aggressive style of defense that will try and limit Ohio State's options, and keep fleet wide receiver Ted Ginn from having too much room to roam.
"Defensively they are very skillful, very big, and very physical," Tressel said. "I think they run well, and they're going to make you both run and pass. They're going to make it hard for you to have enough blockers in your running game and they're going to put a lot of pressure on you in your pass game and try to do a good job of doubling who needs to be doubled."
Offensive lineman Rob Sims said he sees a determination to be much more productive following the loss last weekend at Penn State when the Buckeyes managed just one touchdown. Beyond that, Sims said the Buckeyes are committed to stringing wins together, and not concerning themselves with how the Big Ten title will ultimately be decided.
"We are just going to try to win out," Sims said. "Right now we need to worry about Michigan State. We just need to do the best we can. You know, take it one game at a time."
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