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Tressel still has his work cut out



Published: Sun, September 9, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



COLUMBUS -- It seemed kind of appropriate that a scattered, light rain fell throughout the morning in Central Ohio before giving way to a sunshine-splashed afternoon in the Horseshoe.

What better way to wash away whatever remnants remained of the previous regime as the Jim Tressel era dawned before a record crowd in Ohio Stadium?

After watching the Buckeyes play inconsistently in their victory over the Akron Zips, perhaps the 102,000-plus in attendance at Ohio Stadium would agree that some more purging is necessary before it truly becomes a Tressel team.

Oh, there were signs that the 2001 Buckeyes are taking on the persona of the new man in charge.

We've seen it before, at Stambaugh Stadium and other venues around the Gateway Conference and the land of I-AA ball.

Ground game: Ohio State rushed 56 times for 236 yards, an average of better than 5 yards per carry. The Buckeyes held a decided edge in time of possession, 35 minutes, 25 seconds to Akron's 24:35.

The special teams play, for the most part, was very strong. Kickoffs that were un-returnable, a fumble recovery on punt coverage that set up a touchdown, for instance.

And a defense that was at times dominant. Linebacker Joe Cooper was all over the field, finishing with 91/2 tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage, and he was superb in pass coverage.

Still ...

There were five fumbles by the Buckeyes -- they lost two -- including two on botched snaps. That will certainly be addressed in the team's weekly film study and on the practice field. There was some confusion in the secondary as Akron quarterback Charlie Frye was most effective rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the run.

He only completed 15 of 31 passes, but the lack of an effective running game did allow the Buckeyes to pin their ears back at times and effectively rush him.

Mistakes: Tressel, as was expected, admitted there were mistakes that must be corrected, if not before the San Diego State game next Saturday, most certainly before the West Coast trip to face a talented UCLA squad in two weeks.

But, he was also the same positive, the glass-is-half-full kind of coach we saw here for 15 years. After all, a tiger doesn't lose his stripes just because he's in a new jungle.

"It was a thrill to hear the roar" of 102,000 Buckeye supporters as the new coach -- pardon the pun -- led the team across the field moments before the opening kickoff. Director of Athletics Andy Geiger said it was the loudest he had ever heard a crowd in the old Horseshoe.

"But, once the game started, it didn't feel or sound any different" than any other game he'd been involved in," said Tressel.

"You can't say enough about that stadium and that crowd. It was exciting. Who wouldn't be excited? Everyone in there was excited whether they were running across the field or in the stands.

"The atmosphere was extraordinary. There can't be a better place to play college football in America."

Significance: Tressel was asked about the significance of this day being the first game he's ever coached without either parent. His father, Lee, passed away in 1981 and his mother, Eloise, succumbed to cancer earlier this summer. In true Tressel fashion, he answered the question eloquently.

"The neat thing was that I knew it would be the first time they watched me coach together in 20 years. That made it special.

"For all the people, all of our guys down in the lockerroom and everyone that is part of Ohio State there were different reasons that this was a special day and that certainly was one of my reasons."

Tressel left the post-game press conference making plans for his weekly television show, to be taped later in the evening. He caught up to his wife, Ellen, to make sure she was taken care of.

Outside, the shadows soon bathed the floor of the stadium in a warm, quiet embrace.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write him at todor@vindy.com.




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