"I went back to Ohio..."
Pretenders, anyone? Someone will be tagged with that label around 7 p.m. Saturday. The Spartans don't want it to be them, and many of them will have a little something extra for this game. Mike Tressel was asked this afternoon whether that can in fact be counterproductive. He had an interesting response. “I think it will be a good thing, knowing our people," he said. "Knowing our kids, it will be a good thing. I think that possibly in the past we had a lot of Ohio kids that thought that, ‘You know, I wasn’t quite as good as those guys that end up going to Ohio State’ and I think we have a lot of Ohio kids now that feel like, ‘Go in there and win this ballgame.’ So I think it will work out well with the mentality of our Ohio kids.”
Back to Tressel and sticking with the family theme, today's his birthday and his dad -- Ohio State's RB coach -- broke the family game-week code of silence to wish him a good one. A worthy reason, I'd say.
A few things to report from midday interviews with Tressel and OL coach Mark Staten:
* Staten flatly rejected the idea that Micajah Reynolds is competing with Dan France to start at left tackle.
“No, I don’t think it’s a day-to-day competition, no. Not in any means," Staten said. "He’s able to spell Dan. A fresher Dan France is a better Dan France.”
That's not to say Staten wasn't impressed with what Reynolds did on short notice last week.
"He didn’t lose a whole lot because he was with us for two-plus years, so he didn’t lose a whole lot," Staten said of Reynolds. "He is an intelligent football player. He’s focused. So we’ll see where his role is with how (Saturday's) game’s going, but I’m very pleased with him.”
* As I've suspected for the past couple weeks, Joel Foreman is playing through some unspecified pain.
“Joel, he’s an old man, he’s beat up, he walks with a cane," Staten joked at first. "Limps around all the time. We playfully nicknamed him Yoda because he just kind of walks around and limps around. And then game day comes, he’s got a high amount of energy and he’s out there fired up and excited. I told him with his experience, if he needs to take a series off during the week, that’s fine. He’s been in that position for a long time, a lot of battles in that guy. So he’s doing OK. It’s what leaders do. They’ve just got to keep going. And he I think is taking on and understanding finally that young people seeing him grind it out is important. Because now they understand, ‘OK, this is what I need to do.’ So that’s huge. So he’s really gotten a grasp of that really over the last two weeks. So I’m happy to see that.”
* Staten is still hoping Jared McGaha will be available for this week. Even if he's 100 percent, it's France and Fonoti at the tackles spots, barring something dramatic.
* Focus and experience are the keys to cleaning up these special teams issues, Tressel said, and he expects a clean performance Saturday. As for his linebackers, they'll be stressed this week by the mobility of Braxton Miller.
“I think we need to step it up," Tressel said. "I think we’ve been solid, our defense has been solid. But I think that this is the time right now where you say, ‘Inexperience is over. Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, inexperience is over.’ So I expect to step up right now for the Big Ten.”
* In the sensitive to sensitivity department, I asked Staten this question on the offensive line: "How are the guys responding? Do you feel like you’re seeing progress?"
Staten's response: “I’m seeing progress, yeah, absolutely Joe. Like anything. Like I’m sure when you started writing, there were ups and downs and things like that. I’m sure there still are."
Oh, there sure are.
"And that happens with football, with O-line play," Staten continued. "And we’ll continue to take it day by day and God willing, tomorrow will be better than today.”
* Forgot to do this earlier, here are a few impressions after watching MSU-CMU on DVR.
The offensive line played pretty well. Grain of salt, of course. Todd Anderson obliterated his man on both short-yardage plays on the first drive, the third down to Baker and the Bell touchdown.
Watching left tackle, I'm not surprised France is the clear No. 1, even though Reynolds did some good things -- more good things than anyone should have expected for a guy who was at nose tackle six days earlier. I thought France played pretty well for the most part, and I think he has the potential to be really good. Reynolds had some nice moments, getting a combination block executed perfectly on a Bell sweep in the second quarter. On Bell's first TD run, Reynolds turned the Sam inside, allowing Bell to get downhill and easily through an arm tackle. Then on Bell's third touchdown, Reynolds absolutely buried his man. He's an offensive lineman.
Cousins' struggles in this game are well-worn by now, I thought he was throwing from his back foot more than in any game this season and I have to think concerns about protection contribute to that. But even on an off day, Cousins made some special plays. He put terrific throws together in the third quarter, rolling left and throwing a dart to Keith Nichol on the sideline. Then putting perfect touch on a wheel route to Larry Caper for a score.
Tony Lippett showed with his legs and feet why the offensive and defensive staffs want to claim him as their own. He can be a standout on either side -- but he has to do a better job of catching the ball. And Dion Sims is an absolute force in the passing game (his TD catch was the second of two terrific throws by Andrew Maxwell) but still has progress to make as a blocker.
* One last thing: MSU just released info on Midnight Madness. It will be Friday, Oct. 14, the day before the Michigan game. Breslin doors open at 9:30 p.m., admission is free, the first hour is for autographs and things get going at 10:30. Basketball? Not yet, please!