COLUMBUS - At times during last Saturday's game against Toledo, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, separated from the team and on his own little island, with no apparent involvement in the play-calling.
Tressel had the headset on, but his offensive script was tucked in his back pocket, his arms were folded, and the players shuttling in plays for the Buckeyes were a considerable distance away, talking with an OSU assistant coach. Tressel, who at times has been accused of maintaining a stranglehold-type control of the offense, seemed almost detached from the process, here and there.
Yesterday Tressel said that wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell, who also carries the title of assistant head coach, has been sharing the duty of calling the offensive plays. Tressel said Hazell's area of specialization gives him a good feel for what might work best for sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the OSU wide receivers.
"Our offensive staff is very, very involved and Darrell is very involved," Tressel said. "Darrell has been with us for quite some time and with the guys out wide and with Terrelle. So, he sees everyday what it is that the receivers do best with Pryor, and so forth."
Tressel, who will work his 300th game as a head coach tomorrow when the Buckeyes host Illinois in their Big Ten Conference opener, has had offensive line coach Jim Bollman in the role of offensive coordinator for all nine seasons Tressel has been leading the OSU program. But the assumption has always been that Tressel, who works very closely with the Ohio State quarterbacks, was calling the plays, and the activity on the sidelines usually reinforced that theory.
"I've always said that it's a committee decision, and I'm part of the committee," Tressel said about his approach to selecting the offensive plays. "The ones that work, I've always said those were my ideas, and the ones that didn't [were someone else's idea]. . . no, that's not true."
Tressel said Hazell's involvement in the play-calling was not a big change in procedure for the Buckeyes, since Tressel wants input from all of his offensive staff.
"Really, all of our guys are involved. There's not one of our guys that isn't involved," Tressel said. "When things work, we're all part of the wonderment. And when things don't work, we're probably all part of the disappointment."
Illinois (1-1) was the lead villain in one of the most disappointing moments Tressel has experienced in Ohio Stadium. The Illini came here and played the role of spoiler, stunning what had been an unbeaten and No. 1 ranked group of Buckeyes 28-21 in 2007. That Illinois team was led by quarterback Juice Williams and went on to play in the Rose Bowl.
Tressel, who is trying to win a fifth straight Big Ten championship, said he expects his older players to use the memory of that loss two years ago as one additional motivation when they face Williams and the Illini.
"For the people that were a part of it, it's relevant," Tressel said about the 2007 Illinois game. "That will be a reminder, but we still have to go out and do the things we need to do against the personnel they have now."
Illinois has won three of the last four games against Ohio State played in Ohio Stadium and has 14 players from Ohio on its roster. Tressel said the Illini, who are coming off a bye week following a 45-17 win over Illinois State two weeks ago and a 37-9 loss to Missouri in their season opener, present a load of talent on the offensive side.
"I've said all along that Illinois is the most explosive, dangerous team - in terms of guys that are returning - than maybe anyone else in the Big Ten," Tressel said. "Offensively, they are extremely explosive."