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Eyes on the prize

Tressel, Smith have owned Michigan with focus, drive

Posted: Thursday November 16, 2006 12:31PM; Updated: Thursday November 16, 2006 7:11PM
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Troy Smith and Jim Tressel have tormented Michigan during their time at Ohio State.
Troy Smith and Jim Tressel have tormented Michigan during their time at Ohio State.
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It had been four hours since Jim Tressel took the Ohio State job when he walked out onto the Schottenstein Center court during a Buckeyes basketball game and set off a frenzy.

"I can assure you that you'll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community -- and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field," he announced on the night of Jan. 18, 2001.

Lloyd Carr's life has never been the same.

Tressel has become the Michigan coach's personal Rubik's Cube, winning four of his five games against the Wolverines, including the last two -- and that first one, 310 days after he succeeded John Cooper.

So what's his secret? Why has he had so much success against the Wolverines?

"Troy Smith spins and runs 46 yards -- now come on," Tressel said. "I don't have any answers ... if anyone pretends to think they have the answer, they've got problems."

Tressel has caused plenty of problems for Carr. The Michigan coach has won more than 76 percent of his games, but a loss on Saturday against the top-rated Buckeyes will give him a 1-5 record against Tressel. Cooper, who won 72 percent of his games but was 1-5 against Carr, and was driven out of Columbus for his inability to beat the Wolverines.

The running joke has become: What kind of a car does Tressel own? A Lloyd Carr.

Carr, for one, is quick to put the past in the past. He's escaped the heat that arose after going 7-5 last year -- UM's worst season in 21 years -- but there's still that nagging thorn in his side: Jim Tressel. One-and-four isn't in Carr's vernacular heading into the clash in the Horseshoe, and he pushes aside any line of questions regarding the Buckeyes' domination of the series since Tressel has taken over.

"Really we're trying to get ready for this week and those are the things that we have to focus on," Carr said.

The Wolverines' focus will largely be on Smith, the Heisman frontrunner who has burned Michigan the last two years. In 2004, the Ohio State quarterback had his coming out party, amassing 386 yards of offense and three touchdowns in a 37-21 upset. Last season, he went 27-of-37 for 300 yards and a TD (and rushed for another score), leading the Buckeyes back from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win 25-21 in Ann Arbor.

"He wants to have the ball in his hands. He wants to make a difference," Tressel said.

And he's saved his best for the Wolverines. The 145 rushing yards Smith had against Michigan two years ago were just 50 less than he had the entire season coming into the game. His 300-yard passing day last year was his first and only as a Buckeye and he completed 73 percent of his passes, a career best at the time.

Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman says there's a marked difference between the Smith who suits up for the season finale against the archrival Wolverines and the one who is at the helm of the Buckeyes offense during the rest of the year.

"He's more alert and more ready than ever," Pittman said.

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