Tag Archives: Devin Smith

Overheard at Ohio State: Nebraska Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat… 

Urbanisms

Asked what he said to Braxton Miller after carrying the team offensively but committing three turnovers last week, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer replied, “I love you to death, but protect the ball.”

Nobody is perfect, but he is playing hard and he’s only a sophomore. On his interception, he should have thrown the ball to the flat. He jammed his knee on the second fumble, and that looked bad because it was right in front of Meyer, but he needs to hang onto the ball.

Meyer knows Miller’s high school coach, Jay Minton, very well and spent a good bit of time with him in January getting to know more about Braxton, who has spent a lot of his life getting away with things he shouldn’t do on the field because of his athleticism. He is perhaps more humble than anyone else Meyer has seen.

Meyer’s philosophy is to coach a team really hard after a win. They might be fragile when coming off a loss, but Tuesday’s practice was supposed to be one of the toughest of the year.

Nebraska has a dynamic quarterback in Taylor Martinez and a very good defense that brings some unique looks. The defensive line plays two gaps a man and the backfield engages in pattern reading, kind of like a matchup zone in basketball. That makes it hard to run some of the Buckeyes’ base passes, so they have to do some different things.

He thought the count of times they had the OSU DBs in press coverage against Michigan State was 26 (MSU ran 64 plays). That is much more than previous weeks. Meyer felt good about how the defense played other than one play.

He has a good relationship with Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who was on the team in 1987 when Meyer was an OSU grad assistant. They coached against each other when Pelini was defensive coordinator at LSU and Meyer was head coach at Florida. He was a real tough guy as a player and that is reflected in his personality today as a coach.

Meyer loved the reaction of the offense when it got the ball back with a chance to run the clock out in East Lansing. They were excited after seeing MSU would have to punt.

The offensive line still has only five guys they can rely on (he wants eight), but those five are doing very well. Reid Fragel, the former tight end, has really become an Ohio State offensive lineman the last two games. That is a powerful statement, Meyer said.

Zach Smith is doing a good job as wide receivers coach. His guy, Devin Smith, caught a touchdown pass to win the game last weekend, obviously. He has been coaching hard and now has developed a big-play guy in Smith and a reliable option in Corey “Philly” Brown, who is putting up numbers. The young guys are coming along, and Meyer pointed out Smith also runs the punt block team. “We finally got a frickin’ punt here,” Meyer said.

Serious injury is a concern for Miller after he went out of the last game a couple of times. He recalled the plight of Oregon when Dennis Dixon blew out his knee late in the season and the Ducks lost the rest of their games. He observed that Dixon originally committed to him at Utah before opting for Oregon. Kenny Guiton was cool and ready to go when Miller got hurt. He was already getting warmed up before the coach called for him. Guiton isn’t as talented as Miller, but the is very functional.

He wasn’t sure who would mimic Martinez on the scout team, but the defense has experience against a quarterback like him from facing Miller in the spring and preseason.

The Buckeyes came together last week in facing MSU, and he was very fired up about that.

The linebackers played better, including Ryan Shazier, a sophomore who is one of his favorite guys. Meyer didn’t realize how little Shazier played last year at first. He is someone Meyer will listen to because he talks like a man.

Regarding the video issue with Michigan State, Meyer said he asked a member of the video staff about it and it had been taken care of last Tuesday. He also said he believed the Big Ten had been made aware of the video going around of a Michigan State offensive lineman trying to poke Johnathan Hankins in the eyes.

Meyer joked he would tell Brown it is OK if he breaks a tackle at some point after catching a screen pass. That is part of the spread offense, a chance to make something happen in a one-on-one situation. They need guys who can do that. They’re an “on schedule offense” right now. They can’t rely on big plays, and they aren’t good enough to overcome being behind the chains so they can’t take a lot of big shots down the field.

The team wasn’t very close when he got here, for whatever reason, but they are now. This staff pushed the envelope and they came together over the weekend. You’re more likely to see things like that when you win against a good team on the road. Zach Boren showed his manhood with his leadership. Only six or seven of the 20-some teams he has been part of as a coach came together, so it is not a given.

This is not a great team, but it has a chance to do something special.

He regretted how vehemently he went after an official who called a personal foul on Carlos Hyde after the Buckeye running back hit an MSU punt returner above the shoulders after he fielded punt. Meyer thought the flag was for kick catch interference but saw later it was a proper call for unnecessary roughness.

Nebraska has a dynamic offense that will turn a mistake into an 80-yard gain, not eight.

Offensive line coach Ed Warinner was happy for his guys to get the player of the week recognition on offense. It validates the hard work they have put in since January. They have played hard and shown lots of improvement, but there are still things to clean up as they move forward. They understand what they want to do offensively, and that’s be physical. It was nice to finish out the game the way they did.

He was confident they would be able to run it out when they took the field and smiled to himself about it on the sideline. A lot of guys were competing in that last four minutes, including the quarterback, tight ends and running back.

The growth of the team speaks volumes for the development the staff is working on in all phases of the game. He can see confidence developing in the wide receiver and the offensive line, two position groups that got a lot of criticism in the offseason.

They are building momentum now.

Fragel works hard and is starting to play well. It’s tougher on the line than at tight end. He had to grind it out against MSU star end William Gholston, and that will be the case again against Nebraska’s ends.

That was like a 12-round boxing match for the team. There were a lot of plays that could have gone either way.

There was a lot of success here followed by a tough year and then a change in doing business. That is hard to deal with. He’s a grown man and he has been through it before, but that’s not the case for the players. They bought in quickly, maybe faster than he expected.

Warinner knows the Nebraska coordinators well from his days as a coordinator at Kansas.

They are very sound and physical. The defensive tackles will knock the guards back and the linebackers play downhill. Then they play varying coverages in the backfield. That is what Bo Pelini is known for.

He is sure the offensive line knows it has been picked on over the years here. There is a scab that is healing now. They won’t be pushed around anymore. The line wants to be able to carry the team instead of having to rely so much on the quarterback. It’s good for them to gain confidence.

Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel remembers the team being ready to go at the start of the Nebraska game last year but being deflated when Miller went out with an ankle injury. He suggested that reaction might have been a result of youth. Then they got steamrolled as no one could make a play to halt the Husker momentum.

Nathan Williams is getting better as he gets farther and farther from major knee surgery, but they are still managing his health. He has done a hell of a job for them. He puts the team first. He cares about his teammates and it shows. The coach also said it is important Williams is able to practice. He can’t just get by with gaining experience in games, as Williams said he was pretty much doing the first couple of weeks.

Hankins is getting comfortable and starting to recognize plays so he can react to them. He conditioning is good, not great.

Someone asked about things that go on in piles during a football game, and Vrabel said it is pretty much anything goes as long as a ball is involved. There is no place in the game for cheap shots, chop blocks or eye-pokes in the game. He tells guys nothing is worth a 15-yard penalty.

Nebraska has a patient offense. They are really comfortable doing what they do. They will pound and pound until they break through, but they can also go over the top.

OSU had a good understanding of what Michigan State was going to do on offense, and the Buckeyes got a lift from the offense scoring right away.

Martinez’s speed makes it imperative everyone has their “fit” in the running game (that means gap covered).

Mike Bennett is coming along healthwise and adds depth for them. The other young guys are still developing.

Quarterback Braxton Miller knew something was wrong with Gholston when he was lying on top of him after a play because he wasn’t saying anything. The referee told him to lie still and not move until they could figure out what was up. Miller is glad he could get back up.

He feels better throwing the deep ball thanks to continuing to practice it.

He was mad at himself for not being able to go back in the game at Nebraska last year. He remembers they had a good game plan.

He wasn’t that sore after the game. You take big hits in the Big Ten.

He hasn’t felt like he has been overused.

He expects a crazy atmosphere at Ohio Stadium under the lights Saturday night.

Wide receiver Devin Smith said he loves making big plays, especially for his teammates. He is more than just a deep threat, though. He can make guys miss if he gets the chance.

He enjoyed the crowd last year at night against Wisconsin but expects it to be bigger this year.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier said they got lazy at times against Nebraska last year. They were lackadaisical. Remembering how that game went does provide motivation, as was the case last week with Michigan State.

He expects the stadium to be jumping Saturday with everybody into it.

The linebackers felt like they were a weak point for the defense but they have improved. They got stronger against MSU. Coach Luke Fickell has been tough on them, telling then they can be great but they weren’t showing it.

Overheard at Ohio State Football: California Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat… 

URBANISMS

(Recapping the Ohio State head coach’s weekly press luncheon)

They have got to get the youngsters going in the running game. He has confidence in Bri’onte Dunn if he practices well this week. He is a good runner, but he had some glaring missed assignments last week against UCF. He has to practice well, or they won’t put him in the game. That also goes for Rod Smith. 

He has no reservations with using Zach Boren as more of a runner, either.

Braxton Miller’s mechanics are coming along as a passer, but he still lets them go occasionally. It’s a thing of beauty when he gets it all lined up. He has a great release. They are pushing his maturation so he gets some of the miscues out of the way. He just needs to get more and more reps. The development of the wide receivers helps, too.

We can expect to see wide receiver Corey Brown used in more ways. They have to think outside the box about ways to use him (Isn’t that what these guys are known for?)

Asked about the pass rush’s struggles, he said they have dropped eight men into coverage a lot, and teams have done a combination of quick passing against them and using maximum protections when they do take deeper drops. They have to count on the guys who are out there doing better at winning individual matchups, and they might supplement their efforts with more blitzing. Maybe both.

It is tough to improve during the season because they only really have two days in pads and you don’t want to get people beat up in those sessions. Plus there is prep work for the opponent to do. He wonders about how to balance that a lot, maybe 20-25 percent of the time.

The preponderance of broken plays on Saturday was a result of a variety of things – people going the wrong way, people not knowing the right play or aligning wrong. If it was one thing, they wouldn’t have any trouble getting that fixed.

There was a “tough” coaches meeting this morning to discuss some of the things that need to improve.

He loves coaching the kickoff team and appreciates the efforts of the members of the squad.

They are still trying to find out exactly what they can do with Jake Stoneburner. He is listed as a wide receiver now, but it remains to be seen if he can separate from DBs down the field. He can block at the point of attack, but he is probably not the best tight end they have for that. Meyer wishes he had another year to coach Stoneburner to continue trying to utilize him best. He also said he never lost trust in Stoneburner when the senior got in trouble during the summer, but he was angry with him and disappointed in him like one would be with a son.

When they failed to pick up a fourth-and-1 early in the game, there was a mistake by a player as they tried to run the “power” play. The next time they faced that situation, they went with an inside zone play instead and it worked. (Should note they ran “power” with the quarterback out of the shotgun and ran zone out of an offset I with the QB under center.)

Some big plays other teams have hit them with have been a result of defensive backs lacking discipline. UCF converted a third-and-21 when a DB didn’t get deep enough in his zone (I believe this was Roby drifting forward). There was nothing wrong with the defensive call there. They have missed some tackles, too.

They will have to adjust the offensive scheme based on who plays tailback because not everyone can handle every part of the offense. Both young tailbacks are talented, but they still have to figure out who deserves to get the ball. That will be learned through practice this week.

Miller’s carry total was inflated by errors on some plays. People going the wrong way or running the wrong route or missing a block. The Buckeyes need to play better around him. The coaches have to call what they have to in order to win the game, but they have to be smart, too.

Asked about the upcoming OSU Hall of Fame weekend, Meyer said he is good friends with inductee Bobby Knight, who does it the right way without cheating. Others can have their own opinions about Knight.

Meyer admires Mike Vrabel – another inductee – very much. He knows Vrabel’s high school coach well and is glad he kept him on the staff.

They do need to get more handoffs and quick throws for Miller so he can have time to compose himself during the game. Miller is a hell of a football player, better than people around the country realize. Meyer has tremendous respect for him. Figuring out the best way to use him is a good problem to have.

He hasn’t talked to AD Gene Smith much about it, but he seemed to think the nonconference scheduling philosophy of having one national game, one mid-major game and two “other” games (i.e., patsies) will continue.

Matching up against an unusual Cal defense will be interesting because the Buckeyes made a bunch of errors last week against a very conventional defense from UCF. That is a function of the transition in styles, but it must be addressed.

Cal has several draftable players, including a cornerback and a defensive tackle Meyer did not identify by name. The Bears have a deeper roster than UCF, which had a lot of studs at the top.

Asked again about the pass rush, he acknowledged that losing Mike Bennett to a groin injury throws off what they wanted to do. They would prefer to pressure with only four players, but they might have to dial up some more blitzes.

Cal saw some things Ohio State does from Nevada’s pistol offense last week. Nevada executed at a high level despite being probably outmanned a bit. The OSU coaches will look at that as well as how Cal has defended Oregon in the past.

He has not seen the OSU DBs lose any physical matchups this season. One big play was a result of Travis Howard not knowing the coverage they were in, another was the lack of depth in a drop he already mentioned. He thinks Howard will be fine, though, and missing the call is uncharacteristic of him.

When the Buckeyes have the ball, they can expect to see some “zero” coverages from Cal, meaning their corners will be in man to man with no safety help. That means OSU will need to go for some home runs even if it means a few foul balls. Still, coaches hate second-and-10 after failed deep shots. They want to be on schedule.

He is getting more comfortable with what the wide receivers can do and the passing game overall.

He said he has great respect for Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whose stuff he has studied and borrowed in the past. (Tedford is something of a quarterback/passing game guru.) Meyer spent some time with him back when Meyer was at Bowling Green putting his offense together in the first place and uses some of his passing concepts.

 

Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Howard has done a very good job going about his business since he took the job last winter. He is among the best players Coombs has coached.

Facing 95 passes in two games has forced them to use a variety of pass coverages, and the ensuing complication has played a role in some of the miscommunication and breakdowns they have had. It also has made it harder for teams to pass the ball against them and helped lead to some of their turnovers. He expects dramatic improvement.

They can’t accept giving up any 20-plus-yard plays, especially if it is a case of coverages being blown.

Cal WR Keenan Allen is a great player who runs good routes and has speed. He will go vertical.

Most of the problems OSU has had in communication have come between the safeties and the cornerbacks. He hopes to correct them. The coverage is called from the sideline, the players identify the offensive personnel and formation then apply the coverage that’s been called. Breakdowns have occurred at each step.

Doran Grant played 22 snaps last week and did a good job. Adam Griffin is playing extremely well in practice. Freshmen Najee Murray, Armani Reeves and Tyvis Powell remain outside that top four with Murray and Reeves running ahead of Powell.

Asked if OSU should blitz more, he said there is give and take. It means fewer guys in coverage and sometimes playing more man, but his guys are good in man. The pressure does need to shorten the clock for the quarterback. He hopes the pressure and coverage can be used to enhance each other going forward.

Cal QB Zach Maynard is very athletic. He scrambles to run and to throw and makes big plays. He is a pocket passer first but can get out and do damage.

PLAYERS SAYETH: 

Wide receiver Devin Smith said how the wide receivers perform against Cal is up to them. They will have a good day if they do what they’re supposed to.

The scout team cornerbacks have been playing press all week to prepare them, and more pass plays are going in this week.

He is pumped to face one-on-one coverage. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman told him Cal’s strategy will challenge their manhood (told this later, Meyer said he was happy to hear that.)

Jordan Hall has been looking good in practice and said his foot felt fine.

Braxton Miller was sore after the UCF game but felt normal by midweek.

Smith would be honored to have his one-handed catch against Miami (Ohio) voted the national play of the year, especially since he is so young.

Hall looked like he could play at practice but it was up to the coaches to make the call. He gives them versatility because he can line up at running back or receiver.

Fullback Zack Boren said the running backs have looked really good in practice this week, especially the young guys.

He was coy about what role Hall might play this week but said he is encouraged by how he looked.

Boren didn’t know his own role yet. He has done a variety of things already, including play out wide against Miami and running back against UCF. It’s fun moving around in the offense and changing things up.

Hall is a playmaker who can do special and crazy things any time he gets the ball.

They haven’t done anything out of the ordinary to prepare for Cal’s unique 46 defese.

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said if everything goes according to plan with the pass rush, they have to make the Bears pay when they reach him.

If the defensive line plays well, the defense will have a good day. They need to have more production. Hankins has done his job so far but needs to be more dominant.

He has good practice battles with Andrew Norwell, who was always a great run blocker and has gotten better in pass protection.

Mike Vrabel brings tons of energy to the defensive line group. His NFL experience gives him a lot of knowledge regarding technique. He taught them about attacking just one side of a blocker sometimes instead of always going through the middle of him. Vrabel has been harping on technique and taking it to the playing field from the practice fields.

Adolphus Washington is doing a good job, but he needs to think less.

He could see J.T. Moore or Se’Vonn Pittman helping out on the field this week.

Cornerback Bradley Roby said Cal has a good group of receivers. He is ready for whoever comes his way. He won’t be matching up with star Keenan Allen as OSU plays boundary and field corners.

He admitted to becoming disinterested at times against lesser opponents and during practices. He feels he has improved in that area. Also, Smith and Brown have improved since the spring and offer him a greater challenge now.

Roby wants to take on the best in the country and looks forward to having a “show-time matchup” with Allen.

He is tired of noon games (they will play a fourth straight next week against UAB).

The defense’s problems have been related to pretty common breakdowns in communication. They have more checks based on what the offense is doing this year.

Brown is the best trash talker among the OSU receivers, but the rest of them don’t talk a lot, anyway.