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