With another week of preparations in the books, I have cleaned out the reporter’s notepad. Check out what Ohio State coaches and players had to say this week before being paid a visit by Purdue.
Ohio State’s head coach is happy his team is 7-0 despite the struggles on defense. The good news: He feels like he has the team’s attention, and the desire to get better is there.
(For awards and personnel notes, see BuckeyeSports.com stories.)
The No. 1 concern on defense is eliminating big plays, of which there were 14 last week. He had a meeting with the entire defensive staff and they talked about three key things: don’t miss tackles, keep leverage on the ball and maintain 4-6 seconds of maximum effort (Note: I can’t think of much else that goes into defense…).
Yelling and screaming about it won’t do the job. That is not his style, although there are times that call for it.
He likened getting this worked out to becoming a better downfield passing team. They just had to practice it until the execution got better.
Regarding the freshman linebackers not being ready for game action, Meyer said Camren Williams and Joshua Perry were hurt last week. David Perkins and Jamal Marcus have excelled on special teams, but they are having a hard time picking up the defense (He said a week or so ago on his radio show that Luke Roberts wasn’t playing fast enough). Inexperience is a legitimate excuse for struggling, but they’ve got to get over it at some point.
In moving Zach Boren to linebacker, experience matters. Playing football is about leadership and taking charge. He can see the instincts in him. Freshmen are just in there trying to survive, so typically it’s older guys who show the way. He’s getting great leadership from guys like John Simon and Nathan Williams, but they really need it from the center of the defense.
They’re putting out an APB for tough guys this week. That’s what they need to make the defense whole.
Carlos Hyde got off to a slow start, but he’s finishing strong now. He is another guy Meyer can have grown-man conversations with now. He will not be going to the bench when Jordan Hall comes back, although Hall is healing slowly from a knee injury that has kept him out the past two weeks.
He acknowledged moving Boren from one side of the ball is unusual and noted it would not have been possible without the improvement of tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. Both are coming on, and they are young so they’ll be around for a while. He recalled one previous time he had a guy switch sides. That was Mike Pouncey at Florida, who played some defensive tackle for them when they were battling injuries there.
He acknowledged playing at a high tempo means more plays and that can leave the defense out to dry but was not ready to offer that as an explanation for why scoring seems to be up around college football.
His “pro scout,” John Cooper, told him Purdue has several pro guys, including a defensive tackle (guessing he meant Kawann Short). The Boilermakers have a very active, shifting defense. That is a contrast from the last couple of weeks, when the teams have shown them what they’re going to get.
Asked about how involved he can get in the defense, he said he wasn’t sure. He won’t call plays, but he will work on helping to develop leadership and toughness. He can coach the effort part while the defensive assistants work out the scheme.
They’ve talked about potentially putting other guys at new positions, but they don’t have a lot of options.
Noah Spence has been coming on as a defensive end. He was very good last week in the absence of Williams, so they need to figure out how to get him on the field (Perhaps this could mean Williams moves to linebacker, where he played one game last season before getting hurt. The Sam position in the base defense isn’t that different from his normal Leo spot at end. Of course they are likely to be in nickel and dime, where Williams already played a linebacker-like role, anyway this week).
Meyer called Boren’s move to linebacker “temporarily permanent.”
Devin Smith has improved a lot but can’t stop now. He needs to continue on that trajectory. Meyer told receivers coach Zach Smith he must be doing a good job because his guys are coming along. Now they have some confidence, so they can be coached harder. Guys who are struggling need their egos maintained so they don’t crack, but guys doing well can be pushed. He learned that from Lou Holtz. He called Smith’s last touchdown the play of the day as he made a couple guys miss after hauling in a pass then taking it to the end zone.
Meyer likes to see Rod Smith going hard in all he does, something that overshadows mistakes such as his fumble at Indiana.
Meyer went to Wayne High School to talk to Jay Minton so he could get a better idea of how to communicate with Braxton Miller. He said they obviously love Miller at Wayne, where Minton has a great program in place, and the talk helped him know better how to approach Miller.
Even though offenses are making a lot of headlines these days, the Buckeyes have got to get better on defense. The best teams at the top do that, including BCS 1 and 2 Alabama and Florida.
He loves offense, but you win with kicking and defense.
He is on the same page as the defensive staff. It takes time for people to jell. There are new guys, but they are great people. They just need more production from the defense.
Meyer wants the offense to be more balanced, but 300 yards rushing kind of overrules that. Can’t ignore the ability to do that. They didn’t operate at the tempo he wants, but that’s OK because they were moving the ball and the defense was struggling so it needed some time.
They got unbalanced at times with Tim Tebow at quarterback because of how good he was.
Asked about Curtis Grant, he said he is a good person with plenty of ability. He’s only a sophomore, and he doesn’t have much game experience. Some guys take longer than you expect to come along. He still has time to have a fine career.
Usually practicing leverage is saved for the offseason (spring and preseason), but they will have to go back over it this week.
He is proud to see former assistants Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong doing well at Mississippi State and Louisville, respectively.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton said Carlos Hyde has been getting stronger as the games go on. He gets a feel for the blocking, how the safeties are supporting the run and where the pursuit is coming from. He can wear people down with his size, too.
The offensive line is the common denominator with the improvement of the running backs’ production.
He also did not sound terribly concerned about Rod Smith’s fumble at Indiana. He has good confidence now, is in a better place mentally. The coach doesn’t want to hurt that. Smith needs to focus on details. That time he did not get the ball secured after the mesh because his eyes got big because he saw a hole. He got in a rush.
He could see the “pound it offense” (as Meyer described it) coming before the season because it has always been an offense that fits players’ skills. They were running the players with smaller backs and a bigger quarterback at Florida, so this is new for Meyer to see. They have guys in there who can break tackles, and it’s fun to see.
The key to really making the offense go is having guys on the perimeter, which you’re seeing more of now with Philly Brown in the option, but everything is predicated on running physically inside and forcing teams to load the box. Then you can attack on the outside. That’s the essence of the spread running game. The kids grow into it and learn how it works.
He was asked if they will keep the power back aspect, and he said as long as they have a dynamic player on the perimeter, they’re good to go. The basis is inside zone and power plays with an attitude. His running backs can do both, but they are better inside. Getting Brown and Miller on the edge just makes everything else more dangerous.
They have not discussed redshirting Jordan Hall yet, although he would be eligible. They want him to maintain the mindset that he will come back and play this season.
Hyde is in a good place in life now, including staying on top of his classes and hitting the weight room. He has learned accountability. He might have felt he had a raw deal last year when he had some success and then went back to the bench. He had some selfish feelings. They want him to be confident in his abilities, but that can be a double-edged sword. He is good now. He’s as excited about blocking for Miller as he is running the ball, and that’s exciting to see. His new attitude is the real deal.
Devin Smith, who Drayton coached last year as a freshman, is growing up. Drayton said he must have failed and Zach Smith is doing a better job with him this time around, but it is great seeing guys learn and grow from the trials and tribulations they go through.
Wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said Meyer got into him at the stadium after a game recently and they had a heart-to-heart in practice. The message was he was playing tentative, not running his routes as crisply as he should. That appears to be in the past now.
Someone asked about the Big Ten’s representation in the preseason basketball coaches’ poll, and he said maybe that makes them the SEC of basketball. That would be cool.
Turning to football, he didn’t believe the talk about the Big Ten being inferior after Ohio State lost to Florida and LSU in the national championship games, but now it seems like the rest of the league needs to step up.
Asked to compare Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor, he said Miller = Mike Vick and Pryor = Vince Young. Miller throws the ball with great velocity and a tight spiral while being the best athlete he has seen running the football in college. Pryor was a big, strong athlete who was getting better at passing as his career progressed.
Stoneburner said Miller could have started every game at running back this season and they would still be undefeated. Pryor’s skill do not translate to that position, though. He was better at dropping back to throw then running when things broke down.
Miller makes guys miss and seems to have another sense about where potential tacklers are.
Revenge for the loss at Purdue last season is on their minds but not a driving force.
Linebacker Zach Boren said he is getting more comfortable all the time at his new position. Every day, he is learning more. He is fine if he starts or plays as part of a rotation.
Guys responded great to the APB from Meyer for toughness. They had two great days of practice. Guys are flying to the ball.
He was nervous last week before making his college linebacker debut, and that was the first time he felt that way in a long time. It took him a couple of series to settle in.
Cornerback Bradley Roby acknowledged the Big Ten is down in football but said it will be back. Everyone has a down year – except for the SEC. He’s not worried about it.
He also disputed the idea the Big Ten could become a basketball league with all the highly ranked teams to start the season (I think this was a tongue-in-cheek question).
In the aftermath of Boren moving to linebacker from fullback because of a lack of depth on the defensive side, someone asked if Roby could pick up wide receiver in three days like Boren did linebacker. Roby said he definitely could. He has played it before, so he knows how to run routes. He would just need to learn the calls. If they need him, he is ready. He feels like receivers coach Zach Smith knows that.
Roby is definitely impressed with Boren. He is a leader on defense for them now. He is a good dude to have on their side of the ball. Boren might not look the part, but he is definitely playing the part.
They do have a chip on their shoulder and want revenge for the losses they had last year. He feels like they should have won them in the first place and would have if they had made more plays.
Purdue has a lot of quick receivers. Stopping receivers O.J. Ross and Antavian Edison will be key (Ross is questionable with an injury).