Tag Archives: Travis Howard

Overheard at Ohio State: Wisconsin Week

Cleaning out my reporter’s notebook after week on the Ohio State football beat. This time the Buckeyes were sounding refreshed after a week off prior to a trip to Madison, Wisc., to take on the Badgers. 


Ohio State’s head football coach said Wisconsin is a much-improved team right now. Teams get better or they get worse through the course of the season, and this one is on the upswing. The blowout of Indiana last week was the Badgers’ best performance on both sides of the ball.

Wisconsin does a nice job with shifts and motions before the snap on offense and it’s hard to maintain gap integrity against the Badgers. When they go to the air, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is a heck of a player.

Program cover from Ohio State-Wisconsin football, circa 1932

Practice was excellent on Monday. The team seemed rejuvenated after having the weekend off, so the coaches have to be careful how they use that energy. It was a very physical practice.

He has had good success in the past after weeks off, so he maintains the same practice schedule.

The Buckeyes’ bowl ban has not really been addressed much so far this season because he likes how the team shows up to work on a regular basis. He has a lot of competitors in the locker room. They want to show up and perform their best against a good team like Wisconsin.

Leadership is an underrated aspect of college football, and Zach Boren brings that to the Buckeyes. He wasn’t doing that in the spring or summer, but he is now. Boren is one of Meyer’s all-time favorites now.

The defense is not the Silver Bullets yet, but it has been playing much better.

He hasn’t thought about the inability to go to a bowl while being undefeated as much as he expected. It comes up from time to time and then he thinks about how good the team might really be. He pauses to reflect then moves on to get ready for the next game.

He hasn’t talked to the team about the potential of an Associated Press national title for the last few weeks. He likes how the team meetings have been going. They know where they are as a team. It’s a no-nonsense group. He really likes coaching them.

Before the weekend off, he told the guys to think about how anything they do will help them get their 11th win. If so, do it a lot. If not, don’t do it.

Asked his impressions of the rivalry with Wisconsin, he said pretty good. He is learning about what it’s been like in recent years. He’s hearing about it from the guys who have been around. It is a rivalry game now.

The cornerbacks are an improved group for Ohio State. Travis Howard wasn’t very good earlier in the season, but he’s developed a lot.

He wasn’t sure what to make of a question about bad blood between the two programs but said the players respect Wisconsin so they are preparing hard for them. Meyer has no issue with Bielema. That was blown out of proportion early in the year and they squashed it.

Wisconsin has a very good front seven, one of several in the Big Ten. Meyer is impressed with how many there are in the league, perhaps more than he expected based on the reputation of the conference before he got here. Wisconsin has a very big front four, and linebacker Chris Borland is one of the best in the league. The Kettering, Ohio, native is very instinctual.

Meyer has talked to the team about winning the conference division outright. That is an important task.

He’s been to Camp Randall Stadium before – including as an assistant here in the ‘80s – and it is a great atmosphere.

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball had a slow start to the season, but a lot of that might have been on others more than him. The coaching staff has come together as the season has progressed, and they’ve gotten creative in the running game. Ball will be a very good NFL running back.

Asked to rate his team’s playmaking ability, Meyer said probably a C or C-. Braxton Miller fits the mold, and Carlos Hyde is joining him along with Philly Brown, but he expects at least four. And Hyde and Brown still have work to do. He wants making plays to be common place, not something that is remarkable every time they make someone miss or break a tackle.

Players added:

Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown noted the Buckeyes and Badgers have been going back and forth with messing up each other’s seasons. Ohio State is trying to get revenge for losing there his freshman year when they were undefeated and ranked No. 1.

The atmosphere at Camp Randall Stadium is not so much intimidating as much as it is fun. Same with Penn State. Those are two of the loudest stadiums they have played in and they try to use the energy from the crowd to their advantage.

He remembers “Jump Around” at the end of the third quarter last time when he was a freshman. Hopefully won’t be as loud because they’ll be winning, he said.

This group is hungry enough to put in the work to go undefeated. They are all in and he has no doubts they can do it.

Defensive lineman John Simon predicts the most physical team will win in Madison. They know the Badgers are going to try to run up the middle against them, and they have to stop it.

This is a huge game and hostile territory. fans are crazy and Badgers play very well at home. The Buckeyes are doing all they can to be prepared for challenge, but they are taking it one game at a time as far as going undefeated.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but they have two of their toughest tests coming at the end so they have to be prepared for each one of them and leave nothing to chance.

Cornerback Travis Howard says they figure on seeing a big running game from the Badgers and it will come down to which team is the most physical.

They should be able to put the corners on an island and stack the box to stop the run without worrying about how he and Bradly Roby will hold up.

Howard thinks it is “fabulous” to hear Meyer say he and Roby are one of the best cornerback tandems he has coached because he knows Meyer had some tremendous guys at Florida. Howard feels like Meyer’s pushing them to get better every day has been significant in their improvement.

The Buckeyes have a chip on their shoulder but can’t control situation other than to go out and win every game.

That’s what they are trying to do. At the end of the day they can look back and say they accomplished great things but it’s not time for that yet. Wisconsin is most important right now.

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Overheard at Ohio State Football: Miami Week


He began by saying “excited” was not enough to describe his feeling on being the Ohio State head football coach. He is honored to be back in his home state.

He knows Miami very well from his experience coaching in the MAC a decade ago and respects head coach Don Treadwell and quarterback Zac Dysert.

After a couple of days off, he hopes to see a team this week that is champing at the bit to play a football game. He likes where they are heading into the first week of the season.

Asked to rate the talent level, he said it is OK overall with the potential to be good. There are areas they need to step up: linebacker and the offensive skill positions. The youngsters have made some strong developments, and he credited the job wide receivers coach Zach Smith has done so far.

They will address the issue of having no bowl at some point but not now. The conversation is not about Week 13, 14 or Christmas break yet. (He later admitted if he feels like mentioning it for motivational purposes, he will even now.)

They started practicing for upcoming opponents last week and like to do that with some second-team players mixed in with the scout team to provide a better look to the starters.

Regarding his influence on the OSU defense, he pointed out the first part of his “Plan to Win” is playing great defense. Recruiting great players helps make that easier. He is not directly involved with the game planning, but he gives input. He’ll watch film of the defense and tell the staff if he notices something he thinks they should do or that won’t work. More than that, he will point out anyone who doesn’t seem to be giving the effort he expects. During games, he might dictate when he thinks it is time to play a certain style, such as tight coverage or loose. That would be a situation where he overrules what is happening based on game situation.

He admitted he will be “coming out of his shoes” a little bit when he leads the Buckeyes out on the field Saturday. He has been watching the Scarlet and Gray since he was 3 or 4 years old.

Asked who has made the biggest strides since he took over, he pointed to center Corey Linsley, running back Carlos Hyde and wide receiver Philly Brown on offense with nose tackle Garrett Goebel and cornerback Travis Howard on defense.

Meyer had no idea who Goebel was when he arrived, but he has showed himself to be a hard worker and great leader he enjoys coaching.

Howard has responded to the gruff coaching style of new CBs coach Kerry Coombs. They have a great relationship. He had a habit of getting lazy with his footwork when he would struggle last season, but that is cleaned up.

A typical game week will see them go very hard on Tuesdays then do things to build their confidence back up on Wednesday. Thursday should be about “cleaning things up”, and Friday is a walkthrough day.

Starting over with a new team is not something new to him, but this one is different because he has been away for a year and it’s home for him. Also there is a new offensive staff, which is not something he is used to when he takes over a job. There was some continuity in the past within his offensive staff when he switched jobs.

He was able to be at his daughter Nicki’s volleyball game over the weekend and she was named a captain. He is proud of that.

Asked about the dozen or so freshmen in his depth chart, he said that is pretty normal now, especially in the past six years at places like Ohio State and Florida. They recruit guys to play, not redshirt.

Braxton Miller has grown tremendously as a leader in the past year. Meyer admitted to seeing him a lot, be it on his own or via his work with ESPN. He sees a greater sense of urgency in the kid now and credited the addition of the no-huddle offense with some of that. He attacks game preparation better now as a more mature guy.

He expects to see a pass-based offense from Miami.

Asked about his philosophy with special teams, he said the most important thing is blocking punts. That can change field position, and he accepts there is some risk involved in going after them as much as he likes to. The team lives by a field position chart.

Asked about how blunt he has been regarding the team when he talks to the press, he said he always tried to be up front with the media but perhaps he developed a greater appreciation for the job after working for ESPN last year. He realized going into the room and telling reporters, “Everyone was there today and they played hard,” didn’t help them do their jobs very much. Also, he feels obligated to tell the public when he has guys who are doing good things in the program. He wants to brag about them. He also takes the opportunity to use it as a motivator if a guy needs a kick in the pants. He likes to hear them say they are tired of reading negative things about them. He expects that.

Meyer joked that he would need security everywhere he went if he discontinued the practice of giving out Buckeye helmet stickers as a reward for good play. He would never dream of that anyway because he loves them. He recalled being in awe when he watched Earle Bruce hand them out when Meyer was a grad assistant here in the ’80s. He is going to alter the program and felt like he had to get the approval of some former players to do it, but he’s excited. They should continue to be a source of inspiration and pride for the guys.

Miller has come a million miles since last year. He seems fairly comfortable within the offense now. He has spent a lot of time with the QB and seems to enjoy coaching him. Miller will eventually get the chance to help with the game plan and draw up the script they use to open games.

The wide receivers started showing improvement late in spring and obviously did some good work during the summer. He is excited to see how they look when it comes to game time.

Meyer loves Ryan Shazier. He is really sincere and gives his all every play. He is highly skilled, too, with the ability to be an All-Big Ten player. He’s still getting healthy after being dinged a week or so ago, though.

He was asked about his “Plan To Win” and went over its principles again: Play great defense, which includes the quarterback not throwing the ball away or putting it up for grabs. As part of that, don’t look for them to go all out on third-and-long. Sometimes they’re content to cut their losses and punt. Part 2 is ball security, and part three is score in the red zone. Every third day they practice red zone offense and defense. Those are the money downs. The last part is having a strong kicking game, which is why he coaches it and puts his best players on the unit.

After yet another Braxton question, Meyer compared him to former Florida quarterback Chris Leak. I think he meant as far as mentalities go. He said Leak was not much of a leader when Meyer arrived in Gainesville, but that changed by the time he was finished. Miller is developing in the same way.

Doing the “quick cals” with the student section is to enhance the college experience. He loves students and wants to tie them in. His dream scenario is to have the entire stadium doing it for a big game. They get the team juiced up, too, so it works both ways. He assumes most students grow up wanting to be part of the program, so this can help them feel as if they are.

While they are adding that tradition, they will maintain two others: Walking to the stadium on game day from the team hotel and stopping at Skull Session at St. John Arena.

He wants to see the seniors play for their legacy. Right now, it isn’t very good because it includes the first seven-loss season at Ohio State in more than 100 years. He loves coaching angry teams – there is nothing like it – and he hopes that will happen this year.

The NCAA issues that brought down the program last year are still ever-present in that they have endless compliance meetings and educational activities. He admitted he’s not above using them as motivation at times because it takes a little bit of everything to motivate kids that are 18-to-22.

He is not worried about his legacy. He wants this team to win and look good doing it. He has seen a change in the culture to incorporate more competition. They do that with every aspect of the program. He wants guys who refuse to lose.

He acknowledged Miller had a harder time leading last year as a true freshman and suggested the QB probably had to go through a mindset alteration considering he enrolled in January 2011 thinking he would back up Terrelle Pryor then had the program’s weight thrust on him by the middle of the first month of the regular season.



The players sayeth (Tuesday post-practice):


Garrett Goebel 

The senior defensive tackle said he has not seen any change in himself since he was named a captain last week. He continues to have a good relationship with everyone.

Maybe a few of the younger guys who didn’t know him very well look up to him a little more now. He is not big on giving speeches in front of a group, but he is getting used to getting up to talk to the team.


Carlos Hyde 

The junior running back was asked if the offense looks great, and he replied “good” would probably be a more appropriate adjective. They are ready to go, though.

What is new about the offense? More explosive plays, a higher tempo and more plays.

How does he know it will be more explosive? Every play they call is explosive if they execute it right (This would be another thing reminiscent of things said during the Tressel era, except in reverse. As in, a play would have been fine if executed correctly.)

Tuesday was a rough day at practice, but Monday was worse. Monday felt like a camp day. There were a lot of live reps, including some against the No. 1 defense.


Braxton Miller 

Ohio State’s sophomore quarterback admitted to getting fed up sometimes with hearing the whistle blow when he was ready to run during a play, but it is better on his body that way. He feels OK not running. It gives him more time to read the situation.

This year he feels more mature and more like a leader.

The offense does include tougher reads at times. There are times he just has to get the ball and go. The option part of the offense reminds him of things he did in high school. The passing game has a lot of quick reads.

He feels like himself when running the offense now. That wasn’t the case last year.

Someone asked if the offense was ready to come out of the gate firing and he just said the game plan is different every week, but they want to score every time they get the ball.

There is a change in how they approach plays. They know they have to have an aggressive outlook, especially to succeed against a defense like the one they face in practice every day.


Travis Howard 

The senior cornerback said the team enters this season ready to leave it all on the line and not worry about mistakes from the past.

He knows Ohio State has hid standards on defense and they have to bounce back from last year. He understands why the offense has been the big topic of discussion in the offseason.

He will be happy to see Meyer’s spread in action on Saturday.

They hope a scheme change in the secondary will help create more turnovers. The coaches concluded last year that playing a lot of tight man coverage hindered their ability to go get the ball, so they have switched to playing more off man coverage. That gives them a better chance to read the quarterback and break on the ball. It also means each guy back there has more responsibility, though. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs tells them off man coverage is the hardest type of coverage to execute.

It feels great to hear Meyer say he has come a long way this year compared to last season. He knows last year was not great. Meyer and the new staff have a way of getting his potential out of him.

Howard did not take plays off last year, but his focus would go in and out. He needs to maintain a competitive mindset all of the time.

He sees this as being a one-of-a-kind defense with a competitive mindset that will make it better than it was last year. The defensive line should be great, and he is looking forward to seeing how the whole unit works together.

Someone asked about Philly Brown, and Howard said he is the offense’s top playmaker. The coaches have been trying to get him the ball in a variety of ways. Howard figured all along the scheme would benefit Brown because it gets him the ball in space.


Bonus Urbanisms*: 

He called the wishbone the No. 1 equalizer in college football with throwing the ball all over the field being No. 2. They create matchup issues.

Overall, though, it is more difficult to just line up and roll over people than it used to be.

Someone asked about his wife’s interest in football, and he said she loves it and she loves the students. She used to sit among the students, but that got a little too crazy. Does she offer critiques to his coaching? “Not to my face,” he replied with a smile. If she suggested a play, it would probably be some kid of reverse. She has seen a lot of those in her days watching the games.

Nathan Williams has showed him he’s a guy with good hands and quick-twitch muscles. A very good player.

He chose Tom Herman as his offensive coordinator because he is a great character guy, a family guy, and he is a smart football mind. Meyer studied him throughout last fall and kept seeing familiar plays from his own offense. Then he reached out to him to learn more. He found out Herman had studied his stuff and had film cutups going back to his days at Utah.

The no-huddle offense can make calling plays a challenge at times, and he figures they will huddle at times because he doesn’t want to lose the leadership and camaraderie that huddles provide.

The kicking game is in good shape.

Sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby has worked as a return man, but he is not used to handling the ball as much as the running backs and receivers, so they will work him in slowly.


*Notes from the Monday press conference

**Sometimes I will attend his Wednesday evening availability and have notes from that