Tag Archives: Urban Meyer

Ohio State spring football reactions: Offense

Evaluating the offense the same way as the defense is hardly fair considering all of the injuries that beset the Ohio State scoring unit, but there were some lessons to take away from the spring nonetheless.

For one thing, the depth the Buckeyes were thought to have at running back is real. Ezekiel Elliott showed he brings a very enticing package of size and skill to the position. A smooth runner, he seems like the perfect back for this offense. I like the way Warren Ball keeps his feet moving and slides through holes, and Bri’onte Dunn leaves no doubt the physical ability is there if he can bring consistency to the table. Ditto Rod Smith, who could be the best of all of them but can’t seem to keep himself on track.

Then of course there is Curtis Samuel. Even with the unprecedented success of Carlos Hyde last season as a power back, Urban Meyer does get enamored with little guys who can go, doesn’t he? Samuel runs strong for his size, but speed and agility are the name of the game for him. It will be interesting to see if they carve out a role for him this fall.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman mentioned at one point the staff has come to like having a power back, which was new for Meyer’s offense since it was developed at his previous coaching stops, so you can bet they want to maintain that facet, but it’s alway nice to have options. Continue reading

Overheard at Ohio State football March 25

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after Urban Meyer and Tom Herman met with the media in Columbus yesterday. 

URBAN MEYER 

Ohio State’s head coach was asked how the new Chris Ash-Luke Fickell collaboration on the defensive coaching staff is going and he said well.

Losing Vonn Bell for the spring was a setback, but they have three safeties they feel good about who are practicing.

Urban Meyer meets with local media in Columbus.

Urban Meyer meets with local media in Columbus.

Asked about Dontre Wilson, he said the sophomore is the starting H wide receiver, taking over for Philly Brown.

Meyer thinks Braxton Miller is absorbing what they want him to as he is sidelined during practices, but he isn’t sure until he can test him out.

Continue reading

Ohio State Football: When 24-0 becomes 24-1

So nearly a week has passed since Ohio State lost 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The end of football season always comes about suddenly – like ejecting from a plane, it brings a floating feeling before landing somewhere that never feels quite as familiar as it should upon returning to ground level. Even though it was predestined to happen this week if not sooner, it still brings a shock to the system. 

I like to give life a few days to get back to normal, but then again sometimes I wonder if football season is the norm and the rest is just passing time.
What we learned last week: How hollow 24-0 can be, at least when it becomes 24-1.

Forgive me if this seems overly negative, but it is a hard conclusion to avoid when stepping back to assess the situation. 20131213-093830.jpg

The Buckeyes won all their games for two regular seasons, but they have no national championships or even Big Ten championships to show for it.

Yes, they can claim two of the three Leaders Division titles of all time (I think there’s even a trophy for that), but has anyone ever considered those anything more than consolation prizes?

The past two seasons weren’t all for naught, of course.

When Urban Meyer officially took over in January 2012, Ohio State had lost four consecutive games, after all, and the Buckeyes’ reputation was in a state of disrepair.

Many felt it wouldn’t take a miracle to fix the program, but there was certainly work to do.

Continue reading

On Jason Whitlock, Brady Hoke and Michigan football

This column from Jason Whitlock about the present and future of the Michigan football program is really interesting.

The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium

The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium

Maybe I shouldn’t have led with “Jason Whitlock” because I’m sure he is a divisive figure to some, but he often has an interesting perspective on a variety of sports topics whether you or I agree with him much. This piece on the Wolverines is unique because while Whitlock repeats something he’s never tried to hide – he loves Hoke and they have a personal relationship – he then proceeds to rip apart the state of the current Michigan team.

I agree with his observations about what is wrong with these Wolverines, though you probably won’t be surprised to learn I am far more skeptical about his ability to turn the program around than Whitlock. The author’s main justification is, “He’s Hoke,” which I guess could turn out to be all it takes but isn’t really based on what I’d call facts. Continue reading

Buckeyes Want To Add Read, Speed in 2013

Ohio State’s first season in Urban Meyer’s spread offense was a big success by most measures, but the head coach and his offensive coordinator want much more in year two. We examine how they can improve and take a look at a past example of an OSU offense going from good to great in its second season with a new attack – Scout.com: Buckeyes Want To Add Read, Speed in 2013

Ohio State Football: When The Music’s Over

Nowhere to turn but The Doors this week as we take a look back at the end of a 12-game run of perfection for the Ohio State football team. It was quite a ride, but we can’t help but wonder what’s next. 

What we learned last week: How a true 180 feels.

Could anything have been more different than the way things turned out this year for Ohio State?

From a loss at Michigan with a flailing defense to a win at Ohio Stadium with a stop unit rejuvenated, led in part by a linebacker who used to be a fullback, not to mention a Michigan fan.

From a helpless, free-falling November of 2011 to the capstone of a perfect season including a pair of close wins instead of three one-score losses.

Ohio State lines up to run out the clock against Michigan, Nov. 24, 2012

Urban Meyer wants to make sure this team’s accomplishments are recorded because they sure don’t write books like this. I don’t think this screenplay could get produced because no one would buy it.

I think this season also turned out to teach that enjoying the ride is still possible.

Oh sure, there are regrets. Some wonder what might have been, and there was some campaigning for No. 1 votes in the AP poll.

There were threads on our BuckeyeSports.com message board decrying the play calling and the crowd noise and the missed tackles, just like always.

But there were still 100,000-plus in Ohio Stadium eight times this fall. They still cheered as lustily when the Buckeyes put together an improbable comeback in the last minute then dominated overtime against Purdue. They still reveled under the lights as the offense ran wild against Nebraska, and they still danced and sang with the band and the players after a close win at Michigan State.

They still rushed the field after a win over Michigan, too.

It still looked, sounded and felt like a regular Ohio State football season all along the way, and that was good to see.

I was beginning to wonder if the BCS – with its slightly more tangible presentation of a true race for a national championship compared to the completely poll-driven decision process that preceded it – had ruined some of that.

Had the long run of success in the Big Ten and over Michigan spoiled fans? Maybe so. Some players last year and this year admitted it might have made them complacent, too.

That’s somewhat understandable. It is human nature, after all.

So it was good to see the joy and passion back for all. A rejuvenated coach, team and fan base all soaking in the simple joy of a win just for winning’s sake.

The stakes return next season, but the memories of this one will linger forever.

 

What we can expect to learn next week (and beyond): That was quite a season of Ohio State football. It lasted only 12 games, but there was plenty of drama. Wonder what they’ll do for an encore…

After one of the weirdest periods in OSU football history, the Buckeyes needed a mental reset.

Turns out they might have found the master of psychology in his field. Of course, Urban Meyer had to fix himself before he could go to work on his home state’s favorite team.

So 2012 turned out to be a test period for all sorts of things. A new offense, a new workout regime, a new mental approach and a new man – in more ways than one – at the helm.

Nobody could have dreamed it would turn out so well, and the twists and turns were even more unpredictable.

Who knows the next time Ohio State will get as many things to break its way as did this season – it had been at least 10 years, right? – but then again maybe not as many will be necessary next season when the schedule is weaker and the methods are more familiar.

The 1998 Buckeyes, for instance, really only would have needed one break in one particular game to go down as one of the great teams in school history. (And the loss to Michigan State that season actually required quite a string of unfortunate events to happen anyway.)

Maybe the same could be said of 1969 or several of Woody Hayes’ great teams in the early ‘70s.

The 2002 and ’12 Buckeyes brought a lot of their problems on themselves, but they persevered through determination and perhaps even some providence.

How next season unfolds will begin to be told with winter workouts, but there’s no deadline for the 2013 Buckeyes to be great. It might be more tense with more on the line, or it might be carefree if they grow and cut back on mistakes and lapses in focus. Only time will tell.

They seem to have a coach who knows how to make magic more likely, but even Urban Meyer concedes there is only so much anyone can do other than hope for the best.

It will be a long offseason. Good thing they left on such a high note.

Stocks are high with this program now, and it will be interesting to see how they handle prosperity.

They haven’t won anything tangible yet, so that shouldn’t be too hard a sell.

They completed their payback tour with wins over everyone in the conference that beat them last season, but there is unfinished business to attend to.

It goes beyond the Big Ten, but they’ll have to get through it again first. The path they just traversed was winding and treacherous, but the next one will be even longer even if it runs the risk of being more boring at times.

Much of what makes a great coach is his psychological approach, and that will be tested in building and keeping together the 2013 team.

How will he teach it to remain hungry, to be sure cupcakes don’t spoil the appetite?

They showed plenty of flaws that need to be worked on, of course, so maybe that won’t become a concern until next season actually starts.

Maybe I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, but then again I guess that’s sort of my point.

After twelve wild wins there are going to be a full 12 more months before this team can say it accomplished more than its predecessor. Then there will still be one more step, and the hardest one of all.

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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. 

URBANISMS

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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Ohio State Football Week 11 (Part 1): Gimme Back My Bullets

This week’s column looks to Lynyrd Skynyrd for inspiration as we examine why the Buckeye defense has looked more like its old self the past couple of weeks. Hint: It’s really not that complicated. With Ohio State off this week, we also take a look at the most interesting Big Ten matchup on tap while also keeping an eye on the Buckeyes’ next opponent.

What we learned this week: It’s amazing what better players can do for a defense.

That Ohio State is playing better when the other team has the ball is no coincidence when you look at the players in the lineup.

There is no doubt they were missing Nathan Williams, who was not there for Indiana, and they needed players like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington to step up.

Perhaps the unit would have rounded into form sooner with the improving play of Etienne Sabino against Michigan State and (a very good) Nebraska offense, but his injury set them back yet again before that debacle in Indiana on Oct. 13.

Zach Boren’s move to linebacker from fullback was necessitated by the broken bone in Sabino’s leg, and the Boren of the 52-22 win over Illinois is a better player than the one of the 52-49 win over the Hooisers three weeks earlier.

Don’t forget CJ Barnett was out of the lineup for a few games and needed a little time to get re-acclimated with the rest of his teammates in the speed of the game, too. That was key as it allowed Orhian Johnson to return to Star, where he has been the most productive player at the position this season.

I hate to sound like an excuse machine for the coaching staff, but sometimes people go a little overboard in looking to blame people when something goes wrong. Often there really are reasonable explanations for why things don’t turn out exactly how they’re expected to.

On top of all that, you’ve got a new staff learning what each member knows, what the players can do within that knowledge and how to put it all together.

I like the potential of the quarters coverage that they went into the season wanting to play, but I can see where it could be a dicey situation, with a variety of people learning it all at once. I like the different options it gives you, and I think it’s just about the best coverage out there – when played correctly – but then I’m a little old school in defensive philosophy. I grew up in an old-fashioned 5-2 set that involved hitting, reading and shedding blocks at every position up front rather than all of mostly anchoring one spot. I get the ups and downs involved. I see that it puts a lot of responsibility on each individual player, and that it leaves the door open for one guy’s mistake to make more of a negative impact on a play, but done right it’s pretty dang hard to beat because when you have so many guys playing two gaps, you’ve got multiple outs all over the field. It can work out to be the equivalent of having extra defenders out there, a reverse of what the offense is trying to do with the zone read and option stuff that hs become so prevalent in the past decade.

To their credit, the coaching staff never seem to panic. They’ve all been through transitions like this before, and surely they had seen some of the similar struggles. They knew it wouldn’t happen overnight no matter how badly everyone wanted it to.

Urban Meyer’s greatest strength as a coach is undoubtedly his passion, but sometimes I think that gets him in a little trouble. And I’m not just talking about his famous bout with burnout, I’m talking about even just with the things he says.

As a member of the media I certainly appreciate his bluntness and honesty with us in terms of a lot of different things he says, but I think sometimes he gets a little ahead of himself. Sometimes we hear him talking about what he wants to see in an ideal situation, but I am pretty confident he’s realistic enough to know he’s going to have to settle for less than perfect on a regular basis, particularly in Year One, whether he likes it or not. That usually comes out through the course of a 30-minute press conference, but sometimes it gets lost in our little soundbite world that we now live because the first thing is often what gets highlighted even if the next sentence hollows it out a little bit and brings it back to the center.

Slowing down that Illinois offense is no great feat in and of itself, but holding any team under 200 total yards is to be commended. It’s more than we probably would have expected to see from this Ohio State unit even against a bad offense prior to this week, so in a world where average is somewhat understandably surprising to see, we should know when the defense turns in a dominant performance.

Meanwhile, the offense putting 50 points on the board without Braxton Miller going absolutely crazy is noteworthy as well. It speaks to the development of a lot of guys around him. The offensive line obviously did a lot of work to make holes for Carlos Hyde, and the junior running back did his best to take advantage.

Meyer sounded a little bit sour after the game, but when you can nitpick a specific part of the passing game after quarterback throws for 220 yards and a touchdown, you must be living okay. Don’t overlook the fact he was complaining about only the drop-back passing game, not the play-action part that was just fine, and quite productive as a matter of fact.

Bottom line: Players are developing and/or getting healthier on both sides of the ball, and that usually makes coaching a lot easier to do.

What we can expect to learn this week: How good is Wisconsin’s defense in space?

The Badgers have stopped a two-year slide in effectiveness of their stop unit this season, but I’m not sure how tested they truly are yet.

Nebraska spent half its win over the Badgers in late September running into itself and shooting itself in the foot and still gained 340 yards and scored 30 points in the conference opener.

Since then, Wisconsin’s defense has played somewhere between well and okay, but the competition still hasn’t been much to be scared of, particularly as far as passing goes.

Purdue has good threats on the outside, but hapless Danny Hope played around with his quarterbacks that afternoon and probably hurt the chances of his team getting into any type of rhythm. As against Ohio State, the Boilermakers picked up almost all of their yards on a handful of big plays. Wisconsin picked off two Minnesota passes, but that was against a true freshman in his first start. Andrew Maxwell, the league’s No. 10-most efficient passer at the moment, threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns without an interception as Michigan State beat the Badgers in overtime two weeks ago. The Badgers slowed down Le’Veon Bell, but most good defenses do because of the poor quality of the MSU offensive line.

And why does this matter? Because Indiana has the best passing game in the Big Ten and plays host to Wisconsin this weekend in what could turn out to be a de facto Big Ten Leaders division title game.

Not only are there high stakes, the noon game is of added interest because the Buckeyes are idle and Wisconsin is their next obstacle to a perfect start under Urban Meyer.

If Indiana can stretch the Badgers out from sideline to sideline, and execute consistently, there should be plenty of opportunities to make things happens. Running back Stephen Houston is a weapon as well on the inside for head coach Kevin Wilson’s Hoosiers.

The Buckeyes have to like their chances against that Wisconsin defense if it has problems dealing with improving Indiana. Although what they want to accomplish with their formations is different, the Buckeyes will be able to provide some of the same problems in space in two weeks in Camp Randall Stadium when they look to improve to 11-0.

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Overheard at Ohio State Football: Illinois Week

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

URBANISMS

Ohio State’s head football coach started out by stating his appreciation for the environment at Penn State. The students treated them well, and everyone was classy. The Buckeye players respected that and responded well overall to the whole deal. 

They got their best team win at State College. The defense has shown much improvement by maintaining leverage and tackling better. They also blitzed more than they have all year and played a lot of man coverage.

Zach Boren played well at linebacker but did not grade out as a champion, so Meyer wishes he would get even better. The coach has great respect for him.

Someone asked if the increase in pressure defense and man coverage came from Meyer, and he said he wasn’t sure that was the case even though he had been pushing for it. Getting C.J. Barnett back helps, too, because that is one more guy who can get in there and man up. They have always had confidence in the corners to play man, but everyone has to do it, including safeties and linebackers.

Asked about having a heart-to-heart with Jake Stoneburner a few weeks ago, Meyer said there is nothing worse than false confidence that comes from people telling you how good you are. People talked a lot about how great he was even though he had never really done a lot. Stoneburner wasn’t playing well or as involved as he wanted to be, and Meyer told him not to make excuses but to take ownership in the situation. He moved to wide receiver and had to learn how to contribute there. He is a smart kid, and he has gotten it turned around. Now Meyer sees potential for Stoneburner to play in the NFL. That is a goal of the staff, to get him there.

Someone asked if this team has the potential to be special, and he said yes. They are dealing with a lot of adversity, and there are a lot of intangibles in the locker room now. Guys are fighting for each other and refusing to lose. There is a blue collar attitude and a desire to get better.

He has no concerns about facing a friend in Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. He loves him and his dad, though.

Asked if he has a problem with Braxton Miller being too competitive at times, perhaps trying to make too much happen, Meyer said no. It is harder to teach a tiger to bite. He prefers to teach them when to bite.

Miller’s progression as a quarterback so far has been “ok.” He is a better thrower, but they are struggling to find time to work on his fundamentals to increase his improvement even more.

Talking again about the Ohio State defense, Meyer said he always had respect for the Silver Bullets even when he was watching from afar while coaching elsewhere. He feels much better about their fundamentals now. They have been working on fundamentals for 10 minutes or so a day and that seems to have had a positive effect.

Momentum is everything in college football, and that goes for not only wins but also recruiting and roster development. They aren’t looking at next year as they work on this one. They are just trying to win as many games as possible. That momentum shows up in recruiting because it makes them that much more enthusiastic about making calls to kids when they are talking about another great win.

Revisiting the Stoneburner issue, someone asked if the player had to come to grips with a new role. Meyer replied yes, and that was the problem. He should have just gotten to it, not thought about it. NFL teams tell guys what to do and move on if they don’t. Stoneburner is a really smart guy, and he might have overthought this one initially.

Miller was more confident in the second half at Penn State. It is hard to stay settled down in that atmosphere. His footwork was bad, and he was pulling away from the center too fast and panicking on his throws.

Illinois has players, but it has not played well at times this year. Meyer pointed out Illinois has had more high draft picks in recent years than Ohio State (this is true, at least if you’re just counting the first two rounds in the past three years – 7-2).

He loves seeing players develop in his program. For example, Chase Farris is “on fire” right now. He is going to be heard from at some point for Ohio State on the offensive line after converting from defense.

Regarding special teams struggles, he pointed out they have had seven different lineups for the punt team. In replacing Etienne Sabino and Zach Domicone, they have put in some guys who weren’t aware of what they needed to do their first time in there.

Upon being prodded about Miller being a candidate for the Heisman, Meyer acknowledged he does have the look of one. The quarterback still needs to play a lot better, but he must be a candidate with his production for a team that is 9-0.

Meyer has always been a huge Notre Dame fan since he grew up in a Catholic family It is great for college football when they are good. He’s seen them on some crossover film (presumably from Purdue and Michigan State) and they look very good. It is a polarizing place. When you walk into a high school wearing Notre Dame gear, people either love you or throw stuff at you.

Someone asked if he will ever manipulate the clips of the opposing team they show to the players in order to make them look better or worse than they might really be, and he said yes. He didn’t do that this week, though. (I think the gist was that he acknowledged sometimes you just include the clips of a team doing things well so your players don’t overlook them and other times you might even show mistakes to humanize the opponent and make sure they don’t seem invincible.)

He is concerned about how many punts they have had blocked, and other teams probably sense blood in the water now. They put in a different type of punt last week just to change things up. He didn’t want the punter to be just a sitting duck. He hasn’t been getting great hang time. Buchanan can do the roll kick, but they still have to protect it. They put Devin Smith on the punt coverage team because he is the fastest guy on the team. The ultimate goal is to get guys down the field to force a fair catch every time, but it isn’t happening right now.

 

Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said the staff decided that a few weeks ago Penn State decided not to be a game-plan offense. They identified things they do well and stuck with them every week so they could get good at them.

Freshman Noah Spence is coming on now and he understands getting onto the field is a process. He has to do stuff to earn the trust of the staff. Everybody is fast and athletic in college, so young guys have to learn techniques and whatnot.

They are excited to have Zach Boren on defense. He gets better with every rep, and he is an inspiration to the other guys. One time in particular stuck out on the film when he ran past a blocker and made a hit on the wide screen pass.

Nathan Williams has a great attitude. He is dedicated to learning and studying. Nobody plays harder. He throws his body around. There are still things he is working on in terms of technique.

They need Mike Bennett to play better. That allows them to deploy various packages based on matchups and situation. Bennett is a guy with good speed and power for his size.

The defensive staff continues the process of developing what it wants to do and what the players are capable of doing. Some carry over from past weeks has helped the scheme evolve.

Like Spence, Adolphus Washington is a young guy who has to go through the process of learning how to play at this level. He is a big, athletic guy who needs to learn to play physical and relentless. Everything was easy for him in high school. He is making progress and earning more time in various situations. Vrabel isn’t sure what will be Washington’s ultimate position, tackle or end.

Williams is trying to make the NFL, and the staff supports that. He has dedicated himself to the team, to working hard and flying around and leading.

They are approaching everything week to week and finding ways to win. Guys are believing in themselves. Last week the defense started to realize the offense will win them the game if they just get the ball back for them.

This year is important because it is much easier to get the players to believe in the process when they see results.

 

Wide receivers coach Zach Smith said Stoneburner was always an athletic receiving tight end, but he had to get used to dealing with better athletes when he moved to receiver. He had to run better routes to beat quicker guys, basically. He couldn’t just run around them. Smith and Meyer addressed that with him and he keeps getting better ever since. Because of his progress, they work harder to get him opportunities to contribute.

Evan Spencer, who caught three passes last week, has built up more of the coaches’ confidence, so they are more apt to go to him, too. His best attribute is his commitment and his passion for the game. You can tell he is a coach’s son. He has upped his film study and is hard on himself and wants to get better. His parents raised him to be a great young man, and he understands what he needs to improve as a football player.

The team is 9-0 through the guys coming together when they’ve had to because of chemistry. They don’t want to let each other down.

Regarding the fake punt by Penn State that failed, Smith said they always practice for the base stuff a team does with its punt then watch for tips if they might do something tricky. Penn State lined up differently, so the staff alerted the players.

The wide receivers are getting better as a whole and the staff is developing confidence in more of them, so they are more comfortable with more of them playing. For example, Smith felt comfortable with Chris Fields going into the Purdue game when Philly Brown got hurt because Fields had been doing well recently in practice. Playing more guys also helps morale overall when guys actually feel like they contributed to the win rather than just being there and singing the fight song.

Devin Smith has embraced the role of gunner on the punt team, and Zach Smith would be disappointed if it were any other way.

They moved Stoneburner to wide receiver because they wanted to get him on the field and they had depth at tight end. As a consequence, he had to learn how to use his skills in a different spot on the field.

The receivers like to play with Miller because he will get the ball out quickly when he needs to and hit them with catchable passes. They also raise their play because they know even if they are running a control route (like going deep to pull coverage way from someone else) they could still end up getting the ball if Miller scrambles.

Miller has improved with his progressions. He is getting more productive each week on third downs, although Smith doesn’t grade that specifically.

 

Quarterback Braxton Miller said he thinks about sliding now more, unless he is close to a first down.

Asked about being a Heisman Trophy candidate, he said it’s an honor to have his name mentioned but he just tries to work hard every week and then you never know what will happen. He conceded that the style of offense Ohio State is playing will produce big plays and stats that lead to awards.

He knows he has to keep working to progress as a passer. It isn’t easy.

In regards to slow starts, they just need to stay with the game plan and get guys going.

He didn’t have any theories about why they haven’t played as well against weaker teams on the schedule, but the team does not feel any pressure being 9-0.

Cornerback Bradley Roby said every time he sees Vanderbilt highlights on ESPN he thinks about what it would be like if he had stuck with his verbal commitment to go there as a wide receiver instead of taking Ohio State’s offer to play cornerback. He doesn’t think about it long, but it is there.

He’s noticed Illinois’ receivers are struggling to get established without Jenkins (who he made some headlines about last season when he said he was nothing special). The group does look talented even though it is young.

Scheelhaase is mobile and can be dangerous if they don’t contain him.

The team has talked about not playing so well against lesser teams. It has involved some mental mistakes. They have watched teams like Alabama play at a high level every week and strive to achieve that. He feels Ohio State should dominate teams, but it hasn’t happened much this season.

The defense has been simplified and that’s helping them play more aggressively. There are fewer checks to worry about and more man coverage. It’s easier. They have fast pass rushers in John Simon, Nathan Williams and Steve Miller plus Ryan Shazier at linebacker, so that lets them pressure while the backs cover.

The defense is on the right path, but it is not perfect and needs to keep getting better.

They dominated much of the game at Penn State but let up late. They need to keep pushing through to the end in the future.

He is definitely looking forward to the open week in the schedule. He could use some rest and relaxation. He seemed to wish it had come a little earlier in the season.

Offensive lineman Andrew Norwell said he recalled sitting in the stands rooting for Illinois when the Fighting Illini knocked off the undefeated, top-ranked Buckeyes in 2007. His brother was a starting defensive lineman for that Illinois team and a very good player. Andrew wasn’t thinking about where he would be going to college at that time when he was in high school.

They’ll talk a little trash before the game, but he knows his brother will be rooting for him because blood is thicker than water.

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Penn State Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat. This week the surprising health of Braxton Miller and the Penn State program given recent hits both took dominated conversation. 

URBANISMS

Ohio State’s head coach noted the football team is 8-0 despite doing a pretty poor job of meeting his four points in the plan to win.

They weren’t great on defense against Purdue, but they were better. The offense continues to sputter at times, and the kicking game has had a lot of breakdowns that have hurt. They also lost the turnover battle.

He noted that looking at the list of champions from week to week is an obvious sign of the inconsistency of the team. This week it was all defensive players after none made it the week before when the offense carried the team at Indiana.

(For updates to personnel, see here and here. Latter link also includes weekly champions from Purdue. Also check out the BuckeyeSports.com story archive for other things by our staff.)

Meyer recalled coaching against current Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin in the Outback Bowl. He is much improved from then (when he threw five interceptions), and the guys around him are better. The defense is good as always there.

He called PSU tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Mike Mauti great players. He recruited Mauti very hard when he was at Florida, but Mauti was a legacy recruit for the Nittany Lions.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is a real competitor. They have to coach him to get out of bounds a little more when he has the opportunity, but he is trying to make plays when things aren’t going well. They want to limit his hits, but they have to use him to move the ball often.

This is still a group of Buckeyes (mostly) that lost seven games last season and was reeling when he took over, so they are sure to appreciate the wins they get now.

The roster continues to be very thin with only about 60 guys really available, and some of them are not doing much to be contributors.

Asked to assess his coaching staff’s performance so far this season, he said they are doing pretty well at dealing with everything that comes with the transition and leading a team. He wouldn’t give them an A+. They have to get the team healthy, develop it and go recruit some more guys. He wants to enhance what is in place.

Some guys, such as the defensive linemen, are playing too many snaps, but they haven’t developed as much depth as he wants to prevent that from happening.

Asked if his season passed before his eyes when he saw Miller go down, Meyer replied, “Sure.” Then the first question was if Miller was OK. Then attention turned to adjusting for what Kenny Guiton can do.

The plans change with Guiton in the game, but he has been fairly successful.

They will use noise at practice to prepare for the environment at Beaver Stadium, which his assistants told him is the loudest place in the Big Ten. Being a no-huddle offense helps them deal with that, but they’ll have to get rid of some motions and shifts because they won’t be able to hear.

Beaver Stadium at Penn State

Someone asked if night games are crazier because fans have more time to “fuel up” and he grinned and said he wanted to give a politically correct answer.

He was previously known to have met with Bill Belichick to talk strategy, but he had no contact with Bill O’Brien at that time. He was there to talk defense. Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator at that time, anyway.

Meyer has great admiration for Penn State and always has. It’s a strong school academically, and don’t forget the Lions were undefeated for a good while last season. That means they have very good football players.

Penn State got off to a poor start this season, but they are still Penn State right now because the sanctions haven’t started to really kick in yet. This is a well-coached team of good players. John Cooper told Meyer it will be a very good draft day for Penn State, meaning there are plenty of NFL-caliber players in Happy Valley.

He could have a long discussion about how to motivate 18-year-olds, but that is part of his job. Self-motivated players at that age are very rare. He likes to think this staff is great at pulling guys out of a spiral if it comes to that. Guiton is a poster child for that. He really turned things around since December. Meyer made sure he watched himself on the final drive during the team’s meal Sunday.

Someone asked if we could see more of Guiton in the game even with Miller healthy, and he said he wasn’t sure. He joked that Kenny could throw it harder next time and later dismissed the idea of using Kenny as a runner because that’s not a strength of his.

Devan Bogard is out for the year, but Meyer loves him. If he could recruit 100 of him, life would be good.

He is putting a lot of pressure on guys who aren’t playing in games, pushing them harder in practice.

They can’t coach Miller to be much different as far as running because they aren’t an efficient enough team for him to just be a dropback passer.

The biggest thing now is they need some guys to step up, not just show up at the games to sing the fight song afterward.

Good news: backup offensive linemen Chase Farris and Taylor Decker have had a good couple of weeks of practice and are closer to being able to help.

Chris Fields has been “active” at wide receiver for two weeks, including last week when he caught the game-tying touchdown and had another long catch that set up a touchdown run.

That gives them another receiver to count on, but they are still slim at linebacker.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said he carries with him a lucky rock his daughter gave him, but he knows the success of the final drive led by Guiton when the team was facing dire straits was a product or hard work and practice.

He agreed with Meyer that the playcalling won’t change as a result of Miller going out of the game last week. They have to do what they can do to win.

Regarding game planning, he said they are 0-8 in terms of planning for what they see from a defense. There is some stuff that they do that is designed to be independent of the type of defense they see, too. Oh, and that stuff usually involves Miller.

Penn State is playing really well on defense. Hill is very good. This will be the best defense Ohio State has seen this season. He’s read the environment is tough as well.

Ohio State’s offensive players are a bit fragile from the struggles of last season, so the staff has to be part psychologist, too. He could see them gaining more confidence with the success they had last Saturday without Miller.

After beating Purdue, he told the offense congratulations on the win but they played badly. That includes him not coaching well enough. He said some guys were called out individually, too, but didn’t name those guys. The whole world knows the offense was bad against Purdue, so it’s up to the coaching staff to figure out why and fix it.

In going back over the conversation with Meyer about what to call on the two-point conversion play, Herman said he has to pick his battles against the head coach. Herman wanted to run the tight end throwback, but Meyer was on the sideline hearing from the offensive linemen about wanting to ram the ball in. Herman was steadfast in his belief the pass was a better option, and he won the debate. He said that’s why he likes being in the booth. The sterile environment helps him stick with the plan as opposed to getting washed away in the emotion of the moment. It’s important to remember why they made those plans and to keep faith in them.

Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers agreed the defense has been running on fumes, and some guys need to step up. They have the guys, now they’ll find out if any of them can play. Sometimes guys are different on the playing field as opposed to the practice field (in a good way).

Safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett probably had their best week of practice last week. He had challenged them after their play against Indiana the week before.

The staff felt like it had a good handle on what Purdue would do offensively. They had practiced against the first play of the game, but someone froze and didn’t make the play, leading to an 83-yard touchdown.

Withers hopes having success on defense last week will breed some confidence. The rest of the game, he thinks we saw them play more confidently thanks to preparation.

Barnett is experienced. He has played in some big games, and he understands the scheme. They can make adjustments on the sideline with him because he gets it. Mentally he needed some time to get back into it when he faced Indiana in his first game back from an ankle injury.

McGloin will be the most efficient passer they have seen. He knows where to go with the ball. He will hit his third read, which isn’t something they have seen much this year. He can move around to avoid the rush. Withers agreed being coached by a guy like O’Brien would be a boost.

He was able to stay above the emotion of the game last week because all the while they were mounting the comeback, the coaches were preparing for overtime. They felt the momentum swing with the conversion of the two-pointer. That gave them a feeling they would win at that point. He was excited for the kids. They stayed calm and played through adversity.

The coaches have gotten some guys to step up who hadn’t performed previously. That’s part of the program, where there is constant pressure to be the best in everything. That helps some guys. You can see it daily.

Quarterback Braxton Miller said he knew he was OK last Saturday night when he had passed all of the medical tests at the hospital.

Asked if his neck was sore, he said, “Just a little bit,” but declared himself “just about full-go.”

He wasn’t sure what had happened to him when he went down. He felt dizzy, and they took him to the hospital because of the uncertainty.

He isn’t worried about getting hurt again and figures he will be the same guy now as before he went down.

That was the first time he has landed on his head, shoulder and neck all at once like that, so he was nervous about it at first.

He called the hit the type that makes you flinch when you see it, but he’s not feeling it anymore.

He asked the nurse for updates while he was at the hospital, but she said she didn’t have any because she was busy tending to him.

Wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said the Nittany Lions have a typical Penn State defense with really good linebacker and a physical, tough defensive line.

Asked about how to deal with a terrible offseason like Penn State did, Stoneburner said the key is just forgetting it. That is easier to do once the season starts. He is impressed with them. They’ll be a great program again. Bill O’Brien is doing a great job, and the players have risen to the occasion.

Miller seems just fine, the same old Braxton. He was sore on Sunday and Monday but got most of that out through running and practice.

He remembers Beaver Stadium as a huge place with a crazy crowd, although it wasn’t in full force the last time they were there in ’09. He’s heard it can be louder.

Stoneburner has been scared by a hit before when he ended up cross-eyed, but it goes away.

Someone asked about the offense seeing a lot of defenses it wasn’t expecting, he said it’s crazy how they have an answer for everything anyway. They can put a whole new game plan in very quickly during a game, and it is always based off of stuff they repped at some point earlier in the season even if they didn’t work on it that week.

Wide receiver Chris Fields said the band started playing the “Buckeye Swag” song. They players like to just act silly and have fun when it comes on.

He got a confidence boost from his performance last week’s success. Receivers coach Zach Smith said to keep working hard, and Smith definitely feels like he is doing more to earn the trust of the staff.

He got a lot of texts and tweets Saturday after the game-tying TD catch.

Penn State is really physical, and the Buckeyes will have to bring their A game.

They pumped a lot of loud noise into practice, and the speakers are so loud nothing could be any more intense. He hasn’t been to Penn State before. They try to feed off the energy of the visiting crowd when they go on the road.

He loves road games and beating teams in their place.

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