Tag Archives: Zach Boren

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Purdue Week

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. 

URBANISMS

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).

Overheard at Ohio State Football: California Week

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

URBANISMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAYERS SAYETH: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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