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