Meyer Sees Greatness in His Imperfectly Perfect Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — And then there were two.
That’s how many games stand between Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes and an undefeated football season. It has been done before at Ohio State, most recently by Jim Tressel during the 2002 and 2006 football seasons, but never under these circumstances.
Meyer is in his first year with the program. Only his mentor, Earle Bruce, put together a better inaugural run through the Big Ten. Bruce was taking over under similarly dark conditions at Ohio State.
The program was in disarray following the sudden, but not unexpected, firing of beloved head coach Woody Hayes. Before striking an opposing player landed him on the unemployment line, Hayes had lost to Penn State, Purdue and Michigan during the regular season. It was his third-consecutive loss to the Wolverines, and he followed it up with a 17-15 loss to Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
But even Bruce, who had worked under Hayes as a hard-nosed assistant from 1966-71, did not have to deal with scholarship reductions, a bowl ban and a team coming off the first losing season at Ohio State in more than 20 years.
“If you asked me in the spring I would have said, no, I don't think we are,” Meyer said Saturday when asked whether he would have believed his team would be undefeated and among the top five in the country with just two games to play.
“I don't think about those kind of things, to be honest with you. It's just trying to get a first down and getting to the next week. Now that we have a chance to take a deep breath, I don't want to just disregard the question, I don't know if I even really thought about it.”
Meyer had to know something. There had to be some kind of sign, however small, that this team could be special, that they were capable of so much more than what they showed last season, when the program was still reeling from the loss of another beloved head coach.
“I've been fortunate to have a couple of top 5 teams,” Meyer said, “and this probably has more holes than those other ones. However, there's also some great performances.”
Like Bruce 33 years before him, Meyer inherited a team that already had a quarterback who could do some special things on the football field. And much like Art Schlichter, who was entering his sophomore season at Ohio State after a rough rookie year in 1978, Braxton Miller is both brilliant and flawed.
“The area we're not efficient enough is the dropback pass, and while he's not a dropback passer, you have to be,” Meyer said Saturday.
“It's not acceptable. And the guys around him, we have to continue to get better.”
That ’79 team also had some young stars on the roster, including Calvin Murray, Tim Spencer, Gary Williams and Marcus Marek, but that’s about where the comparisons end. That team blew out just about everyone it played, before squeaking by 13th-ranked Michigan, 18-15, in Ann Arbor to complete a perfect regular season.
The Buckeyes would go on to lose the Rose Bowl, by a point, to USC, but this group won’t have that opportunity. When the final whistle blows on Nov. 24 in that regular-season finale against the school up north, the 2012 season is officially over.
“We'll lose all that for the Bowl practices, we'll lose them, 15, minimum of 15 practices,” Meyer said Saturday.
“That not right. That's going to be hard for us to recoup that. You can't just say those are gone. Somehow you've got to recoup them.”
That’s why Meyer has been pushing his young players during Sunday practices and why he will continue to work those guys hard during the bye week, while he gives the rest of his players some much-needed rest after 10 straight weeks of grinding out victories.
“I told them, explained to them, the bye weeks, there's no rights around here; that's earned time,” Meyer said.
“If we didn't play well we would have been in tomorrow working, and going all week like a normal work week. But those guys earned it. I'm proud of them. And two big ones left.”
That’s all that stands between Meyer and the ever-elusive undefeated season he could never quite seem to find at Florida. He chased it like Ahab went after the white whale, and now he’s just two victories away after Ohio State dismantled Illinois Saturday in its most complete victory of the 2012 season.
“Today's performance was a top 5,” Meyer said.
“You'd like to end it a little better instead of a fumble return for a touchdown, but in certain areas, though, but when you can control the line of scrimmage, that's usually a top 5 team.”
It would be both ironic and tragic if Meyer’s perfect season finally came in a year where the Buckeyes can’t prove they belong on the same stage as teams like Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State.
Maybe they don’t. That’s the beauty of where this team is at right now. It doesn't matter, and yet it's the only thing that matters. It’s always the only thing.
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