Three and Out From Inside the WHAC
By Tony Gerdeman
Whether you are a Buckeye coach or a player, once you don the Scarlet and Gray, you are now committed to living a life of expectations that are not easy to meet.
And if you are going to be successful, you are also living a life committed to meeting those expectations.
This season, however, those expectations are somewhat off-kilter because of the postseason ban and the amount of turnover that comes with a new coaching staff.
There is no debating that the Buckeyes came into this season with a favorable schedule. Eight home games has a way of easing a coaching transition.
After seeing the way the Buckeyes won a few of their games this season, it's pretty clear that those home games weren't as easy as they should have been.
Frankly, even if the home games were all easy wins, expecting the Buckeyes to be 9-0 at this point in the season would qualify as a significant gamble.
"No, I don't think you ever foresee that," receivers coach Zach Smith said of being 9-0.
"Just where we were and how far we've come, and how far we still have to go, I think it's a testament to the commitment of a group of guys that refuse to lose a game.
"Let's say we don't play a great game, whatever the situation may be, at the end of the game they come together and they win the game. Whatever it takes to win the game. I just think it's more the chemistry and the guys involved pulling together to win the game at the end of the game because they don't want to let eachother down."
"I just think that we've approached this thing week to week and we find ways to win football games," said defensive line coach Mike Vrabel.
"No different than a lot of teams. I think we got a bunch of guys that believe in themselves. I think for the first time in a long time our defense realizes that if we can get the ball in the second half to Braxton Miller and this offense, that we're gonna win the game. The guys were saying that, they were talking about it, and I think they believed it."
Maybe lost in all of this is the fact that an Ohio State defense actually has expectations that an Ohio State offense will come through in the clutch.
The Buckeyes may not have made it to 9-0 had they not shored up the defense by moving fullback Zach Boren to middle linebacker.
Boren has brought the necessary mentality and football experience that was apparently missing without him. Since his move, he is second on the team in tackles, but Urban Meyer still expects more.
"I wish he'd grade a champion because I think he's a champion type player," Meyer said on Monday. "I hate to be the half empty guy, but I thought he'd play even better, that's how much respect I've got for him as a football guy."
Meyer understands that linebacker is a position that Boren hasn't played since high school, but the manner with which he has handled every other aspect of being a college football player led Meyer to expect a great deal from Boren at linebacker.
"I know it's new," he said.
"Probably unheard of in the history of major college football on a Tuesday to go over to a new spot, but that's how much respect I have for him as a player. I'm certainly not patting him on the back. He needs to grade a champion, and he wants to grade a champion as well. But I'm not surprised, no."
Championship expectations are born from expecting players to be champions. Enough people living up to those expectations is when championships happen.
One player who has had to hear about expectations more than any other over his five years has been tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner.
If the Buckeyes are going to finish 12-0, they will have to continue to get impactful play from a guy that was expected to be an impact the first time he stepped on the Ohio Stadium turf.
When he committed to Ohio State, he was a 6'5" wide receiver who would pose matchup problems with his size. When he got to Ohio State and bulked up some, he became a tight end with receiver speed, and one that was expected to be a nightmare for linebackers and safeties.
For the last four years, the one question that Stoneburner has been asked more than any other is "Is this the year the tight ends catch the football." His answer each year has been some variant of "I hope".
With Urban Meyer and Tom Herman, two coaches who have done amazing things at the tight end position, expectations for what Stoneburner could do grew immediately and almost exponentially.
For his part, Stoneburner has had his moments, but nothing close to what many thought when they looked at the outrageous seasons of guys like Aaron Hernandez and James Casey.
The coaches had some of those same expectations for Stoneburner, but they weren't going to simply force him into action. They left it up to him, and in the last three weeks or so, they've finally seen what they've wanted to see since they got here.
"I think Jake has always been an athletic receiving tight end," Zach Smith explained.
"That's always been his identity. A couple of weeks ago he wasn't really playing as well as he could or should. Coach Meyer had a sit down with him, I had a sit down with him, and really addressed the issue. Since then every week's been a better week. I think his best game as a Buckeye was this past game and I think next week will be even better."
The level of honesty when speaking about Stoneburner has reached almost brutal levels, and when asked if it just took time to learn how to use Stoneburner in this offense, Smith didn't hesitate to answer.
"No, I don't think it's us learning how to use him, it's us seeing that he's something that we need to target more just because of how he's performing and practicing," he said.
"It wasn't a revelation. If we had seen what we've seen the last two or three weeks from him the last six months, it would have been that way from game one. He's to a point now where we're saying, 'Hey, we need to get this guy in a matchup issue.'
And when asked if perhaps Stoneburner simply had difficulty understanding his role and the expectations that the coaches had for him, Meyer had an immediate answer.
"See, to me that's the issue," he said.
"You don't have to come to grips with anything. You put them on the ground and go as hard as you can and say, 'Yes, Coach, you're right.' That's probably a big part of it. That was part of our conversation as well. Someday the Chicago Bears might want you to run down on kickoff; you don't evaluate and say 'Let's think now' or you're going to be out of work."
There are no postseason hopes for the 2012 season, but that's not the case for the 2013 season. In fact, many in the national media are already planting Ohio State in their top five for next year.
Expectations can sometimes be a burden, but when they come from tremendous results from the previous season, it allows a program to gain and maintain momentum.
"Looking back on 2001 and also my career, it is much easier for players and staff and coaches to believe something when they can actually see those results," said Vrabel.
"So how we run our program, when there's results, it's really easy to buy into the belief because you can see it. We did it this way, we practiced this way, we prepared this way, and guess what, it worked. So it's really easy to say let's continue to do it."
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