Meyer Praises Buckeyes’ Potential
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Urban Meyer sat down to talk with his team about winning the Leaders division this week, it wasn’t just a motivational ploy.
Meyer truly believes his team is good enough to compete for and win the division, despite the fact the Buckeyes cannot play in the Big Ten championship game, and in spite of an uninspiring nonconference showing.
Or at least that they will be.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I know we're Ohio State, and there's all kinds of expectations here,” Meyer said Monday during his weekly press luncheon.
“I still am not giving up. I think by the end of the year this might be a hell of a football team. I mean, it might be sooner than that.”
While the Buckeyes have avoided the dramatic upsets that have plagued much of the rest of the country during this rocky early-season nonconference schedule, it has hardly been a flawless transition to the Meyer era in Columbus.
The Buckeyes trailed Miami (Ohio) 3-0 after one quarter in the season-opener, and could have easily been down 14-0 or even 21-0 if not for some dropped passes by the Redhawks.
Ohio State would eventually pull away for a 56-10 win, but week two brought its own share of troubles for Meyer and his young football team. The game with UCF was tied at 10 in the second quarter before Braxton Miller led an improbable touchdown drive just before the half to swing the momentum in Ohio State’s favor.
Meyer’s team blew a 20-7 halftime lead over Cal in week three – they needed a last-minute touchdown pass from Miller to Devin Smith to pull out the 35-28 victory – and even UAB gave Ohio State more problems than just about anyone had expected.
The Blazers were up 9-0 Saturday before Ohio State rallied with 21 points in the second quarter on their way to a 29-15 win.
“One thing about this team, when it's time to go win a game, to date they've gone and won a game,” Meyer said.
“But we are what we are right now, and that's just a workmanlike team that has to get better.”
By Meyer’s own addition, it’s tough to really improve by leaps and bounds during the regular season. His team has a light practice Sunday and is off Monday. They come back hard on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday is typically another light practice and Friday is a walkthrough.
“Our whole focus on Sunday is victory meal and enjoy the win and let's correct some errors and move on,” Meyer said.
“And that's what it is. When they start rolling in today and obviously tomorrow is going to be the preparation days. But I do feel a different pep in the step. I would expect it. This is a rivalry game. This is a game that's going to have an instrumental impact on the Big Ten conference.”
Based on the first four weeks of the season, the Buckeyes appear to be as good as just about anyone in the conference. That’s not so much praise for Ohio State as it is shame for the other 11 teams.
As a conference, the group is 33-13 this season, but this was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule. Only Michigan and Michigan State played real big boy games in the nonconference, while the rest of the group suffered some embarrassing losses – including Iowa’s loss to Central Michigan and Louisiana Tech’s rout of Illinois.
Along with Minnesota and Northwestern, Ohio State is one of only three undefeated teams in the entire Big Ten. Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Illinois already have multiple losses this year, but Meyer doesn’t think his team is playing well enough in any aspect of the game right now, especially on defense.
“We make a big deal once we pin them in, get them in there, give us the ball back and let's go. That's not happening,” he said Monday.
“We have a lot of punt safe where we're getting the ball back on the 12-yard line. That's because we give up some yards, give up some runs but we're not giving up the home run yards. So I am not personally that's not how I want Ohio State defense to be played for our careers.”
The Buckeyes will face their toughest test, by far, of the early season on Saturday in East Lansing. They have another tough test in two weeks against Nebraska in Columbus. They might be the two toughest games on Ohio State’s schedule, and Meyer will learn a lot about his team over the next two weeks.
“By the end of the year I think people will be thinking and saying great things about Ohio State,” the suddenly optimistic Meyer said.
“I really do, if we continue to grow and mature.”
There’s always that pesky if.
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