Why Urban Meyer will Have Instant Success at Ohio State
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS — On paper, the combination of Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes would appear to be a match made in football heaven.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Meyer is everything the Buckeyes needed in a commander after the way things ended for Jim Tressel in Columbus, and Ohio State was probably the only place Meyer would have been willing to coach in 2012.
As in life, there are no guarantees in the game of football, but it would be shocking to almost everyone if Meyer did not have a tremendous amount of success coaching the Buckeyes.
The only real question is when.
The Buckeyes are banned from postseason play this fall, but Meyer has had great success in his first season at each of his previous stops as a head coach. He finished second in the Mid-American Conference at Bowling Green in 2001 and second in the SEC East at Florida in 2005.
In between, Meyer won a Mountain West Conference in his first year at Utah in 2003, and he has a combined 27-8 record in his first year at a new program.
The Buckeyes are coming off their first losing season since the late 1980’s, but there are a number of reasons to believe Meyer will have them playing a different – and much better – brand of football in 2012.
1.The foundation is already in place.
One bad season does not erase a decade of dominance in the Big Ten, nor does it signal a complete lack of talent on Ohio State’s roster. There were obvious concerns when Meyer took over in November – most notably a lack of playmakers at the skill position and depth issues at linebacker and on the offensive line – but as Meyer has said many times, Ohio State was not broken when he took over.
Prior to last season, when they had to replace Terrelle Pryor with two quarterbacks who weren’t ready to play, the Buckeyes had won 106 games in 10 seasons under Tressel and his staff. They beat Michigan nine times, won a national title, went to eight BCS bowl games and won seven Big Ten titles.
The Buckeyes had also won their last two BCS bowl games and they would have been a preseason favorite to play in the national title game a year ago if not for the scandal that ultimately brought Tressel’s tenure to a screeching halt.
2. Braxton Miller is running his offense.
Photo by Jim Davidson
If the Buckeyes would have had Terrelle Pryor running their offense a year ago, they might have been a 10-win football team, even with all the other distractions surrounding the program.
That’s how important a quarterback can be to any offense, even one as archaic as the one Ohio State was running a year ago. Pryor’s ability to make something out of nothing was one of the key reasons Ohio State snapped its postseason skid against Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl, and his absence left the OSU offense in shambles a year ago.
Braxton Miller wasn’t ready to lead this team out of the ashes as a freshman a year ago – though he did have some fantastically exciting moments as a rookie – but he is the perfect player to run Meyer’s spread attack in Columbus.
Consider that in each of Meyer’s previous stops, he has had to mold a quarterback who didn’t exactly fit his system into a guy who could run the offense Meyer had drawn up. When he took over at Bowling Green, he moved Josh Harris from running back to quarterback, at Utah he turned Alex Smith into the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Even at Florida, before he had Tim Tebow winning Heisman Trophies, Meyer had to make his offense work with a guy like Chris Leak under center. The Gators were 9-3 that year as Leak cut his interceptions in half and upped his completion percentage to nearly 64 percent.
Now, for the first time in his career, Meyer is inheriting a quarterback who was born to play in his system.
3. Luke Fickell is running his defense.
Photo by Jim Davidson
While Urban Meyer’s name has become synonymous with offense over the years, his defenses have been just as instrumental in all of his success – especially early in his tenure at each new school.
It takes about a year for Meyer’s new offense to really execute at the level he expects – or least it has in the past – but Meyer has been smart enough to keep the current defensive system in place at each new stop.
At Bowling Green he retained Tim Beckman, at Utah it was Kyle Whittingham and at Florida Meyer made it a point to keep Charlie Strong as one of his defensive coordinators.
Luke Fickell wasn’t technically the defensive coordinator at Ohio State when Meyer took over, but he knows Buckeye defense as well as anyone on the planet. He played under former OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock in the 1990s, served under him as both a linebackers coach and co-coordinator.
If there is one thing in Columbus that didn’t need overhauled, it was the defense. They had a down year last season, but most of the defense returns intact for 2012, including budding stars like John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby.
Ohio State’s defense carried the team through a number of rough offensive seasons. It will be interesting to see how they do with a high-powered offense to work with.
4. He understands the culture.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Unlike some other coaches who have come through major programs without much success – John Cooper, Rich Rodriguez and Charlie Weis come to mind – Meyer is a perfect fit for the Buckeyes because, well, he is a Buckeye.
Meyer was born in Ohio and says Ohio State football was not just his favorite team, it was a way of life for him growing up in Ashtabula. He watched Woody Hayes as a kid, coached under Earle Bruce and got his start in college football as a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes.
He understands and embraces the traditions, and he has incorporated everyone from the Ohio State Marching Band to the students to former players to the president of the university since taking over in January.
Most importantly, Meyer understands the expectations at Ohio State and he knows every season is ultimately a one-game season.
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