With Chaos on the Field, Meyer Always Has an Eye in the Sky
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer did his best to remain calm during the waning moments of Saturday’s exhilarating comeback victory over Purdue in Ohio Stadium.
He even saved his fist pump until after the game.
Photo by Dan Harker
Meyer tried to quiet the scarlet and gray-clad crowd – which had finally roared to its feet as Chris Fields scooped the ball away from the Turf in the North end zone – during the game-tying two-point conversion. Ohio State’s head coach didn’t even break a smile as Fields, a guy Meyer called a product of his system, ran past him after making the biggest catch of his life.
It was a monumental moment, even if it came against a team the Buckeyes were favored to beat by nearly three touchdowns. Players on the bench were celebrating, the defensive coaches were preparing their gameplan for overtime and the offensive line was yelling for Meyer to run the football on the conversion play.
Everything had happened so quickly. Meyer had practically forgotten about the potentially devastating injury to his star quarterback by then, and he was trying to decide what play would best guarantee a shot at overtime after Kenny Guiton, the backup, led them 65 yards in just 44 seconds.
That’s when Meyer turned to his trusted eye in the sky.
“The sterility of the press box allows you not to get caught up in the emotion,” said OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who watches each game from the press box high atop the stadium, which sits along the banks of the Olentangy River.
“It allows you not to get caught up in the moment and how big the moment is and be able to say, ‘Guys, I’ve got (the play call) right here. We’ve been practicing it for three weeks and it’s right here in front of me.’”
The 37-year-old Herman is in his first season calling plays for Urban Meyer. The two coaches had never worked together before Meyer pursued him in the offseason after taking the head-coaching job in Columbus back in November.
Herman was in his third season coaching the offense at Iowa State. His only other coordinator jobs had been at Texas State and Rice University, so this is a real opportunity for the Cincinnati-born, California-raised assistant to prove himself under one of the most successful college coaches in the last decade.
It took a lot for Herman to stand tall with his decision when the players are telling the head coach they can get the ball in the end zone another way, but that’s why he’s paid to understand what needs to be done in those tense moments.
“I think you pick your battles as a coordinator with the head coach,” Herman said with a smile.
“Had I been fighting for everything that I had wanted for nine weeks, that one might not have gotten approved. So you pick your battles.”
Instead of running the football with 230-pound tailback Carlos Hyde, who was practically begging for the game to be placed on his shoulders, Herman signaled down the call to run Meyer’s Y-Hide play.
Photo by Dan Harker
It was a slow-developing play where tight end Jeff Heuerman had to sell his run block to the right side and then slip through the crowd of bodies in the middle for what would hopefully be a wide-open touchdown on the left side of the end zone.
“That was our two-point play and I didn’t care if the O-line wanted to run it,” Herman said, a little more emphatically now that the play worked so successfully.
“I didn’t care if Carlos Hyde wanted to run it. This was what we had all agreed upon as a staff on Thursday for the last five weeks. I know everybody was excited and their hearts were racing, but, ‘Hey, I’ve got it right here. This is what we practiced, so this is what I think we should probably do.’”
Meyer praised his young offensive coordinator after the game, but it might not have been such a pleasant conversation if Heuerman had dropped the football, or if he hadn’t gotten out of the mesh in time for Guiton, who was under heavy pressure when he finally let the pass go.
But that’s what Herman is paid to do, to be the guy who can make that call from upstairs when Meyer is in the mix of things down on the field, and he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
“I think that’s the beauty of being in that sterile environment in the press box is not getting caught up in the emotion and the enormity of the play,” he restated.
“And really be able to calmly dissect what needs to happen in order to be successful.”
At 8-0, it sure seems like it’s worked pretty well so far.
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