Most Important Play

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 07/05/2012 1:25 PM

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Football’s ‘Most Important’ Play in Good Hands with Meyer

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer handpicked his punter of the future when he landed a commitment from Orlando Boone product Johnny Townsend last month, but Ohio State’s first-year head coach already has a pretty good one to work with.

Ben Buchanan
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ben Buchanan

Ben Buchanan has been the Buckeyes’ starting punter for the past two seasons, and the fifth-year senior could be in line for his best year ever.

At least statistically.

On paper, the matrimony of Meyer and Buchanan would appear to be almost as picture-perfect as that of Ohio State’s new head coach and his young sophomore quarterback.

The school’s former head coach, Jim Tressel, famously placed the utmost importance on the punt—going as far as to call it the ‘most important play’ in football. It was one of the reasons Buchanan, a local kid from Westerville, decided to play for the Buckeyes, but Meyer has built his own reputation for placing a great deal of importance on special teams—particularly the punt.

“I think he very much does,” Buchanan said this summer.

“That’s one of the reasons I came here to Ohio State. I still have a great relationship with Coach Tressel and have so much respect for him because they did put a great emphasis on special teams. From what I’ve seen in the spring, Coach Meyer does feel the same way.”

The numbers would certainly suggest he does. While Tressel was notorious for using the punt as an essential part of his coaching philosophy—one that relied heavily on defense and field position—punters actually put up better numbers under Meyer.

Significantly better numbers.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Jim Davidson
Urban Meyer

During his five seasons at Florida, Meyer’s punt teams ranked among the top 10 in the country in net average on five occasions, including a pair of second-place finishes to close out his tenure in Gainesville.

Florida punter Chas Henry averaged nearly 43 yards per punt on over 165 attempts in his career with the Gators, proving Meyer’s infatuation with a productive punt team is more than a façade.

“He’s had some great punters at Florida, so I’m excited to work with him,” Buchanan told The-Ozone.

“I think we have a good strategy going into the season. Really, what we’re looking for is Coach Meyer likes to directional punt. We want to punt them in the corners toward the numbers.”

Working on special teams isn’t exactly something new at Ohio State. Buchanan’s punting average did not ranked among the best in the country a year ago—punters rarely did in Tressel’s system—but few would argue about his success rate.

His average of 41.3 yards per punt last season was only third in the Big Ten, but he was one of the best in the country at pinning opposing teams inside their own 20 yard-line.

Only three of Buchanan’s punts sailed into the end zone for a touchback, while 25 of them were fair caught with no return. He placed 27 of his 70 punts inside the opposing 20, but avoiding blocked punts is one of the major concerns for the Buckeyes after the past couple seasons.

“Coach wants me to get good hangtime on my punts. We did lead the Big Ten in fair catches last year—and a lot of punting categories—but you always have a chance to get better,” Buchanan said.

“With having a block or two last year, this new scheme of certain block spots that I’m trying to hit with the new shield we have up front, we have a lot of good guys up front. I’m just working on the block spot and being the most consistent punter I can, dropping them inside the 10 and changing the field position.”

That ‘new shield’ will consist of tough, veteran leaders like John Simon and Zach Boren. A new block point should also help Buchanan—a traditional three-step punter—avoid some of the issues Ohio State had with blocked punts under the previous regime.

“A lot of that has to do with a certain block spot that I’m going to look to meet,” he said.

“We want to get under a certain time—that 1.95-second, two-flat time is what we’re looking for. I think if we accomplish those, we could have a very good punt unit like we did last year.”

Buchanan didn’t know exactly what to expect when Meyer took over the program in January. The Westerville Central product had spent three years playing under Tressel, and one under interim head coach Luke Fickell—in many ways a Tressel clone, or at least protégé.

Meyer’s takeover brought a whole new world for everyone inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this offseason, but Buchanan found out quickly he was going to be spending a lot more time with the head coach.

“We would have a punt meeting every single day,” Buchanan said of his first spring ball under Meyer.

“Even if I wasn’t punting that day, we would still have a punt period for guys to work on kick slides and getting down field.”

As always, Meyer would be right there watching.

“I think he’s going to bring a lot of great things to our punt team,” Buchanan said.

“We have different coaches who will lead kickoff meetings and field goal meetings, but coach Meyer always leads the punt meetings.”

He does more than just watch.

“I enjoy the level of involvement he spends with us,” Buchanan added.

“He is like Coach Tressel. Coach Meyer, those guys are legends in the coaching field. They’ve won national championships. They’ve been around Heisman Trophy winners. To have them coach you is really a pleasure.”

Right now, the feeling is mutual.

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