Tom Herman Having Fun Being Miserable in Preparation for Saturday's Game
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Perhaps more than any other, the one matchup that people wanted to see in the Big Ten this season was Ohio State against Michigan State. The Buckeye offense – tops in the conference, against the Spartan defense – tops in the nation. Two powers colliding. What's not to like?
For Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, there's a lot not to like, which he loves.
Photo by Dan Harker
Asked this week if it was fun preparing to do battle with Michigan State's defense, Herman quickly gave his answer.
“It's miserable,” he said with a smile on his face. “I don't know, fun? Have you watched that tape? They are really, really good.
“And I say that jokingly; yes, this is why you coach. These are the games your competitive nature can come out a little bit and say, I'm going to have my offense, my checkers, my pieces are going to be more prepared and play harder and longer and with better technique and effort than yours.”
The checkers analogy has been used at Ohio State from the day that Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus, and it will be Meyer and Herman who are tasked with moving their pieces out of harms way, and into a position of advancement and attack.
The preparation has been full bore since shortly after the Michigan game, and won't stop until the Michigan State game begins.
“Coach Meyer has a great phrase where he says: 'Preparation doesn't stop until the foot hits the ball. And once the foot hits the ball, you're in adjustment mode,'” Herman explained.
Adjustments will eventually come, but until then, Herman is trying to put his team's best feet forward, and in a manner that will lead to points. It's not easy, but what fun is there in easy?
Being challenged is where the reward comes from. Success in this game will be a product of handling direct adversity from the opponent. Everything the Buckeyes will want to do, Michigan State will be trying to stop them. Herman has to figure out how to keep that from happening, and he has to try to get into the minds of the Spartan defensive coaches to do so.
“I don't think it's any different this week than any others,” he said.
“I think at first you look at the what, and then you say, 'Okay, what are they doing?' And then you try to answer the why. Why did they just do that? Why are they playing their end the way that they played their end on that play in this situation? Why did they play that coverage? Why did they blitz then? Why did they blitz this guy then?”
With all of the different things that the Michigan State defense is capable of doing, and the way in which they do them, figuring out the why can provide insights into where MSU sees weaknesses in themselves, as well as strengths.
Any competition that involves strategy is going to be easier won if strengths and weaknesses are known. Herman is merely trying to figure out what they are. No defense is perfect, just as no person has ever gone undefeated in checkers. There are too many pieces being moved in too many directions for everything to go as planned. All a coach can do is prepare his team the best he can, and hope that the anticipated openings are there when they need to be.
With that much uncertainty and stress on an individual, how could anybody not consider that fun?
“At the end of the day, there's only a few reasons to live this crazy life that we do,” he said.
“One of them is for the love and betterment of young men and trying to, again, turn boys into men. And then the other one – I say it all the time, bankers don't get to do this. They don't get to go compete in Indianapolis against the number one defense possibly in America and come out hopefully on top and say, 'My guys did that.' That's fun, it really is.”
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