Far From Perfect
Herman Aware of Chinks in Ohio State’s Armor
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes may have finished undefeated a year ago, but Ohio State was far from perfect during Urban Meyer’s first year as head football coach.
They needed a number of last-minute heroics, a splash of good fortune and a whole bunch of ‘refuse to lose’ during an exhilarating, yet often turbulent, 2012 season that ended with a perfect 12-0 record and a Big Ten Leaders Division title.
Without the NCAA-imposed sanctions, the Buckeyes would have played for a Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, and possibly – or probably – for a national championship down in Miami.
It may have worked out better they got an extra year to prepare for the big stage.
“We might have been the most flawed undefeated team in the history of college football,” OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman said last week.
“That’s a testament to the kids, too. They found a way to win every week.”
It was only the sixth undefeated season in 122 years of Buckeye football – the first since 2002 and just the second since Woody Hayes led Ohio State to a consensus national championship back in 1968.
That team in ’68 was absolutely loaded with talent – from Rex Kern to Jim Otis, Jack Tatum to Jim Stillwagon - as was the 2002 team under Jim Tressel. Those teams were seemingly built to win at the highest level, especially after Tressel added a superstar freshman named Maurice Clarett to the roster for his second season at the helm.
What the 2012 Buckeyes accomplished was as much surprising as it was memorable. The team had gone 6-7 a year earlier, the school’s first losing season in more than two decades.
It was a group with a lot of holes – especially at linebacker – and some major depth issues when Meyer and his staff took over. But they accomplished something that will forever be remembered and celebrated in the state of Ohio.
“I think we’ve all pretty much moved on, but when you sit back and allow yourself a moment of reflection, you do think, ‘wow, that’s impressive what we accomplished,’ ” Herman added.
“Especially with such little time. We weren’t the most talented team in the country, but our guys believed and they bought in and found a way to win every game.”
It often took extreme measures. Devin Smith had a heroic 72-yard touchdown catch to beat Cal in the final game of the nonconference schedule, or Ohio State’s undefeated season might never have got off the ground.
Smith caught another game-winner, this time 63 yards, against Michigan State in the Big Ten opener and something seemed to switch. From that point forward, Ohio State captured some kind of momentum, some magic pixie dust, that helped them overcome the fact they were 105th in the country in passing and 78th in pass defense.
“Fundamentally, we're not where we need to be as a football team,” Meyer said on National Signing Day.
“But we're working hard at it. We have good coaches, good people, great support staff. And most importantly walk in the locker room there's a bunch of players I love being around.”
Meyer and his staff have already begun watching every play the Buckeyes ran offensively last season. Ohio State did finish 21st in the country in scoring at over 37 points per game last season, but they barely scratched the surface of what Meyer and his 37-year old offensive coordinator expect from this group in year two.
“There’s a lot to improve,” Herman said.
“We have a lot of work to do still. It’s exciting knowing what we accomplished last year being nowhere close to the potential of what we think we can be.”
For Herman, that starts with the passing game. Which means it ultimately starts with quarterback Braxton Miller. As a sophomore, the thrilling youngster out of Huber Heights broke Ohio State’s school record for total offense.
He passed for over 2,000 yards and ran for 1,200, despite the fact he continued to battle staying healthy throughout the course of an entire season. Herman likes what he has heard about Miller’s dedication this offseason, but the coaches won’t know for sure how far he has come until they get the offense back out there this spring.
“We have to throw the ball better,” Herman added.
“We have to be more balanced. Normal run downs need to be a lot more balanced, and we’ll spend the bulk of spring practice working on the throw game.”
Just like they did last year. Only this time it isn’t starting from ground zero.
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