OSU returns to national spotlight tonight in Miami
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Twenty-four hours. One day.
Many coaches, including Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, talk about a 24-hour rule. They say they give their players 24 hours to celebrate a win or 24 hours to deal with a loss and then it’s on to the next challenge.
But something like losing a chance to play for the national championship required more time, Meyer said on Thursday, a day before the Buckeyes play Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Getting over a 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship was a four-day process, Meyer said.
“The worst part was probably the four days after,” he said.
“I think three-fourths of our staff left from Indianapolis and went out recruiting. Myself, I went back and went out recruiting.
“The feeling inside of you the whole three days, you had to go walk in with a smile, and it was the phoniest smile you’ve probably ever seen. And you get back, and you see the players you care about and see the pain on their face.
“We had a real emotional meeting. I don’t know if emotional is the right word, but just like you would with any type of family members going through a hard time. From that point forward, they (the players) have been fine,” Meyer said.
The question of whether Ohio State can refocus and regain its momentum is one of the biggest uncertainties about the No. 7 Buckeyes (12-1) in tonight’s Orange Bowl matchup with No. 12 Clemson (10-2).
Meyer spoke of two sources of motivation on Thursday that he has used since the loss to Michigan State.
One is an appeal to the competitive nature of highly competitive athletes. The other is that there is a huge difference between finishing 13-1 and 12-2 with back-to-back losses at the end of a season that carried such high hopes until the thirteenth game.
“We’re going to try to win the game. Our job every time we keep score is to win,” Meyer said. “It’s the mentality we try to create within our program. Whether it’s the Orange Bowl, whether it’s the eighth game of the season, we’re trying to win a game.
“We’re 12-1. 12-2 is a lot different than 13-1, and winning a BCS Bowl game is very important,” he said.
The biggest obstacle to OSU finishing 13-1 might be what appears to be a very daunting matchup between the Buckeyes’ much-criticized pass defense and Clemson’s high-powered passing game.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has thrown for more than 3,000 yards each of the last three seasons and receiver Sammy Watkins (85 catches, 1,237 yards, 10 TDs) impressed Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter enough that he called him one of the top two receivers in this year’s NFL draft. Martavis Bryant (39 catches, 800 yards) is also a deep threat.
Ohio State’s pass defense ranks No. 105 nationally and has given up 1,363 yards passing and 11 touchdowns in its last four games.
Trying to contain Clemson appears to have gotten even more difficult with the Big Ten’s suspension of OSU’s leading pass rusher Noah Spence on Wednesday and the absence of its best cornerback Bradley Roby, who suffered a knee injury in the Big Ten championship game.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney carefully avoided discussing the struggles Ohio State has had defending the pass, but did say, “I think it is always a good matchup for us when we look at our wide receivers.”
Meyer said a lot of evaluation and hard work has gone into trying to fix Ohio State’s pass defense.
“We’ve practiced really hard. Our pass defense has been a major issue at Ohio State, not near the standard we expect. Whenever that happens, you look at personnel. You look at scheme. That’s both been evaluated. And then at this time of year, it’s just go work as hard as you can,” he said.
Redshirt Tyvis Powell will start at safety in place of Corey Brown, and true freshman Vonn Bell will take over at nickel back, the fifth defensive back in passing situations.
“So that’s personnel. We’ve made some adjustments to scheme. And then we do what we do, and that’s go out and work as hard as you possibly can,” Meyer said.
Jamal Marcus (2 sacks) and Steve Miller (3 sacks) will fill in at defensive end for Spence, whose suspension for reportedly using a banned dietary supplement will carry into the first two games of next season.
“Jamal Marcus is going to be a disruptive guy. He’s one of the more talented guys on our team. I’m anxious to watch him play. This is his kind of game,” Meyer said.
If Ohio State can keep it from becoming Clemson’s kind of game, a significant contribution to that effort could have to come from the offense.
Quarterback Braxton Miller has completed only 46 percent of his passes in the last four games. Receivers dropped several passes against Michigan State and a missed block resulted in Miller being stopped short of a crucial fourth down against the Spartans.
“Braxton has got to play better, but the guys around him have to play better too and the coaches have to do better too,” Meyer said.
“It’s a team effort. I think everyone understands that. If you closely evaluate the last few games, two were weather conditions, one was a game where we didn’t throw the ball very much because the run game was working so well and we had to go win the game obviously,” he said.
And just as obviously, after seeing a 24-game winning streak and a chance to play for the national championship go away, Ohio State has to win this game to feel like the 2013 season wasn’t disappointing.