Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
After Ohio State stumbled its way to a 29-15 win against Alabama-Birmingham, first-year coach Urban Meyer said it was clear the Buckeyes needed to improve-and improve quickly-before its first Big Ten and road contest against No. 20 Michigan State this Saturday.
“It’s glaringly obvious we’ve got to get a lot better or we won’t win next week,” Meyer said at OSU’s postgame press conference Saturday.
Even Meyer’s blunt assessment of his team’s performance might have been an understatement.
In a year where people expected the combination of the former Florida coach and one of college football’s blue bloods to take the nation by storm, the Buckeyes seem like they’ve been half-asleep through their first four games of the season.
Besides a convincing win over MAC juggernaut Miami (Ohio), the Buckeyes struggled to put away an athletically inferior Central Florida, survived 35-28 against a now 1-3 California team, and avoided a disaster against a scrappy-but overmatched UAB squad.
Mind you, all of said games were played within the comfortable confines of Ohio Stadium.
Last Saturday’s game against the Blazers even drew boos aimed at the home team. Yikes.
Needless to say, it’s not exactly what some Buckeyes fans expected, eh?
Still, OSU finds itself just barely an underdog when they head to East Lansing, Mich. to face the Spartans. Amazing.
All logic points to the Buckeyes getting choke-slammed up north-unless of course the Big Ten really is that horrifyingly dreadful…and it probably is.
But that’s not to say OSU lacks talent, nor is to argue that they’re not well coached.
The Buckeyes look strikingly similar to how a team coming off a historically-bad 6-7 season might look, though-even with a two-time national championship-winning coach like Meyer.
Unfortunately, logic, reason and common sense don’t exist in the college football world.
It’s why Meyer and OSU might vanquish their foes.
So I say to you, delusional, scarlet and gray-clad Buckeyes fan, here are some rational reasons as to why your irrational expectation will come to fruition on Saturday against the Spartans.
The defense isn’t that bad
After giving up 403 total yards to UAB’s 118th ranked scoring offense in the nation, OSU co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers doesn’t give a damn about your assessment of his defense.
“I think we gave up 15 points, that’s all I give a s— about,” he said.
And to an extent, he’s right.
While getting gashed by a team as terrible as the Blazers isn’t exactly something I’d make light of, the Buckeyes technically, gave up only nine points thanks to three impressive field goals from UAB sophomore kicker Ty Long.
OSU’s defense isn’t still back to its “Silver Bullet” ways of the past and it’s indeed shaky-which is saying a lot considering this particular unit was expected to carry the Buckeyes while the offense got its footing in Meyer’s first year.
OSU can make a gameplan for teams in a way that neutralizes such issues, though.
Playing the Press
Against the Spartans, redshirt senior cornerback Travis Howard said Meyer wants the defensive secondary playing more man and press coverage.
“As you can see,” Howard said at last Saturday’s postgame press conference, “we gave them a lot of cushion to run a lot of screen plays and couple bubbles.”
Tighter coverage might allow OSU’s corners to take away MSU’s short passing game.
And while Meyer has opted to put his cornerbacks off the ball, he said he’s always had confidence in their ability to play the press.
“I always have,” he said. “I think a lot of that is determined by what’s going in the game.”
The Return of Power Football
Having faced a variation of different spread offenses in their first four games, the Buckeyes will now have a crack at a more traditional offense with the Spartans and 6-foot-2, 244-pound running back Le’Veon Bell.
Junior defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins said going against that style of play is something he welcomes.
“Yeah, I prefer this. You know, I don’t think they’re just going to just going to…I’m sure they’re going to come out in a different way. They’re not just going to line up and pound the ball,” he said. “But if they do, I’m gonna be ready, and I feel like our defensive line will be ready.”
And while there’s no real way to judge this except by actually what happens on Saturday, the Buckeyes defensive line seems built to stop a team that’s trying to run right at them.
“I feel like this week the offense and defense are going to be hitting at all cylinders, we (are) all going to execute our job and we don’t want this game to be close,” Hankins said, “so we’re going to go out there and do our job and do our scheme and, hopefully, we can come out with a win with a large margin.”
Offensively, OSU’s backfield will finally be back to full strength with the return of junior running back Carlos Hyde who has missed the last two weeks with a sprained MCL.
The combination of him, senior running back Jordan Hall and sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller could mean pick your poison for the Spartans if the Buckeyes can execute.
Redshirt senior Jake Stoneburner said Meyer showed the team, particularly the offense, a highlight reel of what he liked about their performance after their lackluster win against UAB.
“It was just our four scoring drives, just wanted to show how good our offense can be when we’re rolling downhill and everything’s clicking,” he said.
“You saw what he was saying, when our offense was clicking, it was almost scary how quickly we were able to go down and score and it made good sense why he wanted to do that.”