Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Urban Meyer stopped before finishing his sentence because even he knew he didn’t believe the words that were about to come out of his mouth.
The Buckeyes had just pulled off one of the most improbable victories you’ll ever see against Purdue. There were 47 seconds left, 61 yards to go, and an 8-point deficit staring Meyer and the Buckeye team straight in the face.
Heisman Trophy candidate and sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller was lying in the hospital.
Yet somehow redhsirt junior backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, who said his career’s previous shining moment came in OSU’s glorified preseason scrimmage, orchestrated touchdown drives in regulation and overtime to lead the Buckeyes to victory.
What did Meyer think the odds were of OSU pulling it out?
“I knew it from -,” he said before stopping. He wanted to say he knew it was going to happen, that he had every confidence in the world that Guiton could do the job that his starter struggled to do all day.
But instead he laughed.
“I’m still trying to figure this bad boy out,” he said. “We won, right?”
Meyer wasn’t so light-hearted in the moment.
It took Guiton four drives before he finally broke through. The first drive ended when a field goal clanked off the left upright. The second ended in a safety, and the third in an interception.
“He threw the pick, and I grabbed (Guiton), I said, ‘You’re going to go win us a game,'” Meyer said.
There probably isn’t a coach in America that wouldn’t tell his quarterback the same thing in that situation. But what separates the good coaches from the great ones is the ability to make the players actually believe what they’re saying, even if they don’t believe it themselves.
Somehow, Meyer was able to get that across to Guiton because he looked like a believer on his final two drives – both of which ended in touchdowns.
Guiton isn’t the only one buying into what Meyer is selling. When he talks, people listen, and more importantly for a football team, they perform.
When Meyer called out junior receiver Corey Brown for his lack of agility, he responded the next week by returning a punt for a touchdown.
When Meyer lifted redshirt junior receiver Chris Fields from the irrelevance of the bottom of the depth chart, he plucked Guiton’s game-tying touchdown pass a moment before the ball hit the turf.
At 8-0, most of the Buckeye faithful believes, too. Before Meyer and his team sang “Carmen Ohio” in front of the south stands, the fans that didn’t leave early began to chant, “Urban! Urban! Urban!”
Meyer took a step forward, raised his arm and unleashed a Tiger Woods-style fist pump. The crowd went absolutely berserk. Meyer then raised his arms twice, culminating in a deafening cheer. The players broke from their Carmen formation and danced in celebration.
It was euphoric, and Meyer was the catalyst of it all.
The job Meyer has done is especially impressive given the context in which he’s done it. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman described his players as “a bit fragile” because of the tumultuous 2011 year that saw OSU have three head coaches and lose seven games, including a 24-17 defeat against Florida in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1
Fragile players have fragile psyches and when things start to go wrong, it’s easy to throw in the towel. Last season, OSU played eight games that were decided by seven points or less and lost six of them. When one thing started to go wrong, the problems tended to snowball. Perhaps the best example is the last time Miller had to completely leave a game. When Miller was injured against Nebraska in 2011, the Buckeyes blew a 21-point lead and lost.
“You’ve got to be part-psychologist throughout parts of the game and throughout parts of the week, because (the coaches) all know X, Y and Z are going to work, but it only works if the players believe it’s going to work,” Herman said. “I think that’s been as big of a change as any.”
These players – whether it’s realistic or not – believe. When the situation gets tough, the players dig in for a battle. Every coach tries to create that type of environment, but not many are successful. It appears Meyer has been.
“When it really gets really hard, the people that don’t work very hard just let go of the rope and do something else,” Meyer said. “If you hold onto the rope … and it’s amazing we did talk about it this morning in the hotel, the reason we do, it’s so hard. You come in February, March, when it gets so friggin’ hard, you can’t give in; you’ve got too much invested; that’s my opinion why they won the game.”