Aside from the shoulder pads and helmets popping against each other, coaches yelling out orders or the shrill of whistles, there’s been one phrase that has echoed throughout the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during Ohio State spring practice.
“4 to 6, A to B.”
The phrase has seemingly become second nature to the Buckeyes, as coach Urban Meyer works to give his program’s culture a facelift throughout the spring football season.
“We have a mantra, we have a culture that I want to make sure we don’t lose,” Meyer said after his team’s first spring practice March 4. “What I’m looking for is simplicity, and 4 to 6 and A to B. If you can’t give us that, then we gotta move on and get another player that will.”
The mantra of playing hard for four to six seconds, and rushing hard during a play from one direct point to another, is so important to OSU’s football coach that he mentioned it four times March 4, in what was his first press conference since the Buckeyes’ 40-35 loss to Clemson in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl Jan. 3.
It’s been such a big part of the culture change for OSU so far in 2014 that the words continue to trickle down across the roster and coaching staff.
“It’s going to be about 4 to 6, A to B. That’s what we’re going to be about,” assistant head coach and defensive line coach Larry Johnson said March 27 when asked about his unit specifically. “We’re going to work as hard as we can in 4 to 6 seconds, and go from point A to point B as fast as we can.”
The coaching staff preaches the phrase in nearly every interview session during spring ball, establishing the assertion time and again.
“I know you guys are getting tired of hearing ‘power of the unit’ and ‘4 to 6 seconds,’ but here’s reality: If that’s what is truly important, and it becomes important to our players that 11 guys show up at the ball and it doesn’t matter really which number gets there first … then it’s really, really important,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said to reporters after practice April 3.
Meyer said he knew he and his staff had work to do to shore some things up on the team — particularly at defending the pass, as the team gave up an average of 268 yards per game through the air, good for 112th in the country — to even have a chance at success in 2014. And fixing the mistakes that cost them begins with that one simple phrase.
“I don’t want a team that’s scared to make mistakes. I don’t want a team that’s thinking,” Meyer said March 4. “I want a team that goes 4 to 6 seconds, and when they put their foot on the ground, it’s A to B, it’s fast and it’s as hard as you go.”
Aside from the loss to the Tigers in the Orange Bowl, OSU also fell to Michigan State Dec. 7 in the Big Ten Championship Game, 34-24, crushing the chances it had of competing for the national title.
The back-to-back losses are the first for Meyer in his tenure as OSU coach, after ripping off 24 straight wins since arriving in Columbus in 2012. With nearly eight months for that feeling to sit and ruminate in his and his team’s minds before the Buckeyes have another chance to line up against an opponent, it’s clear he wants things to change.
“Urban has set the tone very clearly, nothing else matters,” Coombs said. “4 to 6 seconds, point A to point B, all of us doing the same thing, going as hard as we can and the kids have bought into that.
“And they’re not allowed to not buy into it, to be perfectly honest with you. It’s not an option. It is the way it’s going to be.”
With the annual Spring Game at Ohio Stadium as the last scheduled, organized practice before fall camp, Meyer stressed the importance of adhering to the play-hard culture.
“I want to make sure that culture’s out there,” Meyer said. “There’s never been a team, in 27 years of coaching, that team that didn’t play the hardest, didn’t win the game. Lack of execution and lack of technique — you can overcome that with incredible effort. You can’t overcome lack of effort with great technique. It doesn’t happen. At some point you’ll fail … These kids have heard that nonstop from the coaching staff.”
The spring game is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
The season opener against Navy is scheduled for Aug. 30 at noon in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium.