The Ohio St. Buckeyes, with an eye towards getting back into the Final Four college football championship talk, face off this Saturday against Penn St. Coach Urban Meyer discusses the upcoming game at his press conference today.
COACH MEYER: I just read somewhere we’re leading the nation in attendance. I never want that to go unappreciated. Drizzly rain out there, everybody was having a great time. We appreciate our Ohio State fans.
Once again was the quick start. I thought our coaches did a good job getting that going, and most importantly the players did. Champion efforts were wide receivers. Offensive champions, Evan Spencer. Hard for me to say he’s not one of our MVPs the way he’s playing for us. I know statistically sometimes it might not show up because we spread the ball so well right now, but he starts on kickoff now. He was one of our main guys on punt against Maryland when we had the tackle, that punt return, I just trust him with everything. It’s to the point we’re trying to find ways to reward him. That was the one time we threw to him three times, that was all me trying to reward a person that is selfless. Just love who he is right now.
Jalin Marshall is much improved, graded a champion. Tight ends, Jeff Heuerman, graded a champion. Nick Vannett, he must have had some missed assignments. Offensive line, Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein, and Jacoby played well.
Player of the game was our tailback Ezekiel Elliott. J.T. Barrett, was he conference player of the week? He could have played a lot better. So I love when our coaches do that. There’s nothing quite like a guy that thinks he played great, then a position coach jumps right in the middle and says, This is what we could have done better.
Offensively you evaluate it against a team we have a lot of respect for. We consider them a 6-0 team coming into our home stadium. But offense we could have played a lot better. That was not one of our great days. But we expect more.
Defensively created three turnovers. Again scored a touchdown. Our third-down defense was excellent. The negative is we gave up some hits on a zone play. There was no excuse for that. I think they ran the same play and we didn’t adjust well, made some mistakes.
The champion efforts were Mike Bennett. Played very well. Joey Bosa. Tyvis Powell. Josh Perry. The guy that played his best game was Doran Grant. 98%. 12 opportunities, made 11 of them. His best game as an Ohio State Buckeye.
Special teams, one punt, went for a 53 net. Kickoff we didn’t do as well. We have some injuries we’re dealing with. Devan Bogard, still don’t know the final analysis on him. Dante Booker was pulled out of the game. I’m thinking someone else on kickoff I lost. So we’re going to have that conversation today about how we’re going to fill that most important unit, that very important unit.
I’ll answer your questions for you.
Q. You’re halfway through the regular season. Given the injury to Braxton, all that you’ve had to deal with, how happy are you with the team is right now?
COACH MEYER: I love coaching this team. When I look at our champions, I see Nick Vannett, J.T. Barrett, I want that mentality. If our expectations are higher than the players themselves, that’s a problem. That happens a lot. When you see a great player, we think you should be that, the player doesn’t think he should be that. The player disappears or doesn’t become a great player.
The good thing about J.T. Barrett, they had the conversation yesterday, but I wasn’t a part of that. But I like the way when coaches say, Okay, you’re Big Ten player of the league, but you didn’t play very well. Here is what you can do better. As opposed to, Great, job, great job, when it really wasn’t. I love the players the way they’re being coached, I love the responses. Enjoy coming to work every day when you have a team like that.
Q. Scouting report on Penn State?
COACH MEYER: Number one rush defense in the country, rush defense. Very well-coached up front. Good personnel up front. Tough guy Borland, tight middle linebacker. Real active. I think he leads the team on tackles. They do a very nice job. Number one in America against the run.
On offense, obviously we got a lot of respect for that big quarterback, Hackenberg. Tremendous player. Statistically came out of the chute high, high completion percentage. Struggled a little bit. But he’s playing very well.
Then they got just a boatload of tight ends. They try to play them all. It is a lot of 12, one back, two tight ends; 13, three tight ends, which in the past has given us a problem as far as run fits. They don’t run the ball particularly well right now, but they are a very good throw team.
Q. Could you elaborate on J.T., what is it that y’all saw Saturday that he wasn’t doing well?
COACH MEYER: Whenever you see illegal procedure, that’s the quarterback. That’s the leadership of the quarterback. It happened one time earlier in the year. I like the way he started. Someone told me he went nine for nine or something to start the game. We like that. That’s obviously very good. But he misfired on a couple balls. Threw a ball behind Evan Spencer, missed on Dontre Wilson on a touchdown. A couple plays. But that happens.
When you see ‘graded down’, you don’t grade a guy down, you coach him up to throw the ball better. ‘Graded down’ is just the quarterback position. I think Tom will give you some insight more when you visit with him.
Q. We ask you every time you go on the road. How comfortable are you taking him into the white shirts, all that kind of stuff on Saturday night?
COACH MEYER: More comfortable now than several weeks ago. We did go on the road once, but obviously 110 is different than 50 some. We were there. I remember Shelley and I are both like, That’s one of the top five atmospheres we ever played in. We can expect that same type of reception. We’ll be ready.
I’m more comfortable than I’ve been. We have a new center who is not a new center anymore. He’s playing pretty good. By the way, I know he rolled his ankle a little bit, but he should be fine. More comfortable than we’ve been, but still glad we have Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to get ready for it.
Q. Particularly on that 33-yard run, a screen call, they jumped it. He makes all these decisions and goes 33. What does that tell you about the way he’s come along as a decision maker, keeping his cool?
COACH MEYER: That might be as good an example. A lot of times quarterbacks on a drop-back pass, when it’s not there, a lot of times you will scramble. That’s kind of instinctive. When a screen is not there, that’s when you see guys twitch, panic. If you throw it down the field, it’s a legal man downfield. There’s all kinds of issues.
I credit Tom Herman. That’s not by accident. Those are well-coached players that understand the game. That was an impressive play. They dropped eight guys into coverage right to the screen. He put his foot in the ground and went north/south. That’s good stuff.
Q. Different strokes from Mike to Larry. Two ends of the spectrum personality-wise, maybe the way they coach. How has that worked out? Does that mean maybe you’ve changed a little bit as well?
COACH MEYER: The only thing I’d say is on the surface, that might seem so. I think they’re very similar guys. High-end character people, family-oriented guys that you want leading your players.
Mike is a former NFL guy. Those two guys are very similar. Larry is a very intense individual. His practices are very meticulous, like Mike was. I’d say they’re more similar than different.
Mike might let some colorful, I don’t want to use ‘language’, phrases or whatever, but other than that they’re very similar guys.
Q. Larry more fatherly?
COACH MEYER: I would say that. I don’t know, though. Mike did a heck of a job now. They’re very similar guys. They’re good coaches. I love who they are. I love what they stand for. My job is to make sure I have someone standing in front of them that are high, high end people that take care of them. Both those guys do.
Q. You talked a lot last year about wanting to have young guys ready to play because of injury. You talked after the game about a second team not being where you want it to be. The most important position on the field, when you lost your guy, Braxton, you had a young guy ready. The other positions, is it not where you want it to be?
COACH MEYER: It’s getting closer. The one area of concern is the defensive line. Larry, if you saw, we played 10 defensive linemen. All 10 didn’t play great. But we’re pushing it as hard as we can. We had a team meeting and addressed that. I had a couple guys stand up that weren’t doing their deal. As you get deeper into the year, we know it’s week seven, our goal is to compete for a championship in November. If you keep playing, you might have a chance to do that. That’s why everybody has to have value.
Certain positions, right now you have Curtis Samuel and Rod Smith. We don’t mind playing them at all. Wide receivers, your backups are darn near as good as your ones. Who is our starting receiver? Right now, I couldn’t tell you. I like to see rotation. Our two tight ends, very minimal difference.
So there are some positions. I pushed that as hard as I can. We actually played some guys in the game Saturday. Mike Hill did show something. Larry Johnson feels better about him right now.
That’s the essence. When you see teams win championships, that’s why. You lose your quarterback, J.T. Barrett, he’s been here for a while, he takes it very serious, Tom Herman does a very good job with it.
The ones that fail are the ones where the kids are not ready. That’s the coach’s fault. The kid has to be put in those situations. It’s also got to be an honest, hard conversation if he’s not ready.
Q. You’ve talked about your offensive line, how it’s coming along. Maybe the level of competition of defensive lines you faced wasn’t as good as what you saw with Virginia Tech. Rutgers you thought would be a step up. What did you learn about the offensive line? Is Penn State a step up?
COACH MEYER: Rutgers was a step up. I think Maryland, Rutgers, you’re getting better and better. Once again, I don’t want to say they didn’t have a good defensive line because they certainly did. The last two weeks, we haven’t played as good offensively up front as we expect. That will really surface this week. We have to play better on the offensive line than we did Saturday.
Q. You’ve been praising your staff for their preparation and game planning for your quick starts. As a team, are you also recognizing an improvement in mid-game adjustments? Is that something that’s been consistent?
COACH MEYER: That’s pretty consistent. I think that’s easy for a coach to do. I don’t want to use the word ‘fun’ because that sounds kind of silly. A coach that coached for 30 years, you see something on the field, you make adjustments, you’re expected to do that.
It’s uncomfortable sometimes to make sure your players are jump-started from the get-go. That’s cheerleading stuff, the heart-to-heart talks, the weekly motivation during the week getting ready for the game.
Anytime a team and a unit comes out and plays well early, because I’ve challenged them, that’s really, really challenged them, talking about our coaches, and they’ve responded.
Q. You admitted being stingy with praise for your assistants. I think I’m using your words. What is it that they have done so exceptionally that you recognize them even after the game Saturday?
COACH MEYER: If a coach makes an adjustment during a game, you’re supposed to do that. You’re getting paid a lot of money. You’re at Ohio State University. For me to pat a guy on the back, say that was really cool. No, you’re supposed to do that. As a matter of fact, we have an issue if you don’t.
It’s the other thing. To me, what’s not easy is the motivation of 18, 19, 20-year-olds with all this chaos going on in the world to get them to put their foot in the ground and get them to go as hard as they can right from the get-go. That’s what I’m seeing our coaches do.
Q. The offensive line, skill players, inexperienced first few weeks, did you all as a staff feel limited offensively? How does that compare to what you can do now?
COACH MEYER: You just look at the play sheet against Navy compared to now. That’s 70% greater than what it was. Number one, quarterback. Number two, offensive line. Number three, skill players. Two new tailbacks. One that never played college football. He got hurt for a while. The other one, Rod Smith, didn’t know he would be here. That position has really grown.
I think the quarterback, offensive line, receiver has opened up the playbook because they’re much more mature. They’ve grown up fast.
Q. Seems like there were things you put into the bye week. How much room is there to go as you get more experience?
COACH MEYER: The better your checkers, it’s endless. Dontre Wilson, we went to a zero one grouping where there’s no tailback, a tight end and four-wide outs. That was a result of having good four-wide outs that we emptied and started doing some things. You want to be able to keep them when you do that. I shouldn’t tell you too much. You keep them in a nickel or dime situation, now go run the ball real fast. That’s the reason we do that. As long as you have good checkers, you can keep going and going. That’s where you have to keep going.
Q. How is Wilson?
COACH MEYER: He’s fine. He’s clear.
Q. You dealt with your bye weeks. You mentioned how unusual that was. Penn State had a bye, a game, another bye. Preparing for them, does that change anything?
COACH MEYER: Prepare for something unusual. I don’t think they’re holding anything because they’ve had a couple big games. But we spend four or five minutes talking about that, move on. Rutgers had a couple things they never showed. That bye week gives you a chance to work on some things. They have a base, but there will be something new we have already had that conversation about.
Q. You talked two years ago when you played there, the environment. I remember two years ago you talking about you guys couldn’t play a whole game, they couldn’t, yet the environment was what it was. Two years later, with the NCAA making their decision that they made, are you happy about that, Penn State is allowed to play in a bowl game?
COACH MEYER: I’m into it for the players, like I’m sure Coach Franklin is, like Coach O’Brien was. I thought that was an incredible atmosphere, which is a credit to Penn State’s fans. I thought it was even credit to the players on their sideline than ours. I’ve been in some national championship games, and you can’t say they played any less on that day at Penn State two years ago. I have a lot of respect for it. I knew a lot of those Penn State players that did nothing wrong, nothing wrong. A lot of those kids did nothing wrong, yet they’re paying the price. I’m not saying that’s wrong. That’s part of the deal.
I think it needs to be a shout out to our kids. That was unbelievable, the effort you gave. At the end of the day you have to pay a price for someone else’s mistakes. I think that’s a credit to both teams.
Q. Last time you played these guys you averaged eight yards a carry, 400 yards on the ground. Changes they made, more personnel?
COACH MEYER: Good question. I have a hard time remembering last year. I think we played very well that day, started rolling downhill on them. It’s a much different defense right now. That’s really good rush defense we’re facing.
Q. You touched on this after the game. Michigan State won by the exact same score you did. There’s no consideration that some of your players might (indiscernible)?
COACH MEYER: I think if you play a really bad team, that happens. You try not to let that happen. Going on the road in front of 110,000 people, knowing we didn’t play great on Saturday, we expect to play great. When I read this, I didn’t really think about this, when I see Nick Vannett and J.T. Barrett not grade champions, that’s tough coaching, and I like that.