GENEVA, Ohio – Through two full regular seasons, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes didn’t lose a single game.
They enter the 2014 season having lost two straight. Now, a coach who’s on multiple occasions said "momentum is college football" has to find a way to help his program recapture it.
"Obviously, we hit a speedbump," Meyer said of losses in last December’s Big Ten Championship Game and January’s Orange Bowl. "A real big speedbump."
Meyer spoke candidly Wednesday afternoon following his third annual youth football camp at the Spire Insitute, not far from his hometown of Ashtabula. He admitted that Ohio State’s 24-game regular-season win streak that started with a bowl-banned team in Meyer’s first season "absolutely" weighed on his players late last season, when they lost to Michigan State to end Ohio State’s national championship dreams and then lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
"I probably wouldn’t have admitted it (late last season) but I felt it (weighing on the players)," he said. "I saw it. It didn’t come from our facility. I can’t censor our kids or hide them. I’d probably take a little heat for that.
"You have 18, 19-year old kids. And even the coaches (heard it). Even I’d hear it and think, ‘Wow, 24 in a row, that’s pretty good.’"
Meyer’s plan to fight back — and fight those outside forces and voice — will include reminding his players that they’ve won a bunch of nothing just yet.
"I like angry teams," he said. "That 2006 Florida (national championship) team, when we actually played Ohio State, that was the angriest team I’ve ever been around. They were so intent…they had to prove a point.
"I love hungry teams. Complacent is a bad word. Satisfied is a bad word. Angry is a great word. Chip on your shoulder…is what I want to see. Do we have that? I don’t know yet. That’s going to be the message as we get to training camp."
Last summer, Meyer told anyone who asked that his team was headed in the right direction but was "not there yet" in terms of big-picture goals, and Meyer certainly isn’t afraid to either dream or talk big when it comes to championships.
This year, he had a similar answer.
"We are close but we’re not there yet," he said. "I’ll probably say that again next year, too. You don’t know. There are so many variables.
"You know, we lost (safety) Christian Bryant last year (in late September) and he was the heart and soul of our defense. After that, we didn’t play very good defense. Is that an excuse (or) a reason? It’s probably both. But it’s also real."
Defensive changes for this season include the addition of new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson. The Buckeyes could have one of the nation’s best and most talented defensive lines, but among the losses in the back seven are 2014 NFL first-round draft picks Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby.
"It’s a personnel-driven game, not a scheme-driven game," Meyer said. "I like where we are but we have to stay healthy. The bodies and minds change so much from their freshman to sophomore to junior year that you just don’t know. We had this kid, Carlos Hyde, that two years ago was a 245-pound, unheard of, fourth-string tailback at Ohio State. He shouldn’t have weighed 245 pounds, and he ended up having a great year when he got to 230.
"There are so many things, so many variables. You need quality people, and as far as having kids who do right, I’m excited about where we are."
Meyer’s hometown football camp is for first through eighth graders — and he’s made sure it’s free for all — because NCAA rules prohibit high schoolers from participating in such an event. Meyer’s name shares the camp marquee with longtime friend and fellow Ashtabula native Dean Hood, the head coach at Eastern Kentucky, and local high school coaches staff the camp.
Both Meyer and Hood are officially not working at this time of year, and Meyer made that clear when the subject of next month’s training camp was broached.
"Am I itching for football? I am itching for vacation," Meyer said. "I am (itching) to get to work because I love my players. This is one of the best groups of kids that I’ve ever been around. But they needed a break from us.
"The NCAA actually did a really good job of putting a rule in that says it’s a dead period now (for recruiting). They can’t come to visit us. It used to be I’d go on vacation and a phone would ring and someone would say, ‘This big-time prospect is on your campus’ and I’d look at my wife and she’d say, ‘You’re kidding me,’ and I’d say, ‘No’ and I’d fly back and leave (my family) wherever they were.
"I’m ready to sail away for a few days and then I’ll be ready to go by the end of July."
It’s a new Meyer, certainly — he also once copped to spending Sunday mornings in church text-messaging recruits — and with senior quarterback Braxton Miller guiding the offense and a very talented front seven looking to lead a remade defense, he’ll be ready for a new challenge.