COLUMBUS, Ohio — Three hundred sixty-one days ago, Urban Meyer officially became the head football coach at Ohio State.
Since then, he’s lost a little hair — and he temporarily lost his sanity at approximately 3:15 p.m. ET Saturday.
He hasn’t lost a game, including Saturday’s 26-21 victory over arch-rival Michigan.
Pretty good hire, Ohio State. Pretty good future, too.
Just after Carlos Hyde got inside the Michigan 21, picking up the clinching first down inside the two-minute mark of Saturday’s fourth quarter, Meyer pumped his fist so hard that he almost threw himself into the air. In the half-second that followed, he got himself tangled in his headset and wire.
Quickly, he stepped out of the wire and essentially spiked it to the ground. He came up looking for air and for someone to hug.
There was symbolism amidst the elation. Twelve months and 12 wins in, Meyer has shown he can get out of anything quickly and with his fists pumping.
“I kind of lost it on the sideline there,” Meyer said. “I have to keep a little more composure.”
Hint: He’s already scheming future celebrations.
Ohio State is undefeated, done with its NCAA-shortened football season and on to Speculation Season. Because of the one-year postseason ban, the last thing the Buckeyes controlled was Saturday’s game with Michigan, the game that’s always the most important in this city and this state.
The defense clamped Michigan in the second half, and the Buckeyes sealed the five-point victory.
A team that was 6-7 and all kinds of a mess a season ago now goes down in Ohio State’s history — with an asterisk, sure, but also without a blemish. Perfectly imperfect and always good when it counted, maybe this really isn’t one of the great Buckeyes teams of all time. It is one of the great Ohio State stories of all time, and Meyer’s smiling on the cover of the book.
“For the moment, this is as good as it gets,” Meyer said.
Meyer was hired because he’d done all this before, winning everywhere he’d been and twice winning BCS national championships at Florida. Ohio State fans remembered one of them especially well and for reasons they’d rather forget. He’s an Ohio native who not only mastered the company and state line early but kept saying the right things and kept his team winning once this season started, too.
Saturday’s Michigan game was a lot like Ohio State’s season. Dynamic quarterback Braxton Miller took a bunch of hits, got hurt twice and came back to make huge runs. Poor tackling led to big plays by the opposing offense early in the game. A mess of penalties and mistakes made the record crowd of 105,899 uncomfortable early, but timely turnovers and the Ohio State running game put it away late.
The defense more than got its stuff together, too. Michigan didn’t run a play in Ohio State territory in the second half.
It’s not a formula with which Meyer was familiar or especially comfortable; it’s what worked. The looming postseason ban was a strange situation that never became much of a distraction because the Buckeyes kept winning and kept evolving, a bit at a time. The senior class takes its place in history — Meyer said he’ll make sure this group is never forgotten — and the head honcho will soon be on to new goals and a new plan to make up for the bowl practices Ohio State isn’t allowed to have next month.
“We had adversity … in every game,” Meyer said. “Once again, we’re not exactly where we want to be offensively. We will get there, and with a lot of hard work. I don’t want to get into that now, but we’ll be where we need to be soon.”
Meyer said the “common denominator” in great teams, both past and present, is great defense. Ohio State wasn’t great early in the season, or even on most of Denard Robinson’s runs in the first half on Saturday. The progression was noticeable and crucial. The end result was Meyer getting a chance to address how Ohio State might fit in the big picture of postseason polls and what-if scenarios.
“We can play with anybody in America as of today,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that five weeks ago, but I think you’ve seen the growth.”
The Buckeyes ran for 279 yards Saturday, Hyde getting 146 on 26 carries and Miller finishing with 108 on 20. Miller was 14-of-18 passing, too, with a touchdown and an early 52-yarder to Devin Smith that forced Michigan to at least think about respecting the Buckeyes’ vertical passing game. Ohio State came into the game ranked 100th nationally in passing offense.
Twelve and oh.
To Meyer’s credit, he’s gone out of his way to say the season, this Michigan game and the future aren’t about him. But everything is about him, how he’s changed things, how he’ll keep his foot on the accelerator going forward. He’s right when he says the Buckeyes “are going to lose some really good players,” but there’s no doubt he’s going to bring a bunch more in to replace them.
Some are already in place, in fact. Miller has two years left, is at least in the discussion for a seat at the Heisman Table and has a very high ceiling.
He’s not the only one.
The non-conference games next season are Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M. Gone are Nebraska and Michigan State from the Big Ten rotation, replaced by Iowa and a much improved Northwestern team. There’s no reason this win streak can’t keep growing.
Meyer being 1-0 against Michigan and 12-0 overall provides plenty of reason to celebrate. It also raises the bar.
“The whole theme this week (was), ‘Go where the air is rare,'” Meyer said. “The loudest door is a big one. Open it, kick it open, do what you have to get through that door. Once you’re in there, it smells different, it tastes and looks different.
“I’m hoping the guys get that taste and they want to do it again. Because once you taste that, it tastes really good. And the foundation, I think, is strong.”
Twelve and oh.
Oh, how the fun is just beginning. At Ohio State, the guy with the whistle and the pullover who’s been known to occasionally lose his mind is just getting started.