COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the first time under Urban Meyer, Ohio State lost a regular-season game last weekend.
Monday brought Meyer’s first regular weekly news conference after a loss, and there was no discussion about how impressive that 25-game regular-season streak was.
It was all about Virginia Tech, which beat Ohio State 35-21 behind a dominant defensive performance. And about Ohio State, which clearly hasn’t played to its own high standards and talent level in this young season.
After such a good start to the Meyer Era, have the Buckeyes hit a lull or a wall?
Right now, that’s a valid question.
There’s one valid excuse for a slow start, that Ohio State is playing a redshirt freshman quarterback after losing Braxton Miller for the season. Miller, the Big Ten Player of the Year the last two seasons, would have been a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Any team that loses its best player on the eve of the season will clearly miss him.
But on Monday, Meyer had more excuses.
First, he said Ohio State had prepared for Virginia Tech to play a different defense than the Hokies played.
It got better from there, with Meyer talking about what he called a "bear-zero, high-risk defense" when Ohio State was expecting a 4-3, man-to-man defense. He said Virginia Tech got to hide the defense in its opener — "that wasn’t something they put in (last) Tuesday and Wednesday" — while Ohio State was coming off a tough game with Navy.
"You sink your teeth into Navy, and that is another advantage," Meyer said. "We had (an opponent) that we had to go. I’m not disrespecting William & Mary (Virginia Tech’s first opponent), but you could tell what they worked on was completely different. So if we knew that was coming … you’re much more prepared and you’re trying to make sideline adjustments with some young players and that’s really hard."
He said Virginia Tech’s plan to clog the middle and leave Ohio State’s wide receivers in single coverage with no help was "pretty gutsy, but I don’t know if you do that against last year’s (Ohio State) team."
It’s not last year.
Last year the Buckeyes had the dynamic Miller, one of the best offensive lines in school history and a 230-pound beast of a running back in Carlos Hyde, who ran behind that line and opened lots of opportunities on the perimeter.
Now that Ohio State suddenly has issues with a young quarterback in J.T. Barrett, receivers who didn’t take advantage of single coverage and a rebuilt line that got Barrett hit too much, is that Virginia Tech’s fault, too?
It’s early in the season, streaks are made to be broken, Barrett is playing at this level for the first time and the list of reasons to think Ohio State can still be pretty good goes on, starting with the raw talent Meyer has recruited.
But it’s time for that talent to start playing to its potential and its hype. It’s time for the coaching staff to get that offensive line playing better, to get those receivers catching the ball and get the offense ready for the next time it sees that defense.
Meyer said he believes most Ohio State opponents don’t have the personnel to play that style, but he knows one that does.
"The team that won the Big Ten last year," Meyer said.
That would be Michigan State.
Virginia Tech’s film review showed that the Hokies hit Barrett 31 times. On Ohio State’s last 14 plays, the Hokies recorded six sacks and two interceptions, one returned 63 yards for a touchdown to seal the result.
"I saw a quarterback get hit too much," Meyer said.
Barrett was sacked seven times and intercepted three times. Ohio State converted 4 of 16 third downs.
"I’m still concerned about our offensive line, but Saturday was not a fair assessment," Meyer said. "(The quarterback and receivers) have to hit one-on-one plays in those kind of situations."
Earlier, Meyer said he "thought we were improved at wide receiver."
There’s room for improvement everywhere. It was the defense that let Ohio State down last season, and Virginia Tech came to Columbus and won with a first-year quarterback.
"This one we got exposed a little bit," Meyer said. "They played the traditional 4-3 defense, man (cover) three is what we prepared for, and that’s not what they gave us, so we were exposed a little bit. Once again, it’s amazing how fragile this game is.
"(If you) catch that touchdown pass (Corey Smith dropped) and … if you make a couple plays, that is a different ballgame. That is the fine line of how fragile this whole thing is. So I thought we’d be a little further ahead. We were exposed in this game, the skill was. But the skill is going to rebound, and we’re going to coach them as hard as we have and they have to rebound."
Meyer said he barely slept Saturday night and put in a full day Sunday of recruiting meetings, which is pretty normal on a home-game weekend for a high-level program like Ohio State’s. The Buckeyes hosted highly-rated recruits from all over the country for the game and Meyer said he felt good that those recruits got to soak in "the atmosphere," which included an Ohio Stadium record crowd of 107,517.
"It was the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium," he said.
Meyer almost always says the right thing. Now that he’s 1-3 in his last four games, though, the honeymoon’s over.
The atmosphere and the all-important momentum are dependent on wins.