Miami (Ohio)-Ohio St. Preview

On the day he was introduced as Ohio State’s 24th head coach

last November, Urban Meyer outlined a relatively simple list of

expectations for his players, his staff and himself.

”I want a bunch of coaches that coach like their hair’s on

fire, and I want a football team that goes four to six seconds of

relentless effort,” he said. ”You do that, you have a chance to

win in every game you play.”

Meyer, winner of two national championships at Florida, returned

from a one-year coaching hiatus as an ESPN analyst to take over an

Ohio State program mired in NCAA sanctions and beaten down by a

year of negative headlines.

So far, he’s injected some fresh thinking, a new offensive

philosophy and renewed intensity into a program which had been

consistently good in a decade under Jim Tressel, before he was

bumped off his pedestal for covering up a scheme involving several

top players trading memorabilia for tattoos and money.

Among several other NCAA penalties, the No. 18 Buckeyes are

banned from going to a bowl after this season. So, with Meyer

preaching he wants an ”angry” team, they’ve taken it to heart by

vowing to run the table and obliterate all the bad publicity from a

year of suspensions, violations and sanctions.

”Our goal’s to go 12-0,” running back Carlos Hyde said. ”Even

though we can’t go to a bowl game, we still have to play. So we’re

just going to get out there and have a chip on our shoulders since

we can’t go to a bowl game – to let the world know who the Buckeyes

are this year.”

They can start doing so Saturday when they open the season by

hosting Miami of Ohio.

Meyer took over an Ohio State team coming off a dreadful 6-7

season that included a four-game losing skid entering this season.

Luke Fickell, the interim coach then, was retained as a defensive

co-coordinator.

The attitude was bad, someone was suspended for a violation

almost every week and it seemed everyone was waiting for the NCAA

to hand down the penalties that came just before the Buckeyes lost

to Meyer’s former employer, Florida, in the Gator Bowl.

”There was a lot of (NCAA and disciplinary) stuff going on last

year. You can’t really point out what it was,” cornerback Bradley

Roby said. ”There was so much stuff going on, I feel like it

really affected everybody.”

Meyer has told his players to forget 2011 and concentrate on

turning around the program. But he doesn’t have three multiyear

starters on the offensive line, the top running back and best

linebacker from a team whose seven losses were the most for an Ohio

State team since 1897.

He has, though, instilled a lot of energy and optimism.

”Expectations always are high,” said the focal point of

Meyer’s vaunted spread attack, second-year quarterback Braxton

Miller. ”When I was in high school looking at Ohio State, I was

like, `Man, they aren’t ever going to lose. They’re always going to

be good.’ That’s the expectations of the fans.”

Miller and the new offense are a radical change from the days of

Tressel, who once famously called the punt ”the most important

play in football.” Meyer would prefer not to punt at all.

His Buckeyes will play uptempo, throw the ball a lot to a lot of

different receivers, and should prevent fans from leaving their

seats for a bathroom break for fear they’ll miss a 70-yard pass

play – or maybe a turnover.

Jordan Hall would have been the H back in the offense, the guy

around whom most plays revolve. But he’s out for the first couple

of games after cutting a tendon while walking barefoot outside his

apartment this summer. In his stead, Hyde, freshman Bri’onte Dunn

(who sidestepped legal problems this summer) and Rod Smith also

figure to be playmakers.

Much depends on wideouts Evan Spencer, Verlon Reed, Devin Smith,

Michael Thomas and converted tight end Jake Stoneburner. If one or

more of them proves to be a threat to take a short pass the

distance, it’ll make things considerably easier on Miller.

The line needs rebuilding, with first-year players dotting the

two-deep.

On defense, the brutes up front will be a strength, with Meyer

gushing about the play of John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett

Goebel and – when he returns from microfracture surgery – Nathan

Williams.

The linebacker position is thin but talented, with a lot riding

on the improvement of Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant. Cornerbacks

Roby and Travis Howard and safeties Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett

and Orhian Johnson anchor the secondary.

”I feel that everybody has bought into coach Meyer,” said

Shazier, a promising sophomore who sports a shaved head. ”With

everybody adjusting to it, I think we’re going to have a really

good season.”

Meyer, who twice quit the Florida job due to stress, health and

family considerations, swears that he’s feeling reinvigorated and

taking steps to make sure he doesn’t burn out again.

His first Ohio State schedule won’t cause him any heartburn. The

Buckeyes play their first four games at home against the likes of

Miami of Ohio, Central Florida, California and UAB, and in a down

year for the Big Ten almost every conference game is winnable. The

toughest will be at Michigan State on Sept. 29, Nebraska at home a

week later, and the 1-2 punch to close the regular season, at

two-time defending champ Wisconsin and home against archrival

Michigan.

Then … the season ends. With no bowl game, Meyer and his team

will have to be content with whatever they can accomplish in 12

games.

Meyer has no idea how everyone, including himself, will handle

the abrupt end of the season.

”We’ve never not played for a championship in November,” he

said. ”Ten years as a head coach, every November we were playing

for a championship. Do we have to create our own championship? I

don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.”

The first challenge for Meyer’s defense will come in the form of

RedHawks senior Zac Dysert, who’s third among active quarterbacks

with 8,530 passing yards behind Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and USC’s

Matt Barkley. Dysert threw for 3,513 yards with 23 touchdowns and

11 interceptions last year.

He closed the season with passing performances of 364, 413 and

372 yards, but Miami of Ohio dropped all three games to finish 4-8

as it regressed from a 10-4 effort in 2010. Dysert, sacked 46 times

last season – second most in the nation – will try to stay upright

long enough to get the ball to Nick Harwell, who was fifth in the

FBS with 1,425 receiving yards and fourth with 129.5 per game.

Ohio State has won each of the four matchups, all played at

Columbus. The teams haven’t met since 2005.