The arrival: Meyer talks up Big Ten after big win
NEW ORLEANS – Urban Meyer threw his headset in anger after a penalty call didn’t go his team’s way. Later, in clock-milking mode with his team nursing a touchdown lead, he ordered a deep pass instead of the conservative run every single person in the Superdome was expecting.
Oh, yeah. He also overthrew Nick Saban.
He had a heck of a day.
Meyer is 37-2 as Ohio State’s coach. None of the prior 36 have been as close to big as Thursday night’s win in the Sugar Bowl.
No. 4 Ohio State is off to play for the national title against Oregon. The Buckeyes held off No. 1 Alabama, 42-35, with an explosive offense that started cashing its chances and a defense that’s getting better every minute. This game wasn’t really about Meyer vs. Saban or the SEC’s longtime domination; it was about the chance to go play for the national championship in the first College Football Playoff.
When Ohio State got the chance to celebrate its program’s biggest win in 12 years, though, Meyer conceded that some of that other stuff did matter. Stuff like the Big Ten’s reputation, Ohio State’s miserable track record vs. SEC opponents, the perception that the game’s true heavyweights are all in the Southeast and that Lord Saban couldn’t lose to a bunch of scarlet and gray-clad Yankees.
Bigger, stronger and most noticeably and importantly faster than previous versions, Meyer’s Buckeyes are still young but they’re very talented. They’re on their third quarterback, too, but they’re on to their 15th game.
"Just so resilient," Meyer said.
And carrying the banner for a beleaguered Big Ten and past Ohio State teams that weren’t good enough to beat college football’s biggest boys.
"That’s true that there’s a perception out there that we’re not (good enough in the Big Ten)," Meyer said. "I’ll tell you when I think the tide turned a little bit is (earlier Thursday) when Wisconsin beat Auburn. Everybody on our team knew that. I made sure they knew that.
"When Michigan State came back and beat an excellent Baylor team, everybody got to see that maybe the Big Ten’s not that bad. Maybe the Big Ten is pretty damn good. And it’s certainly getting better."
Meyer’s Florida team dominating Ohio State to win the 2006 national championship started an SEC title run that didn’t end until last December. Saban and Alabama have been the unquestioned class of the field in recent years, and much of the second group over that time played in the SEC, too. Meyer knows all of that, and he’s talked about it, and just this week he acknowledged that the SEC was still king but felt his team was closing the gap.
Then Wisconsin — which Ohio State had beaten three weeks ago, 59-0 — beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl, and Meyer brought that up at team dinner with his guys. He didn’t share exactly what he said or exactly what he’d come into the game thinking about Alabama, but he felt like giving his players one more nudge.
"We’re a great team, too," Meyer said.
By the end of the Sugar Bowl’s second quarter, the Buckeyes were proving their coach right.
Trailing 21-6 after a Cardale Jones interception led to a third Alabama score, Ohio State put together its first touchdown drive, got a quick stop and scored on a trick play to cut its halftime deficit to just one, at 21-20. The Buckeyes got the ball coming out of halftime and confidently marched 75 yards, the last 47 coming on a Jones to Devin Smith deep ball.
Smith was too fast for Alabama. At times Ezekiel Elliott was, too. Elliott carried 20 times for 230 yards and scored twice against an Alabama run defense that hadn’t allowed an opposing running back to go for 100 yards all season and had given up just three rushing touchdowns all season.
If Ohio State had fed Elliott a little more, he probably would have scored at least another.
Ohio State played Alabama and the better, more complete team won.
The Buckeyes got a defensive touchdown from Steve Miller, a senior who’s been around a long time and hasn’t made many big plays. The trick play saw senior receiver Evan Spencer throw a touchdown to sophomore Michael Thomas. Young guys and old, names known and forgotten, contributed. Jones is 2-0 as a starter. Elliott is part of a second-year class that proves Meyer is not only a master recruiter but a pretty good developer.
He knows the Big Ten and Ohio State had developed a reputation. He knows the only way to defeat it.
"There’s one way to silence people and that’s go out and play," Meyer said. "We’re a bunch of good coaches and players that worked their tails off and have (invested) a lot of resources into these traditionally great programs. So at some point you’re going to get good results and I’m very fired up for our conference right now, because at some point it gets exhausting when you keep hearing and hearing (you’re not good enough) and then you start believing it."
Ohio State started this season 1-1, losing by 14 at home to a bad Virginia Tech team in the season’s second week. The Buckeyes weren’t very good then; they lacked experience, an identity and confidence.
Now, they’re one win from winning the whole thing.
Under Meyer, Ohio State has an SEC team of its own that’s 1-0 against other SEC teams. It’s a young team that’s going to play Oregon for the national championship. Meyer has been there before.
All of a sudden, he’s going back with a group of players who now know they’re capable of winning one of their own.