Meyer’s methods paramount in Buckeyes’ place on big stage

DALLAS — The Ohio State Buckeyes play for the national championship Monday night, something not many thought likely before this season started in August and few even thought remotely possible after a home loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6.

Urban Meyer was admittedly among that group of doubters.

But he eventually became one of the first believers, too. Meyer said in July that he didn’t think this team was ready — and he was hired three years and two months ago because he knows big-stage and big-trophy ready — and pointed to losses on the offensive line, the overall youth of the roster, the uncertainty about who would lead and the drop in momentum after the way the 2013 season ended.

"We are close," Meyer said last July. "We are not there yet."

That was before Ohio State lost Braxton Miller.

And before Virginia Tech, a game for which Meyer made a bunch of excuses and didn’t have his team ready.

Now, 17 weeks later, it’s Ohio State vs. Oregon on the big stage at Jerry World. For the big trophy.

Thanks in large part to Meyer.

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The head coach likes this team. That’s obvious now, but it was a month or so after that Virginia Tech game that he started talking differently about what he was seeing. Special teams are Meyer’s baby, and he started saying he liked the selfless and productive special teams play he was seeing. J.T. Barrett made the offense hum, the offensive line kept it humming and Meyer talked about the "checkers" game coaches play during conference season when teams know their opponents so well.

"The better your checkers," he said in late October, "the (possibilities) are endless."

He likes his checkers. Meyer once won a national championship, then sprinted off the field the first second he wasn’t needed to call recruits.

Because it’s about the checkers. Bigger, faster, stronger checkers get here, to college football’s ultimate stage. Meyer was hired to get them here.

Going back two years, Meyer has talked about putting his players through leadership training and an event + results = outcome belief, one of those things coaches do because they can’t relax. Same with "The Chase," a mantra displayed by a banner that hung in the indoor fieldhouse on campus. Meyer wanted to dangle the big goals in front of his guys, directly and indirectly.

OHIO AGAINST THE WORLD

He’s talked about surviving a double-overtime game at Penn State because of the offseason lifting his players did and the pushing his strength staff did in developing not only physical strength but a mindset. He said before the season that hungry and angry teams win, and somewhere between Virginia Tech and Penn State, Ohio State became a hungry, angry team with some pretty good checkers.

When Ohio State overcame an early deficit to run away with a win at Michigan State at Nov. 8, everything was back in play. What we’ve heard from Meyer since is less cheesy, cliche, rah-rah stuff.

What we’ve seen is more good football, even after another quarterback change.

Ohio State plays for the national championship with Cardale Jones making his third start and with half of its listed starting 22 either freshmen or sophomores, yet with all sorts of momentum and confidence. Aggressive, demanding and constantly in pursuit of the next group of bigger-stronger-faster checkers, this has worked for Meyer.

Win or lose here, Ohio State is on the fast track. Locked and loaded, even with offensive coordinator Tom Herman leaving for a head-coaching job and a heck of a quarterback situation that can go a bunch of different ways. Recruiting awaits, and once spring comes Meyer will invent some new sort of chase/dilemma/situation to eventually try to create a hungry and angry team.

Eventually, Meyer thought he’d get Ohio State here. Ohio State hired Meyer because he knows how to finish the job when he gets here.

The national championship game awaits. Ohio State is here — and right on time.