Meyer wants players to make crowd louder
Forget about satisfying poll voters, administrators, alumni and fans. Even coach Urban Meyer says there's a lot of things about the Ohio State Buckeyes that haven't met his lofty expectations so far.
Now he's calling out his players - and to a lesser degree, the team's scarlet-and-gray clad faithful - to turn things around.
Despite a 2-0 record and a No. 12 ranking, Meyer is not pleased with many aspects of his first Ohio State team. He has pointed out problems with the running backs, the wide receivers, both lines, the secondary and linebackers. Now he's challenging the Buckeyes fans to rise up and be louder.
He provided a harsh assessment of his program at such an early stage.
''I expect much more. I expect a stadium to be an inferno, I expect players to be diving over each other to hit quarterbacks, I expect the offense to score a multitude of points and celebrating in the end zone,'' he said this week. ''No, it's nothing close.''
With California (1-1) coming to Ohio Stadium for the first time since 1971, Meyer wants the crowd of 105,000 to be louder and more involved. At the same time, he recognizes that his team needs to be more intense in order to light a fire under the fans.
''It's a journey, it's a marathon to get it where we want it,'' he said of his program. ''What we've done the first two weeks is nothing close to what ... this place should be like. I think that stadium ought to be absolutely electric. I think it's been OK. But we need to play better. You want to get a stadium going? Go hit a quarterback. You want to really get the stadium (going)? Put a hand on a punt. That's when people come out of their seats.''
Asked if he had a timetable to reach that high-voltage state, Meyer chuckled.
''Yeah. Three days,'' he said. In other words, right about the time that the Golden Bears come on the field.
So far this season, the Buckeyes have played extremely well at times and have also had lulls. The fans have pretty much followed along, occasionally roaring but at other times watching passively while a young team running a new offense with a new coaching staff struggles to return the program to where it was before NCAA sanctions sullied its name.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford isn't feeling sorry for the Buckeyes, who are 18-point favorites.
''I know the perception in our locker room is we're going there to win and to compete and execute. We understand we're playing a great team with great tradition in a place that's a hostile environment. We understand the level of competition,'' he said. ''But that's not something we're backing down from. We're not going off perception.''
For the third week in a row, all at Ohio Stadium, a Buckeyes opponent comes in with a big-time passing attack.
The Golden Bears, who haven't played Ohio State in 40 years and haven't visited Columbus since 1971, feature what is billed as one of the top receiving corps in the country, led by Keenan Allen. The lightning-quick Allen has scored touchdowns so far receiving, on a punt return and rushing. He is coming off a 2011 season in which he had 98 catches for 1,343 yards.
''Sitting back in (zone coverage) and coming up and tackling a guy from Miami of Ohio on a hitch (pattern), that doesn't make you a primetime player,'' Meyer said. ''Covering this cat ... this is grown-man ball.''
Ohio State's defense has faced 95 passes in the opening two games. Zach Maynard, who has completed 24 of 53 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, will follow suit.
The Buckeyes have picked off five passes but, like the coach, aren't satisfied.
Asked how the secondary has performed, safety Orhian Johnson, who intercepted a pass and tipped another to a teammate for a pick last week, said, ''Not to our potential. We're real hungry. Our whole secondary, we're like, `We can be better.'''
Cal's defense must figure out a way to put the brakes on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who has been Mr. Everything so far for the Buckeyes' offense.
Miller is fourth in the nation with 151 yards a game on the ground. Meyer is troubled that he's carried the ball 44 times so far, but that total is swollen by injuries to the Buckeyes' top two tailbacks. Carlos Hyde, the starter in the first two games, will miss the Cal game with a sprained knee. Jordan Hall is set to return Saturday after missing all of fall camp due to a cut tendon in his foot suffered during the summer. No one knows just how much he can contribute, since he hasn't faced real contact yet in practice.
You can almost count on Miller to throw more against the Golden Bears' man-to-man matchups on Ohio State's wideouts.
''It kind of makes me mad,'' said Devin Smith, one of those wideouts. ''(Offensive coordinator Tom) Herman was talking to us about it and saying that they were going to play press man on us. He said it was questioning our manhood.''
Miller agreed with that assessment and accepted the challenge provided by Cal's secondary.
''They want to go man up on our X (Smith), I believe in my X that he's going to beat their corner,'' Miller said. ''So it's a matchup.''
About the only part of his team that has disappointed Meyer is Miller. He heaped praise on the sophomore for several minutes during his weekly news conference.
''He delivers punishment; he goes hard,'' Meyer said. ''He's a hell of a football player. I mean, better than even everybody in this country thinks right now. That's how good I think Braxton Miller is.''
Maybe it's the lack of a big-name, ranked opponent. Maybe it's the NCAA-mandated bowl ban at the end of the year. Maybe it's that the Buckeyes haven't blown away their first two opponents.
It's almost as if the crowd at Ohio Stadium has taken a wait-and-see approach. But at least somebody expects the old Horseshoe to be rockin'.
''I grew up watching games on TV from there,'' said Cal offensive lineman Tyler Rigsbee. ''It's going to be really electric and loud and fun. I think everyone's just excited about it.''
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap