Notebook: Buckeyes Building Momentum

Devin Smith

Ohio State can't win a conference championship this season, but the focus remains on finishing out this campaign strong. The coaching staff explained why that is important this week. Find that and more in our premium notebook.

How much Ohio State can accomplish this season is limited by NCAA sanctions, but it is shaping up to be far from a lost season for the Buckeyes.

Running off nine wins to start the season has created a great feeling within the program, one head coach Urban Meyer is hoping to channel in any number of ways.

"Momentum in recruiting, momentum in development of your players," he said when asked about the benefits of a successful first season in Columbus. "You're dealing with 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds, so momentum is everything. You don't look past this week. You never look beyond, like, ‘Let's play for next year.' We're not playing for next year. We're trying to get as many wins as we can. This whole thing is about getting win number 10."

And, not surprisingly, Meyer was quick to point out how much coming off a win can help in what he seems to view as the most important part of building a program: attracting the top players in the country.

"We make a lot of our phone calls tonight to recruits," he said Monday. "It's as much of the coach's tone, the energy in the phone call. You have to make those calls when something bad happens as well. I'm not really into it. I can't wait to make those phone calls tonight, and I'm really anxious to make those phone calls tonight. And say, ‘Hey, this is Urban Meyer from Ohio State, and we're 9-0. The best thing about 9-0 is you have a chance to go for 10,' and the conversation usually picks up from there."

Of course, there is more than one way to improve a roster. Signing up a new batch of four- and five-star recruits is nice, but developing the players on hand is essential as well.

To that end, defensive line coach Mike Vrabel sees another positive in squeezing as much success out of this season as possible. This year is important because it is much easier to get the players to believe in the process when they see results. 

"Looking back on 2001 and my career, it is much easier for players and staff and coaches to believe something when they can actually see there are results," Vrabel said, referencing the last season in which a new coach took over on a full-time basis, Jim Tressel.

"How we run our program, when there are results it's really easy to buy in and see it. We practiced this way, we prepared this way, and guess what? It worked. So it's really easy to say let's continue to do it. When you don't have success, it's harder to say,‘Let's keep doing it.' "


Teaching The Tiger When To Bite

Braxton Miller's average number of carries per game has been a topic most of the season, and that should probably not come as much surprise.

Meyer's spread offense, after all, has generally featured a running quarterback, and Miller is by far the team's best playmaker.

He enters the first week of November leading the Big Ten in rushing and total offense, but his 18.4 carries per game are higher than the coaching staff would prefer for him.

Limiting his exposure to big hits such as the ones that have knocked him out, at least momentarily if not longer, of several games this season is a concern for Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman, but they would rather let him go than harness him.

Miller's 166 carries reflect more than just the total number of times they have called his number. They also account for 17 sacks, countless other times he has scrambled for a big gain when finding no one open and occasions he has kept the ball on the zone read or option.

Meyer attributed some of that to a desire Miller has shown to carry his team when necessary, one he doesn't mind at all.

"There is another type of player," Meyer said Monday. "The one that doesn't have that competitive spirit, and I'd much rather teach that tiger to bite. It's hard to teach a tiger to bite. It's a little easier to teach it when to bite.

"There is nothing else a coach would rather coach than a competitor that you have to cool them out a little bit and say don't force things and don't try to win the game every play. I've coached guys where you say, ‘Try to win the game once in a while,' and those guys aren't really the kind of guys you want leading your team."


Improving An Imperfect Punt Unit

Punting has been a frustrating exercise all season for Ohio State, and not just because the Buckeyes have had three blocked in nine games.

Meyer is also not satisfied with the hang time senior Ben Buchanan is getting or the coverage the unit has provided.

Ohio State is ninth in the Big Ten and 88th in the country in net punting at 35.5 yards per kick.

Teams have returned 16 of Buchanan's 44 punts and averaged 7.8 per return.

To combat that, Meyer put wide receiver Devin Smith on the coverage unit last week, and he responded with three tackles. "Fastest player on the team," Meyer explained. I think one year we had 13 total return yards because our belief is you have 6.5 seconds. If you're hitting the ball 4.5 seconds hang time, and 2 seconds get off, that's 6.5 seconds to cover 40 yards. You put really fast people out there and force fair catches. We're not doing that right now.

"At the end of the day you would say what is the best punt? Fair catch. We're not there because we don't have the hang time or the distance. I'm just worried about the returners."

Meyer admitted he expects teams to try to exploit the Buckeyes' protection, having seen it break down multiple times already this season.

"Blood is in the water, and a bunch of sharks are trying to go after punts," he said, noting the problem at Penn State last week was a missed assignment. "We had two guys block the same guy and that obviously can't happen. We've got to really do a better job of coaching it and getting it ready to go. It does concern me."

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