Not even the arctic chill sweeping through the Midwest could cool the rising anger erupting in Central Ohio right now. The joys of the Buckeyes’ 24-game winning streak have quickly evaporated in the midst of their two-game losing skid. The late-season collapse has exposed the worst in fans.
Their venom-laced tirades are squarely focused on the secondary, defensive coordinator Luke Fickell’s head and coach Urban Meyer for refusing to play quarterback Kenny Guiton in the last series against Clemson.
Buckeye fans are as passionate as they come, but they need to relax and take a deep breath. If you trust Meyer, then you must trust that he will fix the problems. No one is more critical of the program than he is, and he’ll get the issues resolved.
The notion that he does not understand or care about defense is nonsense. Keep in mind that Meyer may be known for his offense, but he has been around some of the leading defensive strategists his entire career. Meyer played defensive back in college and coached under Jim Heacock, Sonny Lubick, Lou Holtz and Bob Davie. His key assistants along the way have included Charlie Strong, Greg Mattison, Kyle Whittingham and Gary Andersen. The wisdom gained from serving with these coaches for 28 years will help forge the turnaround.
The pill is bitter, but adversity will be good for this program. Here are three reasons why the pains of 2013 should bring joys in 2014.
No one likes to eat humble pie, but a little taste of it should get Meyer’s competitive juices flowing like a river.
The losses have probably rattled the confidence of his players and their beliefs in his system. That is okay. As the team recovers from the agony of losing, Meyer has the opportunity to do his best coaching.
Last spring, website Eleven Warriors revealed that the program hired Focus 3 to help instill leadership skills. The organization’s trademark formula is E (event) + R (response) = O (outcome). The players attended weekly classes to learn and understand how the formula works. Now Meyer can test the formula.
He can push the players to work harder in the spring and summer to improve. He can challenge his assistants to correct the problems and be better coaches. He can open up every position to competition to break entitlement and find leaders. He can build the team the right way for the upcoming season.
The Buckeyes’ success in 2014 will depend on how well the team responds to Meyer’s pressure. If the players channel the pain of losing into daily actions that foster improvement, the team will reach the goals it failed to accomplish this season.
For decades, the defense has been nicknamed the Silver Bullets. Under the leadership of players like Mike Vrabel, Antoine Winfield, Will Smith, A.J. Hawk, Cameron Heyward and John Simon, the Buckeyes defense was a perennial top-20 unit. The downward spiral over the last two seasons damaged the reputation of this proud unit, but a major resurgence is imminent.
Every defense needs one player to be the field general that instills confidence and gets everyone on the same page to play cohesively at an extremely high level. This player sets the tone and keeps his teammates focused on doing their job on each play. This type of leadership was inconsistent this year. Next season will be different.
The one player who will demand the commitment to excellence and define the unit’s identity moving forward is 6’6”, 275-pound defensive end Joey Bosa. His motor and the playmaking ability are incredible. He’ll be the glue that binds the defense.
Bosa finished the 2013 season with 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and was named to the FWAA Freshman All-America team. Meyer gave his star high praise in an interview with Dieter Kurtenbach of the Chicago Tribune saying "He's better than anyone envisioned as a freshman defensive lineman.”
Expectations are high considering the highly ranked players who Meyer has recruited over the last two years. Fans are optimistic that these players are laying the foundation for greatness on this side of the ball. In an interview with reporters in May 2012, Meyer expressed his concern about talent without leadership though.
Talent will get you about seven or eight wins. Discipline will start pushing that to nine. Then when you get leadership that’s when magic starts happening. It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team.
Bosa made an impact in 2013 with his talent, intensity and work ethic. He’ll lead the defense in 2014 with his ability to inspire the players and unify them into upholding the standards of being a Silver Bullet. When this happens, Meyer will get the magic he is seeking.
Michigan State did the Big Ten Conference a huge favor when it beat Ohio State. Outside of a couple of seasons, the Buckeyes have dominated the league for 10 years. Ohio State’s reputation has declined a little over this time period too because the Big Ten has been considered weak. With their win, the Spartans restored some competitive balance and injected hope that the conference is on the rise heading into the playoff era.
The devastation felt after Michigan’s epic upset over No. 1 Ohio State in 1969 enraged Woody Hayes and ignited the "Ten Year War." The loss to the Spartans has a similar feel. The Buckeyes are no longer king, and Meyer can use the anguish as fuel to motivate his team. Ohio State needed a new enemy and now it has one.
The mood is sour in Columbus right now. No one wants to admit that this Buckeye team was flawed, but it was. The luster on Meyer’s capabilities may look a little dim, but there’s no reason to panic. The misfortunes this season will be distant memories in 2014. The program’s foundation is strong, and the stage is set for huge rebound.