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OSU working through distractions

January 2, 2014
By SETH STASKEY - Times Leader Sports Editor (sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

The Ohio State Buckeyes have taken their talents to South Beach.

At least for this week, anyway.

And outside of organized bowl activities and a friendly game of beach volleyball earlier this week, it's been strictly a business trip.

Article Photos

AP?PHOTO
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer talks to his team during NCAA college football practice Tuesday in Davie Fla. Ohio State takes on Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Friday.

The preparation wraps up today and the Buckeyes will get down to business against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl Friday night with kickoff slated for 8:30 at Sun Life Stadium.

It's the Buckeyes' first trip to a bowl game since they lost to Florida in the 2012 Gator Bowl when Luke Fickell was the interim coach. They sat out the postseason last season because of a NCAA penalty that dated back to the Jim Tressel era.

All told, OSU is 19-23 in bowl games and just 2-7 in bowls played inside the state of Florida.

However, the Buckeyes are 1-0 in the Orange Bowl. They defeated Colorado, 27-10, in 1977.

This is the second all-time meeting with Clemson. The prior meeting came on Dec. 29 1978 in the Gator Bowl. Clemson won, 17-15 and Woody Hayes was fired shortly after the game after 28 seasons and five national championships.

Clemson, meanwhile, is set for its fifth appearance in the Orange Bowl. It's 2-2 in the game and gave up 70 in its last appearance, which came in 2011 against West Virginia.

One of the toughest parts of the college football season is trying to get 18-22 year olds motivated after they fell short of their biggest two goals.

Last month, the Buckeyes appeared as if they'd be playing a few days later than Friday in the BCS National Championship Game.

However, Michigan State had other ideas and not only denied the Buckeyes the trip to Pasadena, but also denied them the Big Ten Championship and their 25th consecutive victory under Meyer.

The Spartans built a 17-0 lead and watched the Buckeyes take a 24-17 lead, but used two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a late fourth-down stop en route to a 34-24 victory, which earned Sparty's trip to Wednesday's Rose Bowl.

So, the Buckeyes settled for a consolation prize. Going to Miami in late December and early January isn't that bad of a deal as the BCS system comes to an end. By earning the invitation to the Orange Bowl, it completes the BCS cycle.

"The thing that we are worried about is just showing our character, showing who we are as people and working towards a win," said OSU offensive lineman Corey Linsley, who has been one of the leaders all season. "In mind mind, I'd be extremely disappointed in myself and some of the leaders of this team if we don't come out and do well, just because we haven't faced real adversity like this basically since I have started and since Coach Meyer got here."

Since the system was adopted for the 1998 season, Ohio State has appeared in all of the big four bowl games. All told, OSU is 5-3 in the BCS.

Though playing in the Orange Bowl isn't a bad prize, it's still not the one that the Buckeyes had envisioned.

"I really like where we are at," said Meyer during a media briefing before the team departed for South Florida. "I like our attitude. I think the moment the Orange Bowl rang, everybody's attitude wasn't perfect, but it was getting back to the same attitude we had before the last game."

While Meyer wants the attitude to be the same, he certainly doesn't want the result to be the same. Entering the off-season riding a two-game losing streak - with the chance of losing the team's best offensive player (Braxton Miller) and defensive player (Ryan Shazier) to early entry to the NFL Draft - wouldn't leave a very good taste in any member of Buckeye Nation's mouth.

As for Miller and Shazier's status and the NFL. Shazier received a second-round grade from the NFL based on the paperwork submitted through OSU. Miller's grade has never been made public.

Both have said they've not firmly decided and Meyer has said he always try to wait until after the season ends before having those discussions with players.

Many expect Shazier to leave, but Miller is a big question mark.

"I'm just focused on the team right now," Miller said. "I'm just focused on what we have to accomplish for this group and for Buckeye Nation. I'll worry about (the NFL) later. I'm just focused on getting better as an individual."

Miller has been named the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year after the last two seasons. He battled some injuries during the early part of the season, causing him to miss a few games. That, along with not playing his best game against Michigan State, damaged his Heisman candidacy.

The Huber Heights native came out and was quoted about being hit too much during the season, which drew the ire of many Buckeye fans.

"Toward the end of the season, your body starts breaking down a little bit and all of the hits add up," Miller said. "That's why in the bowl season, you take a few weeks to regroup from all of the games throughout the season."

During the week's leading up to the Buckeyes' departure for South Florida, Meyer and a few members of the Buckeyes' coaching staff was rumored for other jobs. Meyer heard his name bantered about for the still open Texas job.

Everett Withers was hired as the new head coach at James Madison, Luke Fickell's name was dropped for a few jobs and Ed Warriner, the offensive line coach, interviewed for the Army position.

"Whenever you have the last two seasons like we've had, there are hot guys," Meyer said. "I've had a lot of phone calls about our guys and head coaching positions."

Meyer didn't waste any time shooting down the rumors about Texas' possible pursuit of him as its next coach.

"There's no take," Meyer said. "I'm here coaching at Ohio State."

The distraction didn't end there, either.

Thankfully for the Buckeyes' sake, no players had academic or discipline issues since the Big Ten Championship Game. However, the injury and flu bug have bitten as well as well as the Big Ten rules.

The Buckeyes' defense, which has been torched the last two outings by Michigan and Michigan State, allows more than 21 points a game, but was touched up for 41 and 34 points, respectively.

"We lost some of the fundamentals during the season," Shazier said. "Some games we'd show good pass defense and then games we would show bad defense. So, we just need to get back to those fundamentals and doing the key things we know how to do and we've been working on that."

Taking it a step further, the Buckeyes' passing defense has been spotty at best. Actually, spotty is probably too big of a compliment.

The Buckeyes are expecting to be without two key cogs Friday night. Defensive end Noah Spence - the team's leader in sacks with eight - didn't make the trip to South Florida and Meyer had thought the Harrisburg, Pa. native may join the team later in the week.

Unfortunately, the Buckeyes got word on Wednesday that Spence was going to be suspended for three games, including the Orange Bowl. The Columbus Dispatch reported that Spence would be sitting out because of testing positive for a stimulant that he ingested through an over-the-counter medicine.

On top of that, junior defensive back Bradley Roby, who has already announced that he'll be entering the NFL Draft in April, is expected to sit out with a bruised knee.

Curtis Grant was hobbled late in the season with a knee injury, but Meyer said on Wednesday that he should be able to play.

Obviously, the Buckeyes are going to be extremely thin on the defensive side of the ball.

Those losses along with the immediate issues of the inexperience at spots that the Buckeyes have dealt with most of the season have Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who is the nation's highest paid assistant at more than $1M annually, licking his chops.

"They have a great offense," Meyer said. "They have some very good personnel. It's going to be a war."

The Buckeyes plan to help their pass defense with the insertion of true freshman Vonn Bell into the starting lineup in nickle situations, which OSU expects to be in most of the night.

"Vonn will play more this game," Meyer said. "And he's doing a really good job. He's earned it. He's earned it on special teams and he's a guy who we are really excited about his future."

The Buckeyes may need all the help they can get as they try to deal with Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was on the verge of coming to Ohio State and admitted earlier this week he would have been a Buckeye had Clemson and Sweeney not gotten involved in his recruiting process.

Boyd has passed for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns against just five interceptions. His favorite target is Sammy Watkins. This season, Watkins has caught 85 passes for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns.

For his career, Watkins is at, or near, the top of the Clemson all-time rankings in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Watkins has 224 receptions for 3,164 yards.

Obviously, Robey, who many project as a fairly early draft pick, would have been the guy who drew the assignment of covering Watkins. It could be Armani Reeves or Doran Grant now. Both have been up-and-down this season.

"It's not one thing (to fix)," Meyer said. "It's not man coverage, it's not zone coverage ... it's all of the above. And then the pass rush, and the time to call blitzes, making sure the blitzes match the coverages. We just have to play better."

The Buckeyes have been fairly stout against the run. They hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher until the Big Ten title game. For the season, they surrender just 102.6 yards a game, which is seventh best nationally.

They'll need another strong performance as they contend with running back Roderick McDowell, who has 956 yards rushing.

Shazier, who was a first-team all Big Ten pick and was mentioned on several all-American teams, leads the OSU defense with 134 tackles and 22.5 stops for loss. Both of those stats were the best in the Big Ten.

Michael Bennett has developed into a solid run stopper and pass rusher from his defensive tackle spot. He's recorded seven sacks.

While the Buckeyes' defense has given up its fair share of points, big plays and yards, the offense has been torturing opposing defenses all season and covering up for some of those deficiencies.

Ohio State's spread offense ranks third nationally in rushing with 317.5 yards per game and averages 46.3 points a game.

Miller is the trigger man. He's had another brilliant season, but is coming off his roughest passing outing. All told, he's thrown for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns. He's ran for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Carlos Hyde - the senior from Naples, Fla. - has been running like a man possessed all season after missing the first three games due to a violation of team rules during the summer. In just 10 games, Hyde has ran for 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns."

They achieve the success behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Taylor Decker and Marcus Hall comprise the unit. Hall was ejected against Michigan and didn't play in the B1G Championship Game as an additional penalty from Meyer after cameras caught him flashing a gesture to the Wolverines' crowd as he was heading to the lockerroom. Only Decker is an underclassman in that group.

"The linemen are energy givers," Meyer said. "They walk through that door and it changes practice. I saw that with our offensive line this year. When you look at their statistics, who they are, I think (they should be considered one of the better lines in OSU history). I'm hoping they all have pro careers. I'll always talk about this offensive line like that."

The Ohio State receiving corps will probably need to get involved early with a big play to loosen up the Tigers' defense, which is led by defensive end Vic Beasley, who has 19 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.

Senior Corey "Philly" Brown and junior Devin Smith have both been solid options in the passing game. Junior Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman, who also battled illness during the week, are viable options.

Miller, who missed his scheduled press availability early in the week because of a bout with a flu bug that several players dealt with through the week, said the Tigers' defense is "very competitive and goes hard on every down."

"They never give up and they fight to the end," Miller said. "I like playing competitive teams because it makes me play better."

BOWL NOTES

THE GAME will be broadcast on ESPN with the team of Joe Tessitore and Matt Millen on the call.

EACH BOWL is permitted to give the players involved a myriad of gifts to commemorate the experience. Each player in the Orange Bowl received a watch and had the opportunity to basically go shopping as the bowl set up a gift suite and the players were permitted to pick out the gifts they wanted.

THE BUCKEYES 2014 schedule begins with a road game. They'll play against Navy in Baltimore and then return home to host Virginia Tech before hosting Kent State in the non-league schedule.

A LOT has been made about the Buckeyes' schedule throughout the season. Clemson is playing its fourth opponent to be ranked inside the top 10 at the time of the game. It has a 1-2 record, having defeated Georgia and lost to Florida State and South Carolina.

 
 

 

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