Much of the discussion during Urban Meyer's weekly press luncheon Monday did not sound like it involved a 7-0 team, but then again the Ohio State defense has not resembled its usual self this season.
Although Meyer generally handles the offense and special teams, more than a dozen questions involved the defense during the head coach's nearly 30-minute meeting with reporters. Meyer said a review of the film revealed basic problems leading to a multitude of breakdowns as the Buckeyes allowed 49 points in a victory at Indiana one week after surrendering 38 to Nebraska.
"Eliminate the big play," Meyer said, mentioning there were 14 explosive gains for the Hoosiers on Saturday night. "I mean, it's been absurd how many big plays we give up. How do you do that?
"Well, No. 1 is finishing plays. Four to six seconds of effort is our mantra around here, so finish plays."
He also lamented a plethora of missed tackles and several instances of players losing leverage on the ball.
"Some of those cutbacks is because we have to reteach leverage to some players that are relatively young or even some relatively old players that just need to be recoached," Meyer said.
Much criticism from fans over the weekend was pointed at defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who is in his first season at that position after nine years as an assistant and one as interim head coach of the Buckeyes. He and good friend and former teammate Mike Vrabel are back from last season's staff while safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs are new to Columbus.
Meyer was asked if he felt comfortable with the composition of the staff and answered in the affirmative.
"I think it takes time. It's not the same staff it was a year ago. There are new guys in that room, but I feel good," Meyer said. "They're good team guys and great coaches. We just need to see more production on that side of the ball."
Given the way the Buckeyes' 52-49 win at Indiana played out, that there were no players who earned a champion grade on defense came as little surprise.
Offense was another story, however, as three players shared the player of the week honor - quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and Jack Mewhort.
"I just felt that all three of these guys had a major impact in the game, and played very well for us," Meyer said. "First one is our left tackle, Jake Mewhort, who had a 91 percent grade out, which is extraordinarily high for an offensive lineman. No (missed assignments), no sacks, no pressures. Twelve times the guy was blocking it up on the ground. He played very hard and with great effort."
Hyde graded out at 91 percent and ran for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown while running through, around and over Indiana tacklers.
"Sixty percent of his yards were after contact," Meyer said. "Six explosive runs. Very good day."
Miller completed 13 of 24 passes for 211 yards and a two touchdowns with an interception while also rushing for 149 yards and another score, but Meyer said his presence in the champions club and a grade of 86 percent had a lot to do with what he did without the ball.
"A lot of times he doesn't grade high because he gets tired and doesn't finish on fakes," Meyer said. "His action without the ball was tremendous in this game. That opened up a lot of because one thing about having a player like Braxton Miller, you've got to defend him whether he's got the ball or not. He hands the ball off, stands there, and allows another guy to get hit off a running back. The great example of it is the one fumble where Rod Smith ran into the back of our guy and the ball was on the ground because Braxton carried out his fake. You remember that play? It just shows you his effort and what we expect out of him."
Other players to receive champion grades on offense were tight end Jeff Heuerman, wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown and Jake Stoneburner and offensive linemen Reid Fragel and Corey Linsley.
"Jeff Heuerman played his best game as an Ohio State Buckeye, and I'm proud to say that," Meyer said. "In 48 plays – the most he's played – he was an 88 percent grade out and did a very good job finishing plays. He will play more.
"Jake Stoneburner played his best game since our staff has been here as an Ohio State Buckeye – 88 percent grade out once again. He's not been grading that high. Four receptions, 41 yards, very good blocking his aggressiveness and toughness really excelled in that game. Philly Brown graded out 81 percent, six receptions, 51 yards, rushing touchdown, graded out a winner."
As for the offensive line, Meyer said tackles Fragel and Mewhort along with center Linsley outperformed guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall.
"Reid Fragel – 88 percent grade out, no (missed assignments), no sacks, no pressures, five knockdowns – continues to get better. Corey Linsley did grade out a champion, however, I expect more of him, and he expects more of himself."
Senior Travis Howard was selected the special teams player of the game after blocking a punt, and fellow cornerback Bradley Roby received a champion grade after falling on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Joining them in the special teams champions club were punter Ben Buchanan, safety Zach Domicone and linebacker Jamal Marcus.
In looking ahead to a matchup with Purdue scheduled for noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium, Meyer said the team expects to have senior defensive end Nathan Williams available while senior running back Jordan Hall is doubtful.
Williams missed the win over the Hoosiers because of a concussion while Hall sat out to continue healing a torn knee ligament.
"He's not healing as fast as we expected," Meyer said of Hall, who has missed the past two games.