Right now, the national storyline is about how the strength of schedule for the Ohio State football team doesn’t hold up to some of the other national contenders.
Don’t count Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer among that group, however. Two days after a 34-24 victory in Ohio Stadium against Iowa that didn’t move the meter among national pundits, Meyer was still proud of his team for coming back in the second half and gutting out the victory over the Hawkeyes to move to 7-0 (3-0 Big Ten).
"It was a great team win,” Meyer said at his weekly Monday press conference. “Our guys are sore. It was a tough, physical game, two sledgehammers going at each other."
The national conversation will continue to be a storyline, though, as the Buckeyes opened ranked fourth in the BCS standings last night behind two-time defending national champion Alabama, a Florida State team coming off a road drubbing of undefeated Clemson and an Oregon team whose offense has been the apple of analysts’ eyes for years now.
And Meyer isn’t running from the fact, though, that the Buckeyes are in the national conversation as being among the best teams in the nation. Sunday’s release of the BCS standings confirmed that, and Meyer didn’t shy away from addressing the rankings with his team last night in what he dubbed a “state of the union address.”
“It’s the first time that I do talk about polls, because they’re going to hear it,” Meyer said. “My comment was we are indeed in the mix, embrace it. In the mix for what? Don't worry about it, but we are in the mix though. People think very highly of you. Maybe some people don’t, but you just have to go out and be the best team on the field on Saturdays, not in the country.”
To stay with an unblemished record – especially going into this weekend’s game against a Penn State team coming off an open week that followed a rousing four-OT win vs. Michigan – the Buckeyes will need to make some improvements, though.
That will start on defense, where OSU allowed Iowa to move the ball with impunity in the first half Saturday while taking a 17-10 lead. Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel wasn’t tactful when discussing the OSU struggles – “They beat the s--- out of us,” Vrabel said – but Meyer believes improvements can be made.
“We have to be prepared. Iowa did have a bye week and they came out with a 13 grouping – one back and three tight ends – and we weren’t ready for it and we didn’t adjust very well and that’s something that we have to be prepared for when you face a team that has a bye week,” Meyer said. “We’re all in this together. The adjustments need to be made quicker when they give us something we haven’t seen. The first three dives were alarming.”
Also on the defensive side, Meyer addressed the targeting call that robbed the team of the services of starting cornerback Bradley Roby for the final three quarters. Roby’s hit laid out Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, igniting a hot debate about the automatic ejection that now comes with targeting fouls in the NCAA.
Meyer said that Ohio State has brought in officiating experts and coached its players to not hit with the crown of the helmet and to not target the head of opposing players, and that the targeting rule “was not put in place for that play” that involved Roby.
“The NCAA and everybody is going to want to re-look at that rule,” Meyer said. “Ohio State is very concerned about player safety. We have gone to the nth degree about adjusting practice and any rules for the safety of players, no question we are supportive. However, that was a game changer.”
For those that stayed in the game throughout, Meyer highlighted the team’s champions, including quarterback Braxton Miller. The junior shared offensive player of the game honors with Andrew Norwell and Meyer said that Miller probably played his best all-around game as the signal caller for the Buckeyes after he racked up 322 total yards and went 22 of 27 through the air.
C.J. Barnett, meanwhile, was tabbed the top defensive player of the Iowa game. Other champions included Doran Grant on defense; Marcus Hall, Jack Mewhort, Jeff Heuerman, Evan Spencer, Devin Smith, Philly Brown, Carlos Hyde on offense; and Drew Basil and Devan Bogard on special teams.
More updates on Meyer’s presser as well as comments from assistant coaches Vrabel and Ed Warinner can be found here.