Despite the fact Ohio State is coming off a less impressive than expected 60-35 victory at Illinois, Monday’s weekly coaches press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was as jovial as any this season.
In fact, some of the reason was the fact that the Buckeyes were coming off the game at Illinois that left head coach Urban Meyer with the belief that he had to refocus the energies of both himself and his team after it spent too much time during the off week looking at the national title picture.
In the postgame press conference at Illinois, Meyer noted that he needed to shut up and focus simply on making the team better, and today he gave himself a grade of “C” when talking about how well he prepared his team for the challenge presented by the Fighting Illini.
In a related note, he was at his wittiest today when deflecting questions that went away from that concept.
When asked about the national championship game and the importance placed on it these days in college football and whether that was any difference from when Meyer first got into coaching, the head man replied with an answer on a totally different subject.
“Ezekiel Elliott is on our punt team and I have to teach him how to tackle and Warren Ball is on kickoff…,” Meyer said, drawing laughs. “Any other questions about Warren Ball’s coverage?”
That happened a couple of times, prompting Meyer to note, “Poor Warren” with a chuckle.
Then there was offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who responded to a question about his newborn son Maverick by saying, “He's awesome. I’m glad he’s not blond hair, blue eyes, because I’d be a little worried because I haven’t been home very much.”
Once the laughter died down from that one – as well as the day as a whole – there is still the nagging fact that the Buckeyes will go into the stretch run with far less than a full roster.
Meyer rattled off the list of walking wounded for the squad, one that is far too long to fit in a tweet, to put it in perspective. Throughout the season, the Buckeyes have lost Christian Bryant, Jamie Wood, Devan Bogard, Adam Griffin, Blake Thomas, Jayme Thompson, James Clark, Michael Hill, Antonio Underwood and Donovan Munger to season-ending injuries, while Jordan Hall, Darron Lee, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington have all missed significant time throughout the season.
Against Illinois the team was without starting defenders Bryant, Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant, while freshman phenom Joey Bosa missed most of the second half. Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort also missed time with a knee hyperextenstion.
There is some good news, though, as Perry (head) and Bosa (neck) are both expected to be back for the Indiana game this Saturday in Ohio Stadium. Meanwhile, Grant (ankle and back) appears to be a 50-50 proposition to be ready to face the Hoosiers.
Even if those players come back, the Buckeyes are still short-handed in some areas, especially when it comes to special teams. Meyer said Ohio State took four walk-ons to Champaign that had never played before and also have five offensive players on the punt unit, something he’s never had before, thanks to redshirting decisions and the injuries to the team's backs, linebackers and secondary.
“We’re beat up a little bit,” Meyer said. “It’s showing up in our coverage units a little bit. Our focus this week is on getting some players back – I’m not sure how many of those guys we’re going to get back – and preparing some of those young guys to either play or play a little better.”
Before the press conference, the Big Ten announced that Ohio State had swept its weekly honors for offensive and defensive players. Carlos Hyde was named the league’s best offensive player for the week after rumbling for a career-high 246 yards, tied for third best in school history, while Ryan Shazier was named the top defensive player after his career-high 16-tackle effort.
Hyde shared Ohio State’s offensive player of the week nod with left guard Andrew Norwell, while Shazier was among the team’s defensive players of the week along with Noah Spence and C.J. Barnett. On special teams, Meyer pointed to reserve safety Ron Tanner, who made four tackles on kickoffs, as the team’s Blackshirt winner.
Now the task ahead turns to Indiana, a game in which Ohio State can set a new school record with its 23rd consecutive win. But perhaps more importantly, it will be the final game in Ohio Stadium for a roster of 18 seniors who helped turn the program back around under Meyer.
“This week is all about 18 seniors who have their last two years been on a nice run,” Meyer said.
For BSB’s full report from today’s press conference, click here.