Ohio State arrived at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Sunday morning but did so minus one key member of an already maligned unit.
Sophomore “Viper” Noah Spence, the team leader in sacks (eight for 67 yards), did not make the trip with the rest of his teammates because of an unspecified issue. After initially saying that everyone made the trip, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer backtracked when specifically asked about his star defensive lineman. Meyer didn’t rule out an eventual return in time for Spence to play.
“Noah didn’t fly down with us,” Meyer said. “He’s working through some personal issues at home. I hope (he will be here).”
While Spence’s status is still up in the air, the Silver Bullets will be on the receiving end of an addition that many Buckeye fans have been pining for. Freshman safety Vonn Bell, a former five-star recruit out of Tennessee, will start in nickel coverage on Friday.
“Vonn Bell is going to play,” Meyer said. “I think he’ll start in our nickel package. I think that’s it as of right now.”
That confirmed what Bell told a Chattanooga (Tenn.) television station over Christmas break. In a piece that explored his first year as a Buckeye, Bell said that he was excited for the chance at extending playing time.
“That's the part, you gotta keep showing them each week and I have been,” he told WRBC. “They're finally giving me the opportunity and I'm just blessed with it.”
Buckeyes Battling Hangover
In the wake of the 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, the impact of the defeat was evident. The few players who spoke in postgame struggled to hide their disappointment.
Rectifying that will pose a challenge for Meyer, as his players have gone from potentially playing for a national championship in Pasadena, Calif., to instead taking on No. 12 Clemson in Miami. Meyer has done his part to make sure that his players are aware of the threat provided by Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
“I think the fact that we’re playing Clemson in a BCS bowl game wakes up everybody up real fast,” Meyer said. “You worry as a coach that fundamentally that you’re not in shape and fundamentally behind a little bit. That’s what we worked on yesterday and I’m going to run them pretty good today and get Christmas out of them.”
For many players, the motivation to send out the seniors with a victory – instead of consecutive losses – also serves as a motivating factor.
"You've got to go out there and play strong and be aggressive out there,” Miller said. “Just follow the game plan, make a lot of plays, keep our defense off the field, score a lot of points. (We) need to leave the field with no doubts and let the seniors go out with a ‘W.’”
Defense Hopes To Improve
Coming off two of its most unsightly performances of the season, the OSU defense will be looking to rectify its issues while facing one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
“I feel like we’ll be up for the challenge, but they have a lot of speed and a lot of playmakers,” junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “They hurry the ball and try to get guys out of position and out of rhythm. So we just have to try to slow the game down and play at our pace.”
While Meyer acknowledged the dominant nature of both offenses, he expressed hope that his defense, with the addition of Bell, could find a way to slow down the Tigers.
“Our defense the last two games didn’t play the way we were expected to play, but during the year we played pretty good,” Meyer said. “Clemson’s defense, other than a couple of games, played not good but very good. I think you see two highly ranked offenses and some personnel that’s going to be moving on to the next level on both offenses too and that’s what fans expect. I’m not sure that’s what they will see.”