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Published: Friday, 8/31/2012

OSU's mentality different, but still the same

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS -- On the front wall of Ohio State's team meeting room, an oversized sign provides a reminder that everything and nothing has changed under Urban Meyer.

It is headlined "Plan to Win" -- the four bullet-pointed tenets the new Buckeyes coach holds dearest.

1. Play great defense.

2. No turnovers.

3. Score in the red zone.

4. Win the kicking game.

Sounds familiar, huh?

No one will mistake the new boss for the old one though.

Former coach Jim Tressel was a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist; Meyer is a pioneer of the spread. Tressel wore suits to press conferences and carried himself with a presidential air; Meyer showed up to his first briefing of the season Monday in a windbreaker. Tressel said a lot without saying anything; Meyer says a little while saying everything.

"I can come in and say, 'Boy, the guys are training hard and we'll try to win one at a time' and I'll leave the room," Meyer said this week when asked about his bluntness. "I'm not sure that does anybody good."

Yet peel back the Buckeyes' sleek new exterior, and it becomes clear the football canons Meyer emphasizes above all others are, well, pretty much the same as the old ones.

If Tressel loathed turnovers and called the punt the most important play in football, Meyer won't put up much argument.

Meyer preaches the same beliefs with an unusual fervor, beginning with the special teams, which he coaches himself.

Kicker Drew Basil compared the Buckeyes' instruction last season to a college class where students just have to show up to get an 'A.' This year, Meyer keeps watch from the backfield during special teams drills, scrutinizing both the kicker or punter and the defense.

The attention to detail is in the pudding. In Meyer's six seasons at Florida, his teams finished among the top 10 nationally in net punting five times, twice led the Southeastern Conference in kick returns, and blocked 32 kicks.

Linebacker Etienne Sabino called the Buckeyes' punt-block unit, which will be unveiled Saturday against Miami (Ohio), the "freak show."

"Our best players are on it," Meyer said. "So there's an emphasis."

Basil, though admittedly biased, said Ohio State's special teams will be unmatched this fall.

"If we're not the best in the nation with how much we go over everything, it's going to be a failure," Basil said. "We have to be the best."

Meyer also underscores the importance of protecting the ball, as in there will be turnover at your position if you turn over the ball.

Running back Jordan Hall said he realized how serious Meyer was when photographs of offending players began popping up on the wall in the meeting room.

"During camp if you got with your wrist below your elbow or if the ball was out away [from your body] a little bit, you'd get a picture and your picture would be all over the wall," he said with a smile.

Meyer said he does not play favorites, either.

"Ball security is critical, every coach in the country stands up and tells you that," Meyer said. "But you'll see it, if [tailback] Carlos Hyde is having a hell of a day, if the ball comes away from his body one time, he's out."

The same goes for quarterback Braxton Miller, who will be charged to electrify but without error. One misconception of Meyer's spread is the more open and high-speed offense will inevitably lead to more turnovers. Meyer hopes the opposite is true.

"We're very anti-turnover too," Meyer said. "If you go back and look at our quarterbacks, we don't throw picks. If you do, you're out."

At Florida, for example, Tim Tebow threw only 15 interceptions in 926 attempts over his final three seasons -- or one pick for every 64 passes. Consider that Meyer's teams at UF intercepted the opposition more times -- 116 -- than they turned the ball over altogether. The Gators' 108 turnovers under Meyer were fourth-fewest in the nation.

"The quarterback position is not the position to take chances. Some people, I'll hear 'em say 'boy he's a gunslinger.' We don't have gunslingers or risky players at quarterback. I never have. We won't do that."

In fact, as if speaking from a script written by Woody Hayes, he called Miller an extension of the defense.

"The quarterback has to play really, really good defense," Meyer said. "That means we're a little bit unique on third down and 14. We're not one of those teams that are going to throw it all the time 15 yards.

"We have a plan to win. If it says just throw the ball and have fun and just whatever, then you would throw the ball down the field. We won't do that."

Everything has changed in this new era, and yet maybe nothing has.

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.



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