Ohio State defensive back Orhian Johnson, left, and linebacker Ryan Shazier (10) close in on Michigan State tight end Dion Sims (80) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
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COLUMBUS — When Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State last winter, the new coach found a loosely aligned flock of players beaten down by a yearlong storm.
Something was amiss.
“I could tell that it wasn't a close team,” Meyer said.
Sculpting them into a group in lockstep was no sure thing, especially without the bait of a bowl trip. “Every team doesn't come together,” Meyer said. In fact, he guessed only six or seven squads had met that threshold in his 26 years as a college coach.
“I've probably given you too much information,” he said, smiling.
Yet after the Buckeyes’ 17-16 win over Michigan State on Saturday, Meyer was prepared to amend that count. He believes he may have his next great team … eventually.
“I'm not saying we're a great team,” Meyer said. “But we at least have a chance to do some good things together because I felt like they came together.”
No. 12 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) will enter its Saturday night home showdown against No. 21 Nebraska — its last game against a currently ranked opponent — with a newly earned surf of confidence.
For Meyer, the Buckeyes’ bruising performance in East Lansing was more than a key conference win. It was a signpost moment of a new era — a game that told him he had more than sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and a scattered collection of talent.
After four less-than-inspired nonconference wins, Meyer learned he has a group that can simply take a sledgehammer to their opponents’ teeth. He watched his defense hold heralded running back Le’Veon Bell and MSU to 34 rushing yards and an offensive line assert its will.
A unit breaking in three new starters cleared the way for 202 rushing yards and killed the final four-plus minutes of the clock against the league’s top-ranked defense, leading Meyer to collectively name the line the team’s offensive player of the week.
“We’ve been kicked a lot and a lot of things have been said about us,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “We needed to pull ourselves out and grind it out. … We’re only going to keep getting better.”
Perhaps no group better illustrates what the coaches mean by coming together. The Buckeyes lost three starters from a a line that was often maligned and were so thin on depth this season that tight end Reid Fragel was moved to right tackle. Meyer wondered if the Buckeyes would field a competent front and admittedly challenged them in no uncertain terms because, as he said, “I like to go after offensive linemen.”
Today, Meyer said, "that's the group right now that I'm most pleased with."
“I know they were pretty pleased that they could step up and make a big contribution and start to push back a little bit,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. “We’re not going to get pushed around."
“You can't tell that until you get into tough situations,” Meyer said. “A lot of this stuff is easy. It's when you go to places like [MSU], you go on the road. You're playing a team that you're better than, it doesn't show up. It's when you play a team that's as good as you are that it starts to show up. If that team wasn't together, that team loses that game. No doubt.”
EXTRA POINTS: Sophomore receiver Tyrone Williams has been dismissed from the team. Citing a violation of team rules, Meyer said the 6-foot-6 Cleveland native will not have an opportunity to rejoin the program. “He’s done,” he said. Williams caught five passes for 74 yards last season. … Starting tailback Jordan Hall is doubtful for Saturday with a partial PCL tear in his right knee, Meyer said.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.