COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s players began the season lugging around a chip the size of the Times Square Ball, roiled by a hot-blooded new coach and the stain of a miserable 2011.
Now that the Buckeyes are 12-0, what will they get angry about next year?
“My concern here is complacency,” first-year coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “We have to make sure that doesn’t take place. We need an angry team next year. If we have to manufacture that we will. If they’re not angry, this team is as average as dirt. Just like any team.
“You don’t have a chip on your shoulder, you lose like that. You see it across the country, teams that are highly ranked with a bunch of NFL prospects and they lose three, four, five, six games, and I know exactly why. It’s because you have a team that doesn’t have an edge.”
For Meyer, Ohio State’s perfect season is now last season, a message underscored by Monday’s 6 a.m. running and lifting session for all players who did not participate in the Michigan game.
Meyer put his players and coaches on watch, shifting from the sentimental aftermath of Saturday’s victory over UM to the reality there are holes to fill and room to improve.
He is entering uncharted waters in his second year at Ohio State. At Bowling Green State University, Utah, and Florida, bitter losses in his debut season helped kindle the Year 2 phenomenon with which he is associated — including a national title in his second year at Florida.
“The ’06 [Florida] team I had a very angry team,” Meyer said. “I had a team with a chip on their shoulder. They went to work every day upset about everything. They came to Florida to do the same thing they come here to do, and that’s win championships."
Now at Ohio State, the luster is back, though Meyer hopes his players desire more. He’s met with his assistants on ways to motivate the team, including frequent mention of what “was taken from them” with this year’s bowl ban.
There will also be significant competition for playing time, with OSU losing at least six starters on defense — including the team’s emotional center, defensive end John Simon — and right tackle Reid Fragel and receiver Jake Stoneburner on offense. Meyer said his biggest concern is at linebacker, where sophomore star Ryan Shazier is the only returning starter, but he stressed all players and assistants will be placed under scrutiny.
Even the quarterback who figures to begin 2013 among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Sophomore Braxton Miller at times dazzled, officially setting a single-season school record with 3,310 total yards of offense. (Terrelle Pryor’s record from 2010 was vacated.) But his footwork and comfort in the pocket left room for improvement.
“Our quarterback wasn’t the best fundamental quarterback in America, so [offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach] Tom Herman and I are going to have a chat,” Meyer said. “That’s his job to explain to me why it didn’t happen. This is big boy football. He did great work in other areas, Tom Herman did a fabulous job.
“But Tom Herman and Braxton Miller understand they have to get better. If Braxton becomes the best fundamental quarterback in America, he will be the best quarterback in America. It will be comical what he'll do. But he’s not there yet, so it’s my job as the head guy to find out why this hasn’t happened. Have we not worked on that enough? Is there resistance, is there pushback, is there knowledge problems?”
The answers will flood in this winter when Meyer examines every aspect of the entire program. Sometimes perfect is not good enough.
EARLY EXITS? Meyer said he has not had discussions with any players looking to leave early for the NFL draft, though he acknowledged those will likely come. Two names to watch are junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a projected top-20 pick, and third-year sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby.
WELCOME BACK: Meyer plans to retain all nine assistant coaches, but acknowledged some of them could be targeted by other schools. He just hopes no one leaves for anything less than a head coaching job.
“I like to think at a place like Ohio State, you will only leave here to become a head football coach,” Meyer said. “If a guy’s leaving here to become an assistant somewhere, I kind of look at him and say, ‘What the [heck] are you doing.’ But I get it. In this day and age of titles, people will walk across hot coals for a title.”
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