COLUMBUS — The commander in chief of Ohio State football gathered his team Sunday night for a briefing on the latest development in their cocooned free world.
Coach Urban Meyer’s message: enjoy the perch.
While the Buckeyes may need help to reach the national title game, they are squarely in the chase. OSU (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) was ranked fourth in the first Bowl Championship Series standings.
"We had our first State of the Union address, and it's the first time that I talk about polls," Meyer said Monday. "They're going to hear it, and this BCS thing came out. So my comment was that we are, indeed, in the mix. Embrace it. In the mix for what? Don't worry about it. We are in the mix, though. People think very highly of you."
As for the state of the team heading into Saturday night’s primetime visit by Penn State (4-2, 1-1), Meyer had mixed thoughts.
Meyer feels good about the offense.
In the Buckeyes’ 34-24 comeback win over Iowa, quarterback Braxton Miller appeared back to old form, running back Carlos Hyde was again the reliable workhorse (149 rushing yards), and, in Meyer’s estimation, an offensive line led by senior left tackle Jack Mewhort played "exceptional."
"Offensively, that was one of our better games since we’ve been here," he said. "The second half is probably our best football we've played in a while."
Yet the puzzle remains far from whole, especially on defense. A unit you could set your clock by in the 2000s is again delivering surprisingly average results, allowing 26 points per game in Big Ten play.
Saturday, though cornerback Bradley Roby was tossed in the first quarter and OSU stopped Iowa on three of four possessions in the second half, the Buckeyes allowed 375 total yards — including 130 on the ground.
"Call it what it was: They beat the [expletive] out of us," defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said of OSU’s play up front.
Senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett agreed, though in friendlier language.
"There’s no way around it," he said. "After watching the film, they beat the crap out of us. I think we came out in the second half with a chip on our shoulder like we need. The D-line did not win that game. Iowa’s O-line beat the D-line."
And that’s how the Buckeyes are talking about the usual strength of their defense. Imagine how the secondary feels.
Asked if he was more frustrated by the execution or the defensive coaching, Meyer said, "I think a little bit of both."
"We're all in this together," said Meyer, who spends most of the week focused on the offense. "I think the adjustments need to be made quicker when they give us something we have not seen. The first three drives [Saturday] were alarming. I don't think our defensive line played very well. I think what happened was you have some good emotion in that stadium and you allow a 13-play drive that lets the air out of the stadium. That's where [injured safety] Christian Bryant, our great leadership, overcomes a little adversity, and we didn't have that.
"That's got to come from our coaches and players. I’m very disappointed. Can it be fixed? Absolutely.
"We're still a good rush defense. We've got to continue to work because we've dealt with some injuries and depth issues, and we've got to play better. I’m very, very concerned."
INJURY REPORT: In his first action of the season after surgery to repair a broken foot, defensive end Tommy Schutt played 10 or 12 plays against Iowa.
"He actually did pretty good," Meyer said. "I think you'll see more of him in the game."
Meyer also disclosed that defensive tackle Michael Hill suffered a shoulder injury that could result in a redshirt for him.
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett left the field briefly with an undisclosed injury but returned and played.
EXTRA POINTS: Meyer said Roby’s ejection Saturday for launching into Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was not in the spirit of the new targeting rule. "That was not the intent of it," he said. "I can say without, I'm sure, getting in trouble, that rule was not put in for that play. I think that the NCAA and everybody is going to want to re-look at that rule. Any rule for the safety of players, no question we support it. However, that was a game-changer." ... Ohio State’s game at Purdue on Nov. 2 will kick off at noon and be televised by the Big Ten Network.