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Buckeyes unbeaten again but are they better? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 9:19 PM

By RUSTY MILLER

Associated Press

 

COLUMBUS — Two teams, each 9-0. They play in the same league. They’re both highly ranked.

Which is better?

If you’re comparing the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes and the current version, coach Urban Meyer has the answer.

“We’re a better team,” he answered, referring to his current Buckeyes. “We’re a better functioning team.”

Meyer is careful to not insult last year’s team, which definitely started from the lowest rung on the ladder. Those Buckeyes followed a dreadful 6-7 season by going a surprising 12-0.

They posted only the sixth unblemished season in the programs 123 years despite being deprived of the incentive of playing in a bowl game. That was taken off the table because of NCAA sanctions stemming from former coach Jim Tressel’s failure to disclose he knew of players likely taking improper benefits in 2010.

“I don’t want to ever disrespect our (2012) seniors because they were such an incredible group of players,” Meyer said. “And they were really good players, too.”

He said the difference is when Ohio State has the ball.

“(Which team is better is) an interesting conversation but we’re just more functional, certainly on offense,” Meyer said. “We’re much better on offense than we were a year ago.”

The numbers support his position.

Through nine games — and heading into a game with Illinois, just like the 2012 team was — this year’s Buckeyes are averaging 100 yards of total offense and 13 more points per game.

This year’s third-ranked team averages 531 yards of total offense per game, 301 rushing and 230 passing. It’s scoring 48.2 points a contest.

Playing a similar schedule, the 2012 Buckeyes, ranked No. 6 through nine games, were averaging 432 yards of total offense per game, 248 rushing and 184 passing. That squad was averaging 38.6 points a game.

“Last year there were some games that teams played us real heavy in the box because we couldn’t do as much with our passing game,” said starting offensive lineman on both teams, Jack Mewhort. “But this year it’s a lot different. There’s not eight or nine guys in the box because this offseason Braxton and the receivers and the running backs and all the skill guys got together and decided they were going to be really good this year. They’ve done that so far.”

As a sophomore, quarterback Braxton Miller was also the team’s best rusher. So picking up first downs — not scoring quickly — was a priority.

Through nine games, he was completing 56.6 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns with six interceptions.

This year, despite missing almost three full games with a sprained knee ligament, he is completing 72.5 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns with three interceptions.

“I feel that we execute a lot better than we did last year,” wide receiver Evan Spencer said. “Once we get rolling, we’re rolling. There’s not many people who can stop us.”

Consider also that Carlos Hyde has shown vast improvement at running back this year. In 2012 at this juncture he had 600 yards in seven games; so far this season he has 701 in six games.

Meyer also said the Buckeyes are better on special teams. But stopped short of saying his latest defense was ahead of last year’s.

Most people attribute that edge not to personnel or depth or star players but rather to strong leaders on the defensive unit.

“Last year’s team we had the heart and the leadership. I don’t know if we necessarily were as talented but we had the will to win,” said linebacker Joshua Perry, a backup a year ago and a starter now. “This team has the same will to win but we’ve got a little bit more juice behind us, too, talent-wise. Our defense is a little quicker and on offense we’ve got some tools now.”

The 2012 defense, led by linemen John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams — all of whom graduated except for Hankins, who jumped to the NFL early — came into its own late in the season.

The statistics don’t point to a stronger defense a year ago. The present defense still has a ways to go, particularly without nine starters from last year’s unit.

“On defense I’m not sure we’re quite as good. Remember this time last year is when we hit the accelerator and we played excellent defense,” Meyer added. “We are getting a little better on defense. We’re much better on offense than we were a year ago, but defensively I’m not sure.”

Meyer talks to team a lot about dealing with media: In addition to coaching players on how to play the game, Meyer and his staff also coach them on what to say to reporters.

This is of particular importance this week after Spencer chuckled as he said Ohio State would “wipe the field” with Alabama and whoever is No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

In the wake of his comments — seen as simple confidence by some, as outright arrogance by others, as naivete or stupidity by still others — the head coach said he would not permit Spencer to talk to reporters for “a long, long time,” adding he is constantly discussing with his players how to deal with media.

“After every game I talk to them because I know that’s when they can approach the media,” Meyer said on the Big Ten coaches call this week. “Every couple of weeks I’ll remind them. But there’s a pretty clear rule around here that you always talk about your teammates and you talk about the team and you are always respectful to the team you’re getting ready to play or the one you just played.”

Meyer added that was just “the right thing to do.”

FRAGEL ROCK: Once a backup TE, Reid Fragel was shifted to RT and became a starter for last year’s unbeaten Buckeyes.

After the season, Meyer only half-seriously said he should have an annual award named after Fragel, given to the player who came out of nowhere to have a profound impact on the team.

Meyer was asked this week who might be the winner this season.

“I would probably say Taylor Decker, our right tackle on offense,” he replied. “He started off real slow and he’s really played well for us.”

MR. STYLE: One of the abiding questions of this college football season is whether the top teams gain in the rankings from running up lopsided scores against weaker teams.

In the current parlance, it’s whether contenders must pile up “style points.”

Ohio State starting S Pitt Brown was asked if the Buckeyes, who are playing a team that hasn’t won in its last 19 Big Ten games, needed to put a big-time whipping on Illinois on Saturday.

“I feel like we need to just go out there and handle business like we know we can,” he replied.

Since the subject was style points, a reporter asked Brown what player on the Ohio State football team dresses with the most style.

“(QB) Braxton Miller dresses up a lot. And (LB) Josh Perry, he dresses up a lot, so I’d give them style points,” he replied laughing.

And what teammate has the best collection of sneakers?

“Probably (DL) Noah Spence,” Brown said, cracking up. “I think he’s one of the top people there.”

It was pointed out that he didn’t mention any offensive linemen, who lean more toward the Duck Dynasty sense of fashion: lots of camouflage, baggy pants, ultra-long hair, and generally promote an unkempt, devil-may-care sense of fashion.

Brown agreed, then pointed out that WRs coach Zach Smith is the trendiest dresser on the staff.

HONORS, HONORS, HONORS: Miller, who ranks fourth nationally in completion percentage and sixth in passing efficiency, has been named a Walter Camp Award “player to watch,” essentially a semifinalist for the annual award giving to the nation’s top offensive player. Last week, Miller was selected as a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation’s top QB.

He wasn’t alone in being single out for mention.

LB Ryan Shazier was among the nine semifinalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, given to nation’s top defensive player. Fellow Big Ten LBs Chris Borland of Wisconsin and James Morris of Iowa were also named. Last year’s winner was Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o.

Also, freshman Cameron Johnston is listed as a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, given to the best collegiate punter. Johnston has just 26 punts this season but ranks second in the country in percentage of punts downed inside the 20 (.615), behind Texas State’s Will Johnson (.667).

Johnston is a native of Australia.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Maybe the best college game of the week isn’t even in the biggest division. But it might be in Ohio.

No. 1-ranked defending NCAA Division III playoff champion Mount Union (9-0) hosts ninth-ranked John Carroll (9-0) in a showdown that will decide the Ohio Conference champion.

The winner of the 1:30 p.m. game not only claims the OAC crown but also an automatic bid into the 32-team Division III playoff.

Last Updated on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 9:20 PM
 

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