COLUMBUS – Ohio State’s football goals are about mountain tops, not plateaus. So when Urban Meyer thought he saw his team’s performance – and in some cases its efforts – flattening out, he took action.
After losing at Penn State on Oct. 22, Meyer told the Buckeyes he thought some of them might need to examine whether they were giving maximum effort and attention to their responsibilities.
“I’ve done this a long time, I’ve coached young teams. We were climbing very well early in the season and we plateaued. You’ve got to somehow jump start it and get the climb started again in development of the players and development of the team,” Meyer said. “We had obviously plateaued.
“We do team meetings and power of the unit meetings and have those conversations. And if you’ve done everything you possibly can do to help your team win, carry on, move forward. If not, get it fixed.
“When your team struggles, it’s because there’s a unit, a player, a coach not upholding his responsibilities,” he said.
Ohio State defeated Northwestern 24-20 in its first game after Meyer’s exhortation, then exploded for a 62-3 win over Nebraska in a battle of Top Ten teams last Saturday night in Ohio Stadium. A trip to Maryland (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) is the next game for the Buckeyes (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten).
Center Pat Elflein said OSU’s coaches and captains talked to the team about paying attention to detail after the Penn State loss.
“We talked about getting back on track in our practice habits and our preparation habits. I felt we were on track but there were just little things we weren’t hitting,” Elflein said.
“I feel like the way we responded after the Penn State loss and a close game against Northwestern with a big win against Nebraska really tells what kind of team we are and what kind of coaches we have.
“Coach Meyer was saying, ‘Are you doing everything you possibly can to help this team win a game?’ He was speaking to the whole team. I think that kind of hit home with a lot of guys. There are a lot of young guys who are new to the program and new to adversity or just to being a starter at Ohio State.
“It looks like it did hit home with some guys,” he said.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett said, “Our young guys really took a look at themselves, they really had to self-evaluate things and ask, ‘Did I do all I could do? Why or why not? Why did I do that? ’ Unless you’re doing the most you can to be successful, you’re hurting us. I think, as a team, we definitely took hold of that and got better.”
—KICKOFF TIME: OSU’s game at Michigan State on Nov. 19 will kick off at noon. Television plans for the game have not been announced yet.
—WEBER OK: Running back Mike Weber left last Saturday’s game against Nebraska in the second half after falling hard on his shoulder.
After the game, Meyer said it was a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. He confirmed that at his press conference but said he expects Weber to play against Maryland.
“He should be fine for the game, just no contact this week during practice,” Meyer said.
—PUNT RETURNS: Dontre Wilson’s fumble while fielding a punt and several other scary moments from him while catching kicks has re-opened the competition for punt return duties.
Meyer said Curtis Samuel would get the first chance at the job. K.J. Hill and Demario McCall are also fielding punts in practice this week.
Asked if Wilson has been removed from the competition, Meyer said, “No, we’ll keep evaluating.”
—DOUBLE DUTY?: Safety Malik Hooker’s two brilliant interception returns for touchdowns, including one against Nebraska, have led to questions about whether Meyer might like to play him on offense, too, the way Michigan uses Jabrill Peppers.
“Every time I watch him I think I’m going to flip him over offense and pitch it to him a couple of times,” Meyer said.
But after thinking about it, Meyer decided against it. He referenced Browns cornerback Joe Haden as another player he considered playing on offense or defense while he was at Florida.
And while he was an assistant at Notre Dame, defensive back Allen Rossum worked out with the offense and had one carry for four yards in a game.
“I was so tempted,” Meyer said about putting Haden in on offense. “But then you look around and there are other good ones there (on offense), so you’re disrupting things. We do have good, skilled players who are developing on offense.”
—REDSHIRT FOR BOOKER: Linebacker Dante Booker was expected to have a breakout year in his first season as a starter, but he has not played since a knee injury in the opener against Bowling Green.
Is it possible the junior from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary could take a mid-career redshirt this season?
“It’s something we’ve discussed,” OSU defensive co-coordinator Luke Fickell said on Monday.
Booker is now at “full go” for the first time since the injury, Fickell said. “Now we have to make a wise decision based on what’s best for the team. Dante is fully committed to the team and whatever this team needs, he is willing to do,” he said.
Booker’s replacement, sophomore Jerome Baker, has been one of the best players on OSU’s defense, which also could play into the redshirt decision.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.