August 26, 2013

Meyer: 'I just can't wait to play football'

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With five days to go until the start of his second season as Ohio State's head coach, Urban Meyer took the podium inside the team meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to provide an update on the Buckeyes heading into their season opener against Buffalo. Speaking for just over 16 minutes, the second-year OSU headman touched on a number of topics, ranging from the development of his freshmen to the unique challenge that the Bulls present.

Second season

Two years ago, Meyer was present for the Buckeyes' opener, albeit as a commentator for ESPN. Last season, he was getting ready for his first game as Ohio State's head coach. This year? Meyer is a bit more prepared for what to expect from an OSU opener, although the excitement within the Ashtabula, Ohio native remains high.

"Game week, Ohio State style this week, relatively healthy going into it," Meyer said. "I just can't wait to play football."

Asked what he looks for in a team's opener, Meyer called back to last season, where his team fell behind 7-0 to Miami (Ohio) in the game's first quarter. Meyer said that he'd like to see a better start from his squad this season, to prove to him that the offseason of work that it's put in has paid off.

"I want us to play well. I want us to play clean," he said. "Just blocking, tackling and great football position and all the great things that we work so hard at. I mean, work we start in January on that. That's a big part of the chase."

Freshmen focus

While the Buckeyes possess a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Braxton Miller, most of the hype around Columbus lately has centered around a second-ranked recruiting class with high expectations. Meyer, himself, is excited to see what the Ohio State freshmen will be able to provide on Saturday in their first action at the college level.

"I don't, but I think coaches have a tendency to devalue what happens when you jog out that tunnel, especially a place like Ohio stadium," the 12-year head coaching veteran said. "There will be a lot of deep breaths being taken and you just can't create that animal until you get that opportunity."

Asked which freshmen who knows will play on Saturday, Meyer mentioned a pair of running backs and defensive linemen, as well as starting punter Cameron Johnston.

"For sure Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott will play," Meyer said. "On defense, I would imagine Joey Bosa for sure will play; Michael Hill we are hoping to get in there and the freshman punter. I think those are the ones for sure and then the other ones, depend how they practice and get going."

Battling Buffalo

In Buffalo, the Buckeyes will be taking on a Mid-American Conference opponent that went 4-8 in 2012, but won three of its last four games. Despite their less than impressive record a year ago, Meyer is not overlooking the Bulls, who return nine starters on offense and seven on defense this season.

"They play extremely hard and they have got good players," he said. "That staff has been together, also. It's not an unprepared team so I think that it's a good team."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulls are led by linebacker Khalil Mack, who is projected to be one of the top NFL prospects at his position this season. Meyer remains not only worried about Mack, but Buffalo's unique defensive scheme, which he deemed a "pain in the butt."

"They play a very unorthodox defense. It's called 5-4 I, which mean it's all -- there's 3-4 and 4-3 -- this is an inversion of the 3-4. And they play their defensive tackles inside our tackle which is just screws up all our blocking scheme and a really unique coverage called 2-invert, which we have not seen in a couple years," Meyer said. "Good thing is we have been working on this for a while."

Developing depth

As opposed to a season ago, when the OSU coaching staff was hardly comfortable with its starting lineup, the Buckeyes feel that they won't only have more talent on the field this year, but on the sideline as well. Meyer has been particularly impressed with the development of depth on his offensive line, a unit which he again expects to be a strength of his team.

"I love that group," he said of the offensive line. "Pat Efflein is a great story, what a worker, what a tremendous kid, tremendous family. Just tough ... Kyle Dodson has come on. A guy named Darryl Baldwin has come on. Those are all players that a year ago, to think you would ever let them on the field in a situation where it counts -- that's not going to happen."

Despite suspensions keeping Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith out of Saturday's contest, Meyer remains pleased with what he'll have available at the running back position this weekend, where Jordan Hall will get the start and be backed up by a quartet of unproven players.

Jordan Hall is the best running back on our team right now," Meyer said. Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball are the next two in, and we want to get Ezekiel in to see how he responds in that kind of environment. I'm not sure how early but he certainly will be carrying a ball on Saturday and he's earned that right as well.

"Same with Dontre Wilson; we'll line up with some tailback positions. It's really neat to have that many spots, have those choices."

Handling hype

After a 12-0 campaign in 2012, the Buckeyes enter this season with not only a No. 2 ranking, but national title expectations. How his team will handle that is constantly on the mind of Meyer, who is no stranger to the spotlight.

"I'm always worried about that," Meyer said. "I would be disappointed in our staff if that happened, because that's what practice is for ... I don't think we have that problem."

As for why he doesn't feel that his team will have trouble handling the hype, Meyer put it bluntly:

"We are not that good yet," he said. "I'll tell you if I believe we are, and we're not. We have a long way to go, especially on certain areas. So I don't feel that at all."


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