Friday, December 16, 2011
Buckeyes eye bowl with Meyer watching
By Brian Bennett
Big changes are coming to Ohio State football. But for now, the players are trying to focus on just one thing: playing another game.
The Buckeyes are in the midst of bowl practices for the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl matchup against Florida. They're working under the coaching staff that led them this season, while knowing that Urban Meyer will be taking over after the bowl game. Meyer has been concentrating on recruiting, so the players haven't really felt his presence.
"He was out there [at practice Thursday] just kind of looking around," safety C.J. Barnett told ESPN.com. "But other than that, he hasn't been around much."
The players' only real interaction with Meyer to this point was the team meeting in which he spoke on the day he was hired, Nov. 28. They know much change is coming, but they've still got a bowl to play. And at least knowing what's in store might be better than the uncertainty that surrounded much of the regular season. Defensive tackle John Simon told reporters Thursday that the team was having its best practices of the year in the past week.
"With everything this past year that was going around, the suspension and things, it's good just getting back to playing football," Barnett said. "You're not worried about everything going on outside around you."
One of the main goals in bowl practice is restoring order to the defense. The Buckeyes uncharacteristically had trouble getting stops late in the season, which contributed heavily to their three-game losing streak to end the year. Whether it was Penn State stunning Ohio State with the Wildcat formation in the first half or Michigan racking up 444 yards and 40 points in the finale, November did not bring a vintage Silver Bullets performance.
"We had a few injuries, and anytime you have injuries that's going to cause some problems," Barnett said. "And maybe that was wearing our legs late in the season. But we need to be tougher than that and fight through it."
Facing a Gators offense that finished 102nd nationally in yards per game could help out. Of course, it's an SEC vs. Big Ten showdown, so the old questions about whether the Buckeyes have enough speed to compete are sure to surface.
"I don't really buy into that 'SEC super speed,' thing," Barnett said. "They are fast, don't get me wrong. On film, they look really fast. But it's football, and we're all football players. We've just got to go out there and play."
Both teams finished 6-6 and probably are playing a rung or two up in the bowl ladder based on their actual body of work. But the Meyer connection and the name brand of both schools made it an irresistible matchup for Gator Bowl organizers.
"These two teams were playing for the national championship a few years back," Barnett said. "Neither team is where it wants to be. But we're here and we're going to make the best of our situation."
And for the Buckeyes, that means concentrating on the now while knowing big change is coming in the future.