Big Ten: Christian Bryant

Best B1G games of 2013: No. 10

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
We're starting a new series today looking back on the best games involving Big Ten teams from the 2013 season.

It was tough to narrow this list down to just 10, as league teams played several close and intriguing games this year. Heck, Penn State alone seemed to go into overtime every other week. But we're looking for more than just a tight final score in our best-of list. We're taking into account the stakes of the game, the excitement level, the quality of the performances and the atmosphere.

With all that in mind, let's kick things off …

No. 10: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24, Sept. 28

[+] EnlargeMiller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller threw four TDs and the Buckeyes held off a late Wisconsin rally to win the huge Leaders Division clash.
The Leaders Division title was basically already decided before October arrived. I was there, and the atmosphere in the Horseshoe was electric that night. LeBron James watched from the sideline, validating this as a truly big event.

How it went down: The No. 4 Buckeyes, as was their custom most of the season, jumped out to an early lead. Braxton Miller returned from a knee injury and threw a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes as Ohio State went ahead 17-7. The backbreaker came just before halftime, as Miller found Philly Brown for a 40-yard touchdown pass with just one second remaining for a 24-14 halftime edge. Ohio State had run the same play on the previous snap, but Wisconsin's Sojourn Shelton dropped a potential interception.

Miller threw his fourth touchdown pass, again to Brown, late in the third quarter for a seemingly insurmountable 17-point advantage. But Ohio State got conservative on offense and Wisconsin roared back with 10 points in the fourth quarter. The Badgers had the ball on their own 10 with 1:29 left but couldn't manage a first down. Buckeyes safety and defensive leader Christian Bryant suffered a season-ending broken ankle on the final series, an injury that would haunt Ohio State.

Player of the game: Miller was terrific, but the best player on the field might have been Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis. Matched up with All-American cornerback Bradley Roby, Abbrederis was nearly unstoppable in hauling in 10 catches for 207 yards and a score.

Stat of the game: Ohio State held Wisconsin's star running back duo of Melvin Gordon and James White to just 105 yards combined. It was their lowest output of the season.

They said it: "It's basically a play that shouldn't happen," Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward said about the touchdown before halftime. "There was no miscommunication. It was just a bad play."

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
The Big Ten certainly seems to be smelling a little better already in 2014.
  • The Rose Bowl champions have raised the bar for themselves, and the Michigan State Spartans are now looking at an even bigger prize moving forward.
  • The Big Ten has seen plenty of criticism. The Pac-12 has been praised repeatedly. The champ of one league beat the champ of the other in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, and that's good news for the Big Ten.
  • Offensive woes doomed Iowa as it struggled to get the critical yardage it needed to sustain drives against LSU in the Outback Bowl.
  • Bo Pelini had reason to smile after Nebraska battled the elements and overcame its recent struggles against the SEC to cap an interesting season.
  • The hits keep coming for Ohio State this week, which has dealt with everything from injury to suspension to a rainy practice as it prepares for the Discover Orange Bowl.
  • The Buckeyes also received word that Christian Bryant's appeal for a medical redshirt was denied, likely ending the career of the senior safety.
  • Wisconsin is going to need more playmakers to take the next step, writes Tom Oates after the Capital One Bowl loss for the Badgers.
  • Bill O'Brien became the first head coach to leave Penn State for another job since 1915, and a few trustees are recognizing how fortunate they were to have stability for so long.
  • Now that the Nittany Lions are in the market for a coach again, these six candidates have emerged as potential targets.
  • The early signing of financial-aid agreements and potential mid-year enrollments for six recruits is helping Indiana get the ball rolling into next season.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Both head coaches met with the media on Thursday morning in the final press conferences before Friday's Discover Orange Bowl. Here are some highlights from the session with Ohio State's Urban Meyer:

• Safety Christian Bryant's request for a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility has been denied by the NCAA. The senior broke his ankle late in the win over Wisconsin in September. NCAA rules state that a player can compete in no more than 30 percent of a team's games -- bowl games not included -- to be eligible for a medical redshirt. Bryant's injury occurred in Ohio State's fifth game. Meyer said there may be room to appeal the ruling but added "appeals haven’t been real good to the Buckeyes here lately." Ohio State just lost an appeal to the Big Ten over Noah Spence's three-game suspension.

• Speaking of Spence, sophomore Jamal Marcus is poised to take Spence's defensive end spot in Friday's game. Meyer said Marcus has practiced well this week, and the coach is expecting big things out of a guy who played sparingly in the regular season.

"Jamal Marcus is going to be a disruptive guy," Meyer said. "He's one of the more talented guys on our team. I'm anxious to watch him play. We had a staff meeting this morning at 7 a.m. and [defensive line coach] Mike Vrabel made that comment to me. He's a quick-twitch guy. This is his kind of game."

• Linebacker Ryan Shazier is from Fort Lauderdale and will have many friends and family in the Sun Life Stadium stands. Meyer said Shazier, who took over Bryant's No. 2 jersey number after he went down, has also assumed a lot of Bryant's leadership responsibilities.

"He has done a really magical job at that," Meyer said. "He was not a leader a year ago. He was a very good player -- by the end of the year a great player. He's been a very good player this year, but he's done a nice job leading, leading by example, practicing hard and even being more vocal."

• Not surprisingly, Ohio State is using this trip to Florida as a way to recruit. Meyer and his staff plan to visit powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School on Thursday night. That's the same school that produced current Buckeyes standout Joey Bosa.

"I can list at least two dozen high schools right in this area that are loaded with talent," Meyer said. "We have not good relationships but great relationships with these high school coaches. A lot of them came to visit us at a bowl practice.

"We attack it. It's a primary area for us. Because we have so much experience down here, it's nothing new. We know most of these coaches. And the good thing is, people know Ohio State."

• Shazier and quarterback Braxton Miller have big decisions to make about whether to enter the NFL draft. Meyer admitted that NFL decisions have created distractions for teams "hundreds of times." But he said he knows this group of players well enough to spot potential distractions and "I haven't felt that at all. I've had a couple conversations, many about, 'Hey, we'll discuss this afterwards. Let's go win this game.'" Meyer also said he had no idea what to expect from Miller's postgame decision process even though he has a great relationship with the quarterback.

• When asked what young players have stood out during bowl practices -- something Ohio State didn't have the luxury of using last year -- Meyer named the following guys: Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Joshua Perry, Chris Worley, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, Michael Thomas and Billy Price.

• Meyer's most famous former player, Tim Tebow, agreed this week to serve as an analyst on ESPN's new SEC Network this fall. Meyer said he and Tebow still talk frequently, and he hopes the former Heisman Trophy winner hasn't finished playing football yet. Meyer said he's never had a serious conversation about Tebow joining him in some capacity at Ohio State.

"I don't want to disrupt his dream," he said. "His dream is to go play quarterback in the National Football League, and I don't think we're there yet in his mindset that he's done."

Improving defense at top of Meyer's list

December, 23, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Presented with a one-question, multiple-choice quiz, Urban Meyer barely even needed to hear all the options to come up with his answer.

What does the Ohio State coach need to address with his beleaguered defense?

A: Personnel changes are in order, perhaps starting by finding time for arguably the most sought-after recruit in the most recent signing class, athletic safety Vonn Bell.

B: The scheme needs some adjustments after getting torched through the air down the stretch, undoing some of the success stopping the run and eliminating the margin for error for its own high-scoring offense.

C: Whether by choice or necessity, a staff shakeup might bring a new voice and maybe fresh ideas into the meeting room as the program heads into its third year under Meyer.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa, Connor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Buckeyes couldn't get a firm grip on Connor Cook in the Big Ten title game, surrendering 304 passing yards.
“All of the above,” Meyer said after wrapping up a practice last week ahead of the Discover Orange Bowl. “ ... There are certainly things we need to get fixed and fixed in a hurry with Clemson coming down the road here.”

Meyer didn’t provide any essay answers for what those corrections might be for the No. 7 Buckeyes, either in the short term as they gear up for a stiff test against the No. 12 Tigers or what all might go into overhauling the defense once the offseason inevitably arrives.

But it’s plainly evident that the majority of Meyer’s attention will be devoted to shoring up a unit that ranked No. 103 in the nation in pass defense, contributing heavily to an overall effort that didn’t meet Ohio State’s high standards as it allowed 34 points or more three times in the final four games -- including the loss that crushed its national-championship dreams against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

Part of the problem has been lack of depth, and Meyer has quickly steered most conversations since the season ended to how hard the Buckeyes have hit the road recruiting. The loss of Christian Bryant to a broken ankle in September was a hurdle the secondary could never quite get over, and he, too, could be a candidate to patch the leak if his appeal for a medical redshirt is approved in the offseason.

Either way, Bell is a likely option to lend a hand, both against the Tigers and down the road as Meyer evaluates the roster and potentially looks to make a move or two on the field. And off it, he already knows now that he’ll be making his first hire since his initial staff was settled before spring camp in 2012 as Everett Withers departs to take over at James Madison after two years coaching safeties and serving as a co-defensive coordinator.

And while the work on the recruiting trail, the development of a handful of young, talented defenders and the hiring of another coach may all take time, the Buckeyes don’t have all that much to work with before taking on Clemson and trying to cap the season with a trophy in a BCS game. After getting torched for 755 passing yards in the last two games, they crammed as much as they could into the bowl practices over the last two weeks before taking off for the holidays and preparing to fly to Miami.

“I think we just have to break on the ball better, be more sound in our gaps and our responsibilities,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “We have to communicate better, and it’s just the little things that we’ve got to fix.

“I’m kind of surprised, because those little things, we definitely should have controlled at the beginning of the season. We just have to do a better job with this time we have before this game to get it fixed.”

Once that test is out of the way, the Buckeyes will have a bit more time to study up and make sure they’re prepared defensively next season.

Meyer has already made clear that every possible answer to the problems will be addressed.

Season report card: Ohio State

December, 20, 2013
Final exams are either ongoing or all wrapped up around the Big Ten. We're passing out grades, too, for each team's regular-season performance.

Each team receives a grade for offense, defense, special teams and overall play.

Up next: The No. 7 Buckeyes.

Offense: A-

[+] EnlargeHyde/Miller
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde and Braxton Miller proved to be nearly unstoppable in the running game.
A somewhat sloppy final exam brought down the overall grade, but it's hard to find fault with the most prolific scoring attack in the Big Ten and one of the most explosive offenses Ohio State has ever had in its decorated history. The rushing game was close to unstoppable, clear strides were evident when the football was in the air and the offensive line proved itself to be one of the best units in the country as the Buckeyes rolled their way to more than 46 points per game.

For all the talk about trying to balance out the spread offense this season, though, the Buckeyes weren't quite able to trust the passing game when it mattered most against the best defense they faced all year. Michigan State made them pay in the Big Ten title game as Braxton Miller struggled with his accuracy and his receivers put a few catchable throws on the ground, making rushing lanes harder to come by down the stretch and ultimately building to a failed fourth-down rush with a chance to play for the crystal football hanging in the balance.

But, obviously, the Buckeyes had 12 wins on the resume before that, and Carlos Hyde's wildly productive senior season finally gave Urban Meyer a 1,000-yard running back. Despite missing three games due to suspension to open the year, Hyde still led the Big Ten in rushing yardage during league play and finished with 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground as the Buckeyes bullied through the regular season thanks to his terrifying partnership with Miller in the backfield.

Defense: B-

At their best and fully healthy, the Buckeyes appeared to be on their way to living up to the high standards of the Silver Bullets and ranking among the nation's best defenses with a developing front, a game-changing linebacker and a veteran secondary filled with playmakers. Without the full complement of starters and against some solid offensive game plans, the Buckeyes at times looked completely lost and were exposed in the back end, particularly late in the season as injuries revealed the lack of depth at critical positions.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJoey Bosa had a stellar freshman season with 6.5 sack and six QB hurries.
The good certainly outweighed the bad for Ohio State, as it showed a knack for regrouping and making critical adjustments after some shaky starts, notably against Iowa and Northwestern. Ryan Shazier came up short in his bid for a couple of individual trophies, but the junior linebacker sent his NFL stock soaring with another stats-stuffing season that was downright spectacular at times. After needing to replace the entire defensive line, Noah Spence, Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett all proved more than capable of wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield and will return next season.

But much, much more was expected of the secondary with Bradley Roby returning for at cornerback to team with senior safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett. The loss of Bryant in September to a fractured ankle was a blow the Buckeyes were never able to truly recover from, and finishing No. 11 in the Big Ten in pass defense is never going to be acceptable at a program with so much defensive pride. Those issues were balanced out by a stout rush defense and an opportunistic unit. While there are certainly programs that would be happy with a grade like this on defense, Ohio State isn't one of them.

Special teams: B+

Freshman Cameron Johnston turned out to be an invaluable recruiting pickup late in the game a year ago, bursting on the scene with his powerful leg and a unique ability to dial it back when needed to switch field position. A coverage unit stocked with starters willing to lend a hand in the kicking game certainly didn't hurt, either.

The Buckeyes also made life miserable on opposing punters, a calling card of an Urban Meyer team, with Roby blocking a pair and Doran Grant throwing in another. Drew Basil was solid kicking the football, though Ohio State didn't call on the senior all that much has he attempted just 10 field goals, making nine.

There was a spark missing on kickoff and punt return, which will no doubt frustrate Meyer heading into next season. Dontre Wilson broke a 51-yard kickoff return and Philly Brown had a long of 65, but neither was able to break a touchdown.

Overall: A-

Everything was set up for the Buckeyes to make a run at the national championship, and despite all the hand-wringing about the BCS standings and OSU's schedule, all the dominoes had fallen into place ahead of the conference title game. And while that loss to the Spartans left them one game short of playing for the national crown, the Buckeyes still won 12 and are headed to the Discover Orange Bowl, which is a respectable consolation prize in what should again go down as a successful season.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 11, 2013
The weather outside is frightful. But your emails are so delightful. Well, except for the guy who sent me repeated missives in all caps about how Braxton Miller should have been suspended for the Big Ten championship game. Dude, give it a rest.

Anyway, on to the mailbag:

Scott M. from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Will we ever know why Ohio State felt two carries were plenty for Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter? The game turned in the third quarter because of the bruiser. Braxton Miller is the driver of the car but those two calls late in the game were just awful. How anyone can say I have third-and-three for the game and my 230 pound, 7-yards-a-rush running back will not touch the ball really needs to look at themselves in the mirror.

Brian Bennett: Should Carlos Hyde have gotten more than 18 carries against Michigan State? Probably. But don't forget that the Spartans defense specializes in loading the box and daring teams to throw deep. Plus, Miller was the more effective runner of the two most of the night and finished with more yards and yards per carry than Hyde.

The fourth quarter began with an Ohio State punt. Then Michigan State drove for a field goal. On Ohio State's first real possession of the fourth, Hyde ran for four yards on second-and-10, setting up a passing situation on third down. Miller then threw an incomplete pass. The series you're talking about started with 7:36 left. The Buckeyes had Miller run it on third and fourth down, and he was stuffed both times. Urban Meyer said it was his call to give the ball to Miller on fourth-and-2.

And it's hard to fault him for that. We're talking about the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year who ran for 142 yards vs. Michigan State. A running quarterback is one way to counter the Spartans defense. It didn't work out, mostly because Pat Narduzzi called the right blitz and Denicos Allen made a great play. After that, Michigan State scored a touchdown to go up by 10 points, and the the time to run the ball was over for Ohio State.

Bottom line is you have to be successful passing the ball to beat the Spartans. And Ohio State went 8-for-21 for 101 yards through the air.

Tommy B. from Savannah, Ga., writes: Brian, as a Buckeye fan it's crazy for me to think that after the 2011 6-7 disaster that I'd be so disappointed after the team would go 24-1 under Urban Meyer so far. I'd almost forgot what it felt like to lose on a Saturday (emphasis on almost, it felt terrible in case you were wondering). The problem has obviously been complete inconsistency with the defense. They have big name veteran stars with gaudy numbers and at times (including in the B1G title game) they've been dominant. But in the Michigan game and for some big game-changing plays against MSU they've had complete breakdowns. They have the talent to be better than they are. In your opinion, what's the problem? Fickell? Key injuries (Bryant)? Fickell? Youth in key positions? Fickell?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question. The place we thought Ohio State's defense might be vulnerable to start the year was up front because of all the youth there. Yet that was arguably the strength of the defense, with guys like Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The problem really seemed to be at the linebacker positions other than Ryan Shazier and at safety, especially when Christian Bryant got injured. Michigan State exposed the Buckeyes' safeties early on last Saturday.

It's kind of hard to believe that Ohio State would find itself so thin at linebacker. The Buckeyes recruited some highly-regarded defensive backs last year, but guys like Vonn Bell didn't have much of an impact this season. They're still young, so that's to be expected, but it was disappointing that some of the more veteran players didn't have great seasons (relatively speaking, because Ohio State did go 12-0).

The Buckeyes' defensive coaches all have strong track records, so I have a hard time believing it's simply a coaching issue. But Ohio State clearly needs to develop better depth in its back seven, especially if Shazier decides to leave for the NFL.

Randy from Waukesha, Wis., writes: I just learned that Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis won an award for the national best walk-on player-of the-year in CF! Did I miss your guys' article on this? If not please tell us more..... B1G can use all the kudos it can get, especially at this time of the year!

Brian Bennett: Yes, Abbrederis won the Burlsworth Trophy, which is award to the best player who started his career as a walk-on. We didn't write a post about it, mainly because there are seemingly thousands of college football awards now, but we did tweet it. Abbrederis was a slam-dunk choice for that award, and it's hard to believe he ever was a walk-on. He'll be on an NFL roster next fall.

King from Los Angeles writes: I agreed with you about the silliness of the coaches' poll. I am a Huskers fan and I do not believe we deserved a top 25 ranking even though Bo thinks so. I think they should change the way coaches vote by making a rule that you cannot vote for your own team. That could take away all the biases. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: That would only solve part of the problem, as there still would be inherent conflicts of interest involving teams in a coach's own conference, his opponents, friends, etc. The good news is it won't matter at all as part of the national championship provess next year, so the coaches can be as silly as they want to be. And given how little most coaches want to deal with the hassle, I'm not sure why there should even be a coaches' poll next year.

Greg from Lansing, Mich., writes: In giving conferences more power on selecting bowl match-ups should we just assume Ohio State/Michigan will always occupy the better bowl games? (If they aren't already in the play-off).

Brian Bennett: I can understand why there's a feeling in some quarters that Ohio State and Michigan get preferential treatment from the league office. But the truth is that the biggest brand-name schools already get preferential treatment from bowls. Is there any reason why Michigan at 7-5, should be in the Big Ten's No. 3 non-BCS bowl this year? Or why Ohio State went to the Gator at 6-6 in 2011? Only one: drawing power.

What the new system will basically do is allow the leagues more input on the process so as to avoid teams going to the same destination over and over again and to create better matchups. Had it been in place this year, however, I doubt we'd see Nebraska going back to Florida for a rematch with Georgia. Bowls are always going to want big-name teams as long as they are businesses. But better matchups and fresher destinations should help fans.

Greg from Atlanta writes: As an Iowa fan living in Georgia, I'm wondering how an 8-4 Georgia team gets ranked and an 8-4 Iowa team doesn't? Now, I'm not saying Iowa deserves a ranking, because 4 wins shouldn't get you in the top 25. But, Georgia lost to Vandy and needed double OT to beat Ga Tech. They also struggled with teams they should have throttled and fell far below expectations. Iowa played two teams tough that will both play in BCS bowls. Is this just more bias against the Big Ten? If so, will that bias ever go away?

Brian Bennett: I don't think this is a case of anti-Big Ten bias as much as it is probably pro-SEC sentiment. Iowa is a tough case and a team I debated putting in my final Top 25 for a while before ultimately deciding against it. Barely. The Hawkeyes' four losses are all highly respectable -- Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. But you shouldn't get credit for just losing to good teams. Iowa's best wins are over Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska, with two of those on the road. Very solid, but not spectacular.

Georgia's in a similar boat in terms of "good" losses, including Clemson and Missouri. The Dawgs also lost on the road to Auburn thanks to a miracle play at the end. They have also beaten South Carolina and LSU, two wins better than anything Iowa can claim, and the team was decimated by injuries this season.

I think the Hawkeyes are good, and they have some nice momentum after winning their final three games. That's why I'm really looking forward to seeing how they play against LSU. Iowa definitely ends the season in the Top 25 with a win over the Tigers in the Outback. And given the wide-open nature of next year's West Division, at least on paper, Iowa could emerge as one of the preseason favorites in that division in 2014.
Three lessons from the Big Ten championship game.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook, Mark Dantonio
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesConnor Cook and the Spartans proved beyond a doubt that Michigan State was the best team in the Big Ten.
1. Michigan State is the Big Ten's best finisher: Many counted out the Spartans after Ohio State erased a 17-0 lead to take a 24-17 advantage midway through the third quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Buckeyes had finished off opponents throughout the season with their two-headed running attack and powerful line. But Michigan State also had been terrific late in games, outscoring opponents 185-56 in the second half and 91-27 in the fourth quarter. The Spartans made the necessary corrections, scoring 17 unanswered points to outlast Ohio State and secure a league championship. They limited Ohio State to 25 yards in the fourth quarter and mounted touchdown drives of 90 and 61 yards. And like they did in every regular-season Big Ten game, they won by double digits, leaving no doubt about the the league's best and most resilient team in 2013.

2. Ohio State's flaws finally caught up to it: Sure, it may sound weird to talk about the weaknesses of a team that won 24 straight times. But the Buckeyes never were a perfect team despite their amazing streak of perfection. For a heavyweight power, they were surprisingly light on star power at linebacker outside of Ryan Shazier. Safety Christian Bryant's midseason injury created major vulnerabilities in the secondary. The offense lacked consistent receiving threats other than Philly Brown. "We know what our weaknesses are," center Corey Linsely said. "They're obvious." The Michigan game and, to a lesser extent, the win at Illinois exposed some of those troubles. And when Ohio State finally played a powerhouse on its own level in Michigan State, its Achilles' heels caused it to stumble. The Buckeyes came out flat on the big stage in falling behind 17-0, and they only really played well for about a 20-minute stretch before letting the Spartans score the final 17 points. Ohio State deserves all respect for its winning streak, and this team is fully capable of winning a BCS game. But its flaws proved fatal in the quest for a national championship.

3. Connor Cook is the biggest surprise in the Big Ten and perhaps the country: If anyone pegged Cook to be the MVP of the Big Ten title game before the season -- his immediate family members excluded -- hop on the first flight to Vegas. Cook exceeded all expectations in guiding the Spartans to a perfect mark in Big Ten play, and he shined in the brightest lights Saturday night, passing for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns on 24 of 40 attempts. Quarterbacks coach Brad Salem told that Cook's growth could be seen each week and that Cook's confidence in himself never wavered, even after low moments like a Sept. 21 loss at Notre Dame. Michigan State hasn't simply found a serviceable game manager to complement its defense. It has found a championship quarterback who oozes moxie and doesn't back down from challenges. Cook began championship week by introducing himself on a conference call with reporters. Everyone knows who he is now.
The All-Big Ten teams and individual awards are out, and the league hands out its four major awards -- Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year -- later Tuesday. As always, we’re handing out our endorsements for each award in advance of the announcement. We'll agree on some and differ on others.

Let's turn our attention now to the league's top coach:

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Icon SMIOther Big Ten coaches have exceeded expectations, but Urban Meyer should be rewarded for meeting sky-high ones.
Brian Bennett endorses Ohio State's Urban Meyer

If Meyer doesn't win the award this year, then we need to change the name of the honor to "Coach Who Most Exceeded Expectations." Or "Coach of the Year, Non-Ohio State Division." It's ridiculous that voters for these awards often overlook sustained excellence only to pick someone whose team did better than some worthless preseason predictions. All Meyer has done is go 12-0 for the second straight season. The Buckeyes also withstood some adversity, including the suspension of Carlos Hyde, Braxton Miller's knee injury and safety Christian Bryant's season-ending knee injury. Plus, Ohio State had an enormous target on its back all season long. Mark Dantonio did excellent work at Michigan State, especially in staying patient with the offense under withering early criticism. But the 2012 season now looks like the aberration for a Spartans program that has 11 wins in three of the past four years. The Minnesota story is also tremendous, and if this were a vote for coaching staffs, I might give it to the Gophers. But Meyer shouldn't be punished for having sky-high expectations. He should be rewarded for meeting them.

Adam Rittenberg endorses Meyer

Brian pretty much writes it all here as to why Meyer should be the choice. I've had a problem with this award for some time and the fact an Ohio State coach hasn't won it since Earle Bruce in 1979. If Meyer doesn't win after guiding Ohio State to a second consecutive undefeated regular season and a team-record 24 straight wins, just get rid of the thing entirely. Dantonio, Kill and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz all did excellent jobs improving their teams in 2013, but Meyer maintained a standard of excellence in a sport where even the most talented and experienced teams usually stumble at least once in a season. The offense has become even better in Year 2, and the defense held up for the most part despite returning just one starter in the front seven. Enough with the sympathy coach votes. Give it to the guy who has come into the league and dominated right away. Otherwise, the award lacks any credibility.

More endorsements:

Buckeyes, Columbus celebrate Iron Bowl

November, 30, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The passengers on the southbound bus were already in a celebratory mood.

Another perfect regular season was in the books, a spot in the Big Ten championship had already been secured for next week and, of course, Ohio State had just beaten archrival Michigan a few hours earlier Saturday.

But about 10 miles north of Delaware, Ohio, the party really started.

The five buses in the caravan all started to shake and the No. 3 Buckeyes suddenly had a lot more to smile about as the help they’ve been waiting on in the BCS standings finally arrived in improbable fashion as they watched Auburn spring an upset over Alabama while rolling down the highway.

“We were all just huddled around the TVs,” junior cornerback Bradley Roby said after greeting around 25 fans who waited for the team to return to campus Saturday night. “And I think Christian Bryant or Ryan Shazier, they were like, ‘Watch, they’re going to return this field goal for a touchdown.’ Sure enough, it happened.

“Everybody was jumping around, it was crazy, pandemonium.”

The finish for the Buckeyes earlier in the afternoon was wild enough, a game that featured 83 points, three ejections and a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute before the 42-41 score was settled. But another rivalry game might have even trumped that shootout for drama, with the Tigers delivering on Shazier's and Bryant’s long-shot prediction, turning a missed field goal into the decisive touchdown with no time left on the clock.

That victory for No. 4 Auburn will stir more debate about which teams should play for the national title, but with the Tigers knocking off No. 1 Alabama and finally opening up a spot ahead of Ohio State, the Buckeyes figure to be the biggest beneficiary of a wild weekend when the new BCS standings are released Sunday.

And while the team found out about it while on a bus, Ohio State fan Chris Wasch was at least able to find a broadcast of the closing moments at Gallo’s Tap Room, just a short drive north of the Horseshoe, after originally deciding to head out for some shopping instead of watching the rest of the Iron Bowl.

“I heard it on the radio and I thought, ‘Damn, I’ve got to find a bar,'” said Wasch, decked out in a Braxton Miller jersey and Ohio State hat. “I pulled in here figuring I was going to get a chance to watch overtime, but it was awesome. As soon as the guy made the block at the 25[-yard line], the place went nuts. It was awesome.

“We had to sweat it out two, three times throughout the Michigan game, then everybody was sitting around watching Auburn, hoping and praying. Looks like it worked.”

The job isn’t quite done for the Buckeyes, who still have a huge test looming against No. 11 Michigan State next week in Indianapolis with the Big Ten title on the line.

But for the first time this season, it appears Ohio State will control its own destiny in the chase for the national title.

“It’s a really good feeling, but we can only worry about what we’re doing,” Roby said. “It was very good to see Alabama go down, and we were really hoping they would.

“At the same time, we’re not thinking too far ahead, we’ve got to focus on this week, the opponent we’ve got this week, because if you overlook things like that, that’s how you lose.”

The Buckeyes avoided their first loss on the field in the afternoon. Later, they added another win on the bus ride home.

True tests coming for OSU pass defense

November, 15, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A visit to the defensive meeting room by the head man at Ohio State typically isn’t a friendly encounter.

The Buckeyes had one coming their way last month after a couple shaky outings.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer has seen his pass defense improve in the past two weeks.
Wisconsin had picked apart the secondary. At times, the following week, Northwestern was able to do whatever it wanted with the football. And even after a bye week, Iowa controlled the line and exploited the coverage with easy completions to its tight ends.

That was enough to bring coach Urban Meyer in for the second time (in as many seasons) to personally deliver a message to the defense that it wasn’t living up to his expectations, particularly when opponents put the ball in the air.

Based on the response since then, Meyer’s well-timed, fired-up challenge to the side of the ball he’s not heavily involved with appears to have accomplished exactly what it was intended to do for No. 3 Ohio State.

“Coach Meyer [was] just telling us that our passing defense is not where it’s supposed to be,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “We’re supposed to be one of the top defenses in the nation, and we weren’t playing like it. We got down to it -- all those coaches came to talk to us and told us we’re not playing to the level we need to be playing.

“We all had to step up. We all came to Ohio State to be the best and we weren’t playing like it.”

A secondary that was widely expected to live up to the best-in-the-nation standard was certainly under the most scrutiny, but the mandate for improvement touched on all levels of the Ohio State defense.

The pass rush wasn’t supplying enough pressure, forcing the cornerbacks and safeties to hold up longer while opposing receivers were given plenty of time to allow routes to develop. The linebackers were guilty of blowing a few assignments in coverage and weren’t getting to the quarterback often enough when the Buckeyes dialed up blitzes.

There was a ready-made excuse for struggles in the backend, as senior safety Christian Bryant lost for the season with a fractured ankle. However, there had been previous concerns about communication in the secondary that yielded explosive plays even star cornerback Bradley Roby had been a part of giving up early in the season.

But over the past two games, the Buckeyes have surrendered a combined 326 yards through the air and intercepted three passes. That moved them up 33 spots in the national rankings in passing yardage allowed to a tie at No. 47. It balanced out an already stout rush defense in the process.

Big tests for the pass defense will arrive on Saturday at Illinois and next week at home against Indiana, two teams with the most prolific aerial attacks in the Big Ten. But the Buckeyes have been preparing for games like that for nearly a month now.

“For us, we found ourselves in a situation where it was obvious -- we’ve got to get better at this,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “It was a huge area of emphasis on the part of everybody, and I think you change a little bit of your practice habits, change a little bit of your scheme, change a little bit about how you do your business and you get better.

“The staff and the commitment to that over the last three or four weeks has been consistent, and I think we’re going to continue to improve that. ... Over the last couple weeks, it has been dramatic. I think our kids have taken that personally, and they should.”

If the Buckeyes don’t take it to heart, they’re liable to get another visit from the head of the program, and they aren’t likely to enjoy it.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For all the accomplishments, there was a hole on Braxton Miller’s résumé that he had to address.

A Big Ten player of the year trophy sits on the shelf at his parents’ house. The Ohio State quarterback was productive enough last season to finish fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. And he is the starter for a team that hasn’t dropped a game in its last 21 tries.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCarlos Hyde racked up another 100-yard rushing performance in Ohio State's win over Purdue.
But he came up short in a wild overtime loss the last time the Buckeyes hit the road to take on Purdue. Miller was injured in the second half of last season’s game as Ohio State ultimately needed another extra session to win while he was being examined at the hospital.

So for all those accolades, Miller still really didn’t have a win of his own to point to against Purdue, an omission he quickly addressed in a 56-0 rout for No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

“Absolutely, this was self-comfort,” Miller said. “Two years ago was a hard-fought game with a crazy ending. Last year, just crazy how I got knocked out with my collarbone and things like that.

“After the last two years with this team ... you just have to come back the next year stronger with a chip on your shoulder.”

Collectively, the Buckeyes played as if there was a boulder on their shoulders as they once again made quick work of a Big Ten opponent while doing everything they can to stay in the national title conversation by stacking up style points.

Ohio State still can’t do it all on its own at this point, but Miller & Co. are certainly building a more compelling argument for themselves.

And the quarterback wasn’t the only player or position group erasing a few résumé gaps in the blowout.
  • Tight ends: The Buckeyes always intend to involve their tight ends in the offense, but it usually amounts to little more than lip service. They certainly mean it this season. Purdue had no answer for Jeff Heuerman on Saturday as he was consistently left alone in the secondary and racked up 116 yards on five catches with a touchdown. The junior was the first Ohio State tight end to post 100 receiving yards since 1996. Backup Nick Vannett tacked on 21 yards and a score in the rout.
  • Defensive backs: The secondary rarely lived up to its billing as the strength of the defense during the first half of the season, but since being publicly challenged by coach Urban Meyer, it has bounced back and, despite the loss of senior safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury, asserted itself as perhaps the best unit in the Big Ten. Doran Grant jumped a throw on the second snap of the game for an interception he returned for a touchdown to set an early tone, and the Buckeyes never let up in coverage as they combined with a tenacious pass rush up front to hold Purdue to 89 passing yards.
  • Kenny Guiton: Purdue’s old nemesis continued to add to his credentials as one of the nation’s best backup quarterbacks. Guiton was given almost a full half of work, and even lined up in the same formation with Miller for the second consecutive week, and again the offense never missed a beat. The senior captain completed 8 of his 11 throws for 59 yards and a touchdown, and he was explosive as a rusher in accounting for 98 yards and two more scores.

The Buckeyes could point to more feats if they wanted to, like how Meyer’s 21-game winning streak to start his tenure is the longest in college football since Larry Coker debuted with 24 straight wins at Miami in 2001-02. Or for another historical perspective, the Buckeyes have scored 50 points or more in consecutive games three times under Meyer -- and had done so only four times in 122 seasons before he arrived.

All that really mattered, though, was beating the next opponent and staying unbeaten, since that will ultimately be the only thing that determines their fate. But the Buckeyes had plenty of icing on the cake along the way.

Roby gets another crack at prime time

October, 22, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The chance to win a championship was right there at the top of the list for the team.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMIBradley Roby stayed in school for a lot of reasons. Playing prime-time, spotlight games was one.
Not far behind that, developing better leadership skills was critical as an individual.

But even when he was rattling off the reasons he elected to return for another year at Ohio State way back in the spring, Bradley Roby, a fourth-year junior, didn't exactly hide from the fact that this likely will be his last season in Columbus. And while the chance to boost his professional stock might not have been among the most important factors in his return, Roby certainly has been aware all along that he would have plenty of high-profile opportunities to audition when the lights were on and all the attention would be on him.

"This is definitely one of the games that I came back for -- prime time, ABC, night game, nobody else playing. Why not?" Roby said just before opening Big Ten play against Wisconsin last month. "That's why I play football, to play in big games against good opponents, versus very good opponents when everybody is watching.

"I love to make plays when everybody is watching."

Those turns in the spotlight and a decision to stick around at Ohio State don't come without risk, though, since just as many people are tuned in and watching closely when things don't go quite as well as planned.

Roby certainly hasn't been bad for the No. 4 Buckeyes so far, currently sitting fourth on the team in tackles with 32, making two interceptions and breaking up six other passes. Heading into his third crack at a primetime showcase in four games, he has offered more than a few reminders why he was a first-team All-American a year ago while showing the kind of natural talent that allowed him to flirt with the NFL in the first place.

But like his season as a whole, the two previous outings in front of a national audience have been a mixed bag, and Ohio State certainly could use something more closely resembling the consistently elite version of Roby from a year ago when it hosts Penn State and star receiver Allen Robinson on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

"I think he did set a high standard [last year], and he sets a high standard for himself," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "He's not playing at the same level he did a year ago. At times he plays fantastic, but when there's a mistake at the corner position, it's glaring."

Roby obviously can't shoulder the blame for every breakdown in the secondary, particularly since Ohio State is asking a lot of its most skilled cover guy as it makes an emphasis to stop the run while also dealing with a significant injury to safety Christian Bryant that has cut down on the depth in the backend.

And while there still have been highs that perhaps only Roby could provide, like a timely interception against Wisconsin or the punt he blocked with his freakish athleticism before recovering it for a touchdown against Northwestern, there have been more lows than expected as well.

There was a one-game suspension for an offseason incident at a bar in July. The Badgers found acres of wide-open space to throw to Jared Abbrederis, who racked up 207 yards receiving in the losing effort. Even if Roby himself might not have been directly responsible, there were more coverage breakdowns a week later against Northwestern, when he was at least in the area or had a chance to make a play.

And on Saturday against Iowa, Roby didn't even have an opportunity to cancel out a negative, getting ejected in the first quarter for a targeting violation before he could really make a positive impact for the Buckeyes.

But even with all that packed into half a season, Roby still has ample time to make up for it, starting with a head-to-head matchup against the leading receiver in the Big Ten that figures to be the center of attention.

"He works his tail off; he's got a great work ethic, attitude; he's coming back every day," Meyer said. "He's going to finish the year strong.

"He has been pretty good in practice, and I think he's getting ready to have a good game."

It’s exactly the kind of game that helped entice Roby back for another season with the Buckeyes in the first place. And just like he wants, all eyes will be on him.

Healthy Miller keeps title hopes alive

October, 20, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Style points might slip away.

The Heisman Trophy conversation might move on to hotter topics.

But as long as the wins keep coming and Braxton Miller keeps himself on the field, Ohio State doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon in the race for what really matters.

The Buckeyes have looked vulnerable at times since opening Big Ten play, the defense has had a couple of sluggish starts that have forced critical halftime adjustments, and there was even a spell where turnovers and shaky play from Miller gave reason to think about making a change at quarterback.

But at least that last issue appears to have been resolved with the junior simply getting healthy and confident on the knee he injured in the second week of the season. And while that sprain may have knocked him out of consideration for the Heisman, healing from it has kept his team right on track to contend for a bigger prize after another vintage performance in a 34-24 win over Iowa on Saturday at the Horseshoe.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsOhio State quarterback Braxton Miller ran for 102 yards in leading his Buckeyes to a 34-24 victory against Iowa.
“I didn’t feel this well since the first game of the season,” Miller said. “The knee injury set me back a little bit, but I felt pretty good out there, had a good week of preparation.

“Running, strides -- it feels pretty good.”

His movement as a scrambler and footwork as a passer looked pretty appealing for the Buckeyes, too. And it was also much more familiar and comforting for a team that relies on his uncanny athleticism as both a passer and a rusher after a couple of weeks in which Miller clearly didn’t have all of his tools available.

Gone was the guy who was inconsistent with his accuracy and coughing up a couple of fumbles against Northwestern, briefly making coach Urban Meyer think about going to his bench to find a spark. In his place was an improved version of the versatile weapon who carried the Buckeyes to an unbeaten record a year ago, completing 22 of his 27 passes for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns with his fine-tuned mechanics and adding 102 yards with legs that no longer provided any limitation to his rushing ability.

Ohio State had used plenty of caution in bringing Miller back from the injury that knocked him out for two games and almost all of another, and Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have stressed that he was fully ready to go when he returned for the conference opener against Wisconsin. But there was something missing when they watched the film of those two outings, and compared to the high standard he set a year ago and matched again in carving up the Hawkeyes, it’s certainly easy to see the difference in hindsight.

And in case anybody had forgotten what that means to Ohio State’s offense, his sideline-to-sideline, field-reversing, backfield scramble for a crucial third-down conversion to set up the game-winning score offered a helpful reminder.

“He had a fantastic [passing] game against Wisconsin, but I don’t know that he was called upon to run the football maybe as much as tonight,” Herman said. “Against Northwestern, I probably saw it a little bit on video, a little bit of tentativeness.

“But he looked like his old self tonight in that phase of the game.”

The Buckeyes might still have some work to do in the phases that don’t include Miller, and another sloppy first half on defense will again command Meyer’s attention as he looks to extend his 19-game winning streak with the program next week against Penn State.

Already missing starting safety Christian Bryant due to a broken ankle, a struggling secondary was stretched even further when star cornerback Bradley Roby was ejected for targeting in the first quarter. A defensive line that had been solid all season against the run was gashed for 101 yards before halftime, and collectively the Buckeyes looked baffled by Iowa’s play-action passing game as they fell behind going into the locker room for the second consecutive game.

But just as it did against Northwestern, the defense made a few adjustments to slow down the ground game, came up with a key turnover with a late interception from Tyvis Powell, and the pass rush ultimately showed up to collapse the pocket and disrupt the passing attack.

And with that work under control on the defensive side of the ball, an unencumbered Miller took the controls once again to get a high-powered offense humming on the way to yet another victory.

“I can always tell when he’s feeling good,” Meyer said. “When he’s running, carrying out fakes, those types of things, I can see it now.

“He looks better. He looks like he feels great.”

As long as he stays that way, Ohio State’s title chances are likely going to stay healthy as well.

Shazier finds strength in number

October, 16, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite the exhaustion and the late hour after a hard-hitting, prime-time win, Ryan Shazier simply couldn’t get to sleep.

The Ohio State linebacker was tossing and turning, his mind racing and processing the loss of a teammate that had been a costly price of victory over Wisconsin.

Christian Bryant had only just been diagnosed with a fractured ankle and taken directly to the hospital for surgery, but Shazier was already racking his brain to come up with a way to honor the star safety and emotional leader for the fourth-ranked Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMIRyan Shazier changed his number to honor teammate Christian Bryant, who broke his ankle against Wisconsin.
“I had a really tough time the night of the game, to be honest,” Shazier said. “I was just thinking, ‘Man, I want to do something.’

“It was just on my mind, so I texted the coaches.”

Shazier sent what on the surface seemed to be a relatively simple request to change numbers, swapping out his normal No. 10 for the No. 2 that belonged to Bryant.

The response that came back was to check with the normal owner of that jersey first, and the Buckeyes could work out the rest of the details after that.

The approval from Bryant followed shortly afterward, albeit with one stipulation.

“When we talked he said, ‘As long as you’re doing good in it,’” Shazier said. “I just made sure to do that, and now I have to keep going strong in it.

“I wanted him to be there spiritually with us. I know he’s still going to be there with us, but when people see a tackle, I want them to be able to say, ‘Is that Christian?’ People will still know that he’s out there.”

The Buckeyes aren’t going to have the physical version with them for the rest of the regular season, and the timeline for recovery is still somewhat unclear as it relates to a potential return for a bowl game.

But while Shazier has the same type of attachment to his normal number as most players and even has his “10” tattooed on his left arm, he’s shown no hesitancy in the past putting on different digits to honor others -- and his play has done even more to pay tribute to those close to him.

Last season, Shazier made a one-game switch and put on No. 48 in honor of high school friend Gary Curtis, who had died earlier in the year. He capped that tribute in a wildly productive outing against Penn State with an interception return for a touchdown that sparked a crucial win on the road on the way to an unbeaten season.

Now, midway through his junior campaign, Shazier has committed to wearing Bryant’s jersey for the rest of the year. And his first appearance in the new uniform featured 10 tackles, a quarterback hurry, a tackle for a loss and certainly enough evidence to earn Bryant’s approval to keep putting it on.

“Ryan is one of the most incredible young men I've ever been around,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He's got a heart of gold.

“When Ryan comes to me like that, I’m like, ‘Settle down; what's the best thing to do and how does it affect our numbers and all those things.’ But with him, that's one of about 50 ideas he always comes up with, and it's all pure ideas and caring in its pure form, which is kind of cool.”

Shazier certainly doesn’t plan to keep the number forever, though.

For now, he’s just keeping it warm and doing everything he can to keep Bryant’s energy on the field with the Buckeyes.

“I really have a personal attachment to No. 10, but I feel like the guys that I have out there with me represent way more than my number,” Shazier said. “Christian Bryant means way more to this team than No. 10 does, so that’s why I felt like I needed to wear No. 2 -- that number is way more important to this team now.

“So, yeah, I’ll wear it until he comes back in the national championship.”

Should the Buckeyes get there, an old, familiar jersey will be waiting for Shazier. And Ohio State will have likely had plenty of help from No. 2 along the way.

Midseason report: Ohio State

October, 15, 2013
Perhaps the journey hasn’t been quite as smooth as Ohio State might have planned, but the Buckeyes still are right on schedule to get where they want to go.

The Buckeyes still haven’t lost since Urban Meyer took over the program last year, and with another perfect half of a season under their belts and no postseason sanctions hanging over their heads, they’ve done everything they can to get in position for a potential spot in the national championship game despite some occasionally difficult circumstances.

Most notably, Meyer had to survive for nearly three games without star quarterback Braxton Miller, though backup Kenny Guiton rewrote the record books to bridge the gap until the reigning Big Ten player of the year returned in time for conference play. The Buckeyes, though, are looking at a longer absence for safety Christian Bryant, with a broken ankle ending his season and shuffling up a secondary that has had some ups and downs even with the senior on the field.

But through it all, the Buckeyes just seem to keep on rolling, and with tough tests against Wisconsin and Northwestern having already been passed, the road looks pretty clear ahead in the buildup to The Game against Michigan at the end of November. With Miller back on the field, Carlos Hyde back in the fold after a three-game suspension and the defensive line potentially getting a boost from the return of tackle Tommy Schutt as early as this week, the Buckeyes might have only scratched the surface through six games.

Offensive MVP: WR Philly Brown. Both quarterbacks have put up gaudy individual numbers while effectively splitting responsibility for the first-half wins, and both Miller and Guiton deserve credit for their respective improvements throwing the football. But the strides the receivers have made since last season have been every bit as critical in the development of the passing attack, and Brown has been the most consistent of them all and been an invaluable asset for either guy taking the snaps. The senior leads the team with 381 yards on 30 catches, and this year he’s also turning those receptions into scores with five touchdowns already to his credit.

Defensive MVP: LB Ryan Shazier. Few players in the country do more defensively to stuff the stat sheet, and the junior continues to produce at an elite level even while taking on more responsibility to become a vocal leader in the absence of Bryant. Shazier might not have many of the kind of highlight-reel plays he made a year ago on film yet this season, but Ohio State isn’t complaining about his 47 tackles (eight for loss), two forced fumbles and a sack.