Counting lesson, the hard way

Meyer takes special-teams breakdowns seriously, might change up personnel

Updated: September 25, 2012, 10:24 AM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The scheme might be complex, but the assignments and the math are simple.

The blockers on Ohio State's punting unit just have to count the guys coming, and then all they have to do is block them.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Jones
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesAn early blocked punt by UAB put Ohio State coach Urban Meyer in a foul mood about his team's special teams play.
But when something goes wrong at the first level, the numbers get out of whack for the next guy -- which is how Zach Boren wound up trying to fend off three guys at once and how UAB ended up celebrating in the end zone last weekend at Ohio Stadium.

"I should have [blocked them all]," Boren joked on Monday. "I was mad at myself for it.

"I mean, Coach [Urban] Meyer has the greatest punt scheme out there, and it's very complex. We just messed up our count on the front side. We had some young guys playing on special teams, some young guys on punt, and it's little, easy mistakes. We'll be fine."

If it were just one error, the Buckeyes might not have a reason to worry about the kicking game. But the issues popped up on more than just the touchdown after the Blazers sent three guys through a hole on the left side of the formation, cruised past Boren to block the punt and took a surprising early 6-0 lead over the Buckeyes.

And though that play came barely more than five minutes into the game, it wasn't even the first breakdown in a phase of the game Meyer takes quite seriously and is intimately involved with in practice.

The Buckeyes had already drawn a penalty for running into UAB's punter to extend the first drive of the game. After falling behind, they mishandled the ensuing kickoff and only returned it the 14-yard line. And they added to their coach's frustration by coming out for the second half and failing to recover a pop-up kickoff that again gave UAB possession and an edge in field position, in the process giving Meyer yet another correction to make heading into Big Ten play on Saturday against Michigan State.

"It was a bad day for special teams," Meyer said. "Have to get it fixed.

"The kickoff, the pooch kickoff, it landed a couple yards behind our tackle. Stand there and catch it. I guess we've got to put on the tip sheet, 'Catch the ball if it's kicked to you.' But in all seriousness, that's a major error. We have to cover that and I guess we have to do a better job of getting ready."

That process might start by installing more veterans on special teams, and Meyer indicated he was already tinkering with the lineup to get it corrected.

The kickoff unit, for instance, has featured as many as seven newcomers, and true freshman linebacker Joshua Perry had one of the missed assignments that ended up giving Boren a bigger load than he could handle on the punt squad.

The Buckeyes have made their share of big plays on special teams already, including a few that somewhat balanced the scales against UAB. After the touchdown, Ohio State blocked the extra point. Later in the game, the punt unit bounced back by downing the ball at the 4-yard line thanks to the hustle of snapper Bryce Haynes.

But Meyer isn't looking for a split decision with the Spartans on special teams -- his "Plan to Win" calls for a victory in the kicking game.

"The expectation level, like the other two phases, it's not where we need to be," Meyer said. "However, it's not because of a scheme issue. It's maybe immaturity where we were forced to or I was playing guys that it was the first time in the game, here it is and we locked up.

"The concern is there, however the try-hard and the coaching and the emphasis will be there and we'll get better."

The Buckeyes and Boren will literally be counting on it.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter