- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The plan wasn't working exactly as planned, and even with Ohio State still winning, Jake Stoneburner was at a low point individually.
His move to wide receiver was supposed to make him a matchup nightmare on the perimeter. Instead he was struggling through a three-game stretch without a catch.
Even though he wasn't at tight end anymore, Stoneburner was still needed to provide some physical blocking for the rushing attack. That role worked just fine for him, but he also made it clear that he wouldn't mind a few throws his way every now and then.
Not exactly the fastest player on the team in the first place, some uncertainty about what he was doing offensively was slowing down Stoneburner even more.
The Buckeyes kept waiting for the senior to turn the corner and give them the weapon they had anticipated when they started shifting Stoneburner around in the spread offense, but the clock was running out on his time with the program when he sat down with Urban Meyer for a conversation and assessment. As usual, the Ohio State coach didn't sugarcoat his message -- but that bitter pill seemed to be just what Stoneburner needed to shake out of his funk and start playing some of the finest football of his career.
"I wasn't playing bad; I just wasn't quite being the all-around player they thought I could be and should be," Stoneburner said. "Not that I was being lazy or being soft, I was just getting confused out there, playing a little bit tentative. [Meyer] just said to go out there and play. 'Who cares if you screw up?'
"Since then I've been playing as hard as I can, trying to do everything I can to help the team. For him to sit down and tell me how he really felt about me and how he wants me to be playing, it really showed me he cared and that he wanted me to better myself. I mean, he always says if he's not coaching you, they don't care."
The Buckeyes never turned their attention away from Stoneburner, and their investment in him has paid off as he has taken on more responsibility both as a target and a blocker with fullback Zach Boren now lining up on defense.
Stoneburner's heart-to-heart chat with Meyer didn't necessarily open the floodgates statistically for a team that still features its rushing attack first and foremost. But the honest dialogue was followed by a four-catch outing at Indiana that brought an end to his midseason drought. Even better for the Buckeyes, Stoneburner snapped a five-game run without a trip to the end zone on Saturday at Penn State as he turned a third-down catch into a 72-yard score by finally finding his top gear to lock down one more win.
"There are cleats on the bottom of your shoe, put them in the ground and go as hard as you can," Meyer said. "There's nothing worse than false confidence. Maybe people telling you that you're better than you are. Deep down, Jake Stoneburner is a very, very smart guy. He watches a lot of film; he sees himself. However, there are times like when I first got here and it was, 'Jake Stoneburner is the greatest thing in the world.' He wasn't.
"He's playing very well right now. For some reason he hadn't been, and so you can blame the coaches ... but at some point, you've got to play better. That was exactly what was said, and the cool thing was that he said, 'You know what? I agree 100 percent.'"
Having Stoneburner back on the same page with the staff opens up a few more pages in the playbook for the Buckeyes as well.
He hasn't lost any of the size or athleticism that made lining Stoneburner up all over the field so appealing to Ohio State in the first place. His knack for finding the end zone has been well documented, and in his streak-busting effort against the Hoosiers, he was just as valuable moving the chains by picking up three first downs with his four catches. And while he still might not be totally comfortable in his new role, the next time Stoneburner comes in looking for an assessment from Meyer, he might get a better evaluation.
"I had to get used to the game atmosphere of playing wide receiver and figuring that out -- and I still am," Stoneburner said. "We're nine games in and I'm still learning. I think I was being tentative, and being a little bit more aggressive and little more assertive with blocking and getting the ball, I think that's just what coach Meyer wanted me to do.
"Really, I could care less how I do as long as we win."
The Buckeyes kept doing that even without Stoneburner at his best. With the air clear and Stoneburner back on top of his game, though, knocking them off might be a more difficult proposition now.
6hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy