CHICAGO – There are three things, Urban Meyer says, that make up the foundation of his Ohio State football team.
The first is what he calls “competitive excellence.” The second is a tireless mantra of “point A to B, 4 to 6 seconds.” The third, and perhaps biggest pillar, is the “power of the unit.”
Meyer, who’s about to plunge into his third year of guiding the Buckeyes, sounds like a broken record when he talking about all of this.
But it's with purpose and even more so after his team’s late postseason collapse after winning 24-straight games in two years. It's a reminder as much as it's a mission statement.
“We operate under the unit principle,” Meyer said Monday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “And it's the power of the unit. Nine units.”
Nine units that work toward one goal.
But it curiously backfired last season.
“I think last year we got caught up in the whole nine units thing,” Michael Bennett said Tuesday.
“Instead of taking it as ‘we need to make our unit stronger’ it was ‘that unit’s not as strong as our unit so I don’t wanna hear from that unit’ or something like that. That’s just human error that comes out of a really good idea.”
Its effects were ultimately devastating for an Ohio State team that finished 2013 with back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson.
In the wreckage were shattered dreams of a Big Ten title and its first national championship berth in six years.
The biggest culprit was a defense that simply got eviscerated in pass coverage. It was defective from the start and only got worse.
Inevitably, it caused friction, or what Meyer referred to as a cancerous “blame, complain, defend” culture last spring. An overhaul was needed, he said. The status-quo was no longer acceptable. The onus fell on defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and new-hire Chris Ash to find a cure.
“Coach Fickell changed his viewpoint and he said, ‘I’m not gonna blame anybody anymore, it’s gonna be the defense and the defense is together,’” Bennett said.
“I know the whole nine units thing but the defense is one unit. All of the defensive coaches have just come together and said we’re not fighting each other anymore. If there’s a run up through the middle, the linebackers aren’t going to come up to the D-line and cuss them out.
“They’re gonna take it on themselves and the D-line is gonna take it on themselves and the safeties are gonna take it on themselves for not filling. It’s everybody’s fault when the plays break down.”
Everybody. Coaches and players.
“Teams have really started adopting a fast-paced offense so when everyone’s looking over to the sideline to try and get a call, you got dummy calls going, then someone’s going to look at the wrong person, someone’s not going to get that whole call,” Bennett said.
“If I’m running over to my D-Line to tell them what the call is in a packed stadium three seconds before the ball’s snapped, it just gets lost in translation and then we’re literally putting our hands on the ground and trying to figure out what’s going on. And then the back end, if they’re not on cue with us and our stunts, it’s just gonna fall apart.
Broken plays cost Ohio State at chance at a national championship and a chance to finish what it calls “The Chase,” a buzzword for the program’s hunt for a return to college football glory.
This year, Bennett said, will be different. It has to be, right?
"Our pass defense, we completely blew it up. It’s gone. Anything associated with that has completely changed and it had to change," Meyer said.
For the Buckeyes to get to where they want to be, there's no other choice.
"I just think that this year, we still have the nine-unit mentality,” Bennett said. “But we have the nine units working together.”
Because last season, nine units worked against each other.