After an insipid display of offense in the first half of Ohio State's win against Navy last weekend, the Buckeyes desperately needed momentum. Head coach Urban Meyer was determined to give it to them.
Trailing Navy, 14-13, about midway through the third quarter, his squad faced a fourth-and-1 at midfield. So Meyer dialed up a handoff for sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott to keep a once-promising drive alive. The offense hurried up to the line of scrimmage and got set. It wasn't a complicated play. It was supposed to work. All they needed was one yard.
Instead, the Midshipmen blasted through Ohio State’s porous offensive line and slammed Elliott for a two-yard two loss. Gone was the chance to secure footing in a tight game and, now, quarterback Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s potent option offense had to only drive 50-something yards to put the mighty Buckeyes on their heels.
But it was here, of all of Saturday’s moments, where Ohio State took control of a tense game that seemed to teeter on something worse. It was here where its maligned defense bailed out its young and Braxton Miller-less offense.
“We came right back,” Meyer said, “and we held them to five yards.”
For every yard the Mids advanced forward, Ohio State turned them back the next play, whether it was stuffing runs at the line of scrimmage, tackles-for-loss or a sack.
“That was the difference in the game,” Meyer said Monday.
After all, when the Buckeyes got the ball back a few minutes player, quarterback J.T. Barrett heaved a 80-yard pass to wide receiver Devin Smith to break that broke open the contest. The Buckeyes outscored Navy 21-3 down the stretch before winning 34-17.
Maybe it’s the difference in the season for the Buckeyes, too.
“We spent a lot of time talking to our team about that. Chemistry on our team is very good,” Meyer said.
Because not a lot of defenses, perhaps Ohio State’s 2013 outfit included, like being put in a unfavorable and precious position thanks to an offensive shortcoming.
Players, Meyer said, have a tendency to ask “why did we do this, why do we do this” when something like a critical fourth-down attempt goes wrong or, better yet, when going for it in the first place seems trivial.
But as long as Meyer’s in charge, expect Ohio State to take risks. Lots of them.
“I think we make it very clear we're probably going to go for it next week,” Meyer said of the prospect of aggressive play-calling against Virginia Tech Saturday.
Get used to heart-stopping fourth down situations and get ready for what happens when they won’t work.
“When they say defense,” Meyer said, “your job is to stop people.”
Duh. But it’s another thing to go stop people with your back firmly pressed against the wall because the offense put you there. That breeds dissent and dissent breeds deep-rooted problems that manifest themselves out over the course of a season. Maybe even like last year.
Things, if they were ever that way, are different now.
“As a defense, that’s the kind of stuff we really enjoy. You know, you get on some teams and guys will be like, man I don’t know why coach went for it fourth-and-whatever, but our mentality is man I hope coach goes for it on fourth-and-whatever,” junior linebacker Joshua Perry said.
“Because if he doesn’t get it, we’ll go there and we’ll play really good defense and if he does (get it), I know the offense is about to score off of that. It’s just one of those things where our mentality is we’re gonna go with whatever the offense does and we’re just gonna play hard defense every series.”
Added Meyer: “Coach (Luke) Fickell and coach (Chris) Ash made the comment to me it's the best (defense) they've seen in the last couple of maybe three years even as far as just when it's sudden change situation or a fourth down you don't get it."
The game plan?
"You just go do your job," Meyer said.