After a loss in which Ohio State got out-played, out-schemed and out-coached by Virginia Tech, Urban Meyer put on a happy face and cracked jokes during his weekly press conference Monday afternoon. He even wore a smile.
Kind of weird, right? Especially considering how fans following the team are restless over the way the Hokies bludgeoned the Buckeyes for their first regular season loss in what feels like forever Saturday night. A curiously cheery Meyer made light of it.
“I always make the comments you'd love to just go move (the team) off to a desert island somewhere and coach a team and not worry about social media, uncles,” Meyer quipped. “First uncles are OK, third uncles are bad. They're the ones with opinions that have no clue what they're talking about. First uncle is all right.”
Meyer flashed a smirk and laughed at himself. The whole room quickly filled with chuckles, too. But behind the smiles, one-liners and Meyer’s easy demeanor, he and the Buckeyes are aching after an anticlimactic 35-21 loss.
“Pain of regret is phenomenal, and there is so much regret about things we could have done better to win that game,” Meyer said. “But there are positives and we'll address those in great detail tomorrow.”
Still, the defeat is a crushing blow for a team that started the season with aspirations of winning a Big Ten title and reaching the first-ever college football playoff.
It sent Ohio State and its stock plummeting in the polls and perhaps further in terms of national perception. Without the redeeming powers of star quarterback Braxton Miller on an offense without an identity, the Buckeyes crumbled under the lights in front of the biggest crowd to ever watch a football game at the Horseshoe.
The moment – the whole spectacle of fireworks, new permanent lights, a swanky tunnel for the team to run out of and the presence of NBA mega star LeBron James – was neatly set up for the Buckeyes to make a statement against a Hokie team that’s 15-11 over the last two seasons.
Instead, Ohio State looked flustered and borderline unprepared.
“This one,” Meyer said, “we got exposed a little bit.”
And to an extent, the whole mystique of the Urban Meyer era seemed like it got demystified in one night.
That’s not to slight Meyer’s impressive 25-3 record in Columbus, and it’s not to say whether or not he and his staff are capable of winning a national championship in the future.
But an unfamiliar sense of unease and disappointment filled the city this weekend after a 24-game winning streak previously cloaked the program in some sort of aura of invincibility. That's long gone now.
Ohio State’s lost big games to big programs in Week Two before: Texas and USC come to mind faster than others.
And when they lost, the Buckeyes could usually hang their hat on the closeness of the outcome or how the opponent was going to be a title contender.
But Saturday couldn’t be salvaged as a moral victory. This was against a Virginia Tech team that’s fallen off in recent years and it’s unclear if the Hokies will break out of that funk in 2014. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. They looked good Saturday night, but it's impossible to tell.
This wasn’t a loss to a national power like Florida State, Auburn or Oregon. It wasn’t even to Michigan State or Clemson, which served as reminders of the Buckeyes' mortality last season. Those setbacks hurt, but at least they were against proven contenders on the national scene.
A 14-point loss to Virginia Tech? The Hokies have been a middle-of-the-pack ACC team lately. Sure, chalk it up to life without Braxton Miller, the loss of star players like Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby and general inexperience on both sides of the ball, but it's still pretty good gauge for how things stand for Ohio State.
"That was a really good team we played. I think we're a really good team. A play here or play there, a field goal here, field goal there, and a stop – I could go on and on and on and that's what's frustrating. I'm not taking anything away from Virginia Tech, but a few good plays and it's a different outcome, a great stadium, great night, so we have to rebound and move forward,” Meyer said.
“Everything we're shooting for is playing for championships in November, and that's still right at our disposal. I mean, we've got a heck of a long way to go, but you put your heart and your mind into that of a 19‑year‑old, and everything's still there, and I see that. Look, they're still hurting. They'll take our lead and take my lead, and I'm still hurting. So we'll be ready by tonight: get it out of our system and go.”
Things were never going to be easy or perfect under Meyer, but it felt that way for a while. This is reality now.