EAST LANSING, Mich. — After practice Wednesday evening, a curiously cheery Urban Meyer met with reporters for routine mid-week interviews. It's usually an affair that seems like the last thing the Ohio State coach wants to do after bellowing and blowing his whistle for two hours.
But on this particular day, he smiled big, wide and often. He made jokes. He laughed.
It was as if he was savoring the glare of the national spotlight with an impending nighttime bout against Michigan State — the team, Meyer said, that ripped away the dream of a Big Ten title and national championship berth last season.
“This is why they’re trained; every second of everything we do in the program from offseason to summer conditioning to training camp, we’re training you for moments like this,” Meyer said that day. He was almost beaming.
“This is why we train for moments like this — compete for championships in November.”
It was like he knew something we didn’t.
And after Ohio State toppled the Spartans, 49-37, on a cold and damp night in East Lansing, those words felt forebodingly true.
“This is one for the ages,” Meyer said.
This triumph, after all, is perhaps the biggest since he took over the program three seasons ago.
In the process, the Buckeyes avenged a devastating league championship game loss, notched an enormous signature win, and regained a belief that, admittedly, had wavered in the face of last year’s postseason collapse and a stunning defeat to Virginia Tech at home earlier this season.
“I just think we earned back our confidence,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. “I think we just earned back the belief our players have, a belief in our program, belief in how we do things at Ohio State, how Coach Meyer runs his program.
“And we just got our confidence back that we can win a big game.”
That’s been the knock on the Buckeyes for a while. Put them on a big stage, they said, and watch them turn to pager tigers.
“There was talk that we only played well against really bad teams,” redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who passed for 300 yards rushed for 86, and accounted for five touchdowns, said.
It’s why a 24-game winning streak looked hollow after Ohio State unraveled against the Spartans and Clemson in the Orange Bowl last year. It’s why the loss to the Hokies nearly cast it out of the top 25 in September.
Two months later, the Buckeyes have firmly reasserted themselves into an ever-changing national picture.
Whether they’re worthy of one of four spots in the first-ever College Football Playoff? Meyer said he thinks so.
“I think it is, because I love my team — and I don’t know enough — (but) if I have to go fight for this team, what they’ve done, very impressive,” he said.
“That darn loss the second game, if that hurts us then I’ll take the hit for that. Because that’s a young team playing at a extremely high level right now.”
Without star quarterback Braxton Miller and a bevy of new faces across the depth chart, there were speed bumps — some larger than others — at first. It was inevitable.
“A young team grew up tonight,” Meyer said. And taking down Michigan State was the goal all along.
“This team was highly motivated to try to stay in first place in our division to win a road game against a team that knocked us out of a possible championship game last year,” Warinner said.
Added Barrett: “Last year, they got us in the Big Ten championship and that was what we rallied around in the offseason. This is what we talked about, being that we were gonna see them again in East Lansing.”