ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Taylor Decker listened intently to the question, as he always does, but knew had something to get off his chest first.
Ohio State had just roasted Michigan, 42-13, in Ann Arbor to end the regular season 11-1. Decker, the team's best offensive lineman and a senior captain, won his fourth consecutive game in the rivalry. The Buckeyes put together a complete performance, but Decker wanted to let the Ohio State world know the rush to judgement Ed Warinner faced after a 17-14 loss to Michigan State a week earlier was not merited.
"Before I answer any questions, I just want to say that Coach Warinner's been taking a lot of heat. He's been down on the field with us, he didn't have the whole responsibility of calling all the plays," Decker said. "The criticism he was taking was not deserving. He's a damn good coach and I love him."
Warinner coached from the press box for the first time all season Saturday, calling plays alongside quarterbacks coach Tim Beck. His offensive line duties kept him on the field the first 11 games of 2015, but the Buckeye offense rolled in a big way against the Wolverines with his voice coming from above as opposed to in the heat of battle.
“It really didn’t change much in terms of just a better vantage point to be more aggressive and make the calls. Most of the calls come out of the press box so now we changed up how they came out.”– Ed Warinner on calling plays from the press box
"You saw what happened when he went up to call the plays today. He's a very capable coach," Decker said. "The criticism he was taking was unwarranted. You could see what he could do."
Beck (and Urban Meyer) faced their own share of criticism for what the unit produced against the Spartans — a meager 132 yards of offense and five first downs — but the group that took the field for the biggest rivalry in college sport looked completely different.
"We made that move. I had to do something — we had to make a move," Meyer said. "We're not getting a game called and to coach all five guys and to be involved in the play calling, that's tough."
Meyer said he planned to be more involved in the play calling against Michigan after such a paltry performance a week prior, but knew moving Warinner up top was the right move Saturday. It paid off big.
"It was difficult, but you can only do that with a veteran offensive line. You do that with a young offensive line, it's a mess," Meyer said. "Because you can't make adjustments and all that. But he did a wonderful job."
Meyer said he decided Tuesday that Warinner wouldn't be on the sideline Saturday, but Decker and the rest of the offensive line didn't find out until the night before kickoff. Warinner wouldn't say if it was the plan moving forward in the post-season, but an increase of tempo and a power running game that tallied 369 rushing yards made it obvious it was the right decision.
Ohio State ran uptempo to finish off drives as Warinner directed the offense to tight zone and gap scheme plays — "what the offensive line's been asking for," Decker said — and great running by Ezekiel Elliott (214 yards) and J.T. Barrett (139 yards) torched a solid Michigan front.
"It was great to be up there and get a different perspective, see what’s going on quicker and try to stay one step ahead of the defense," Warinner said. "I think that we were able to accomplish that today."
Warinner said offensive line graduate assistant Jim Cordle and tight ends coach Tim Hinton — who he replaced in the press box — were vital in relaying adjustments to the Ohio State offensive line throughout the course of the game. With guys like Decker an extremely experienced offensive line, though, the transition was seamless.
And as it turns out, what needed to be done.
"We were up there together and we worked well together," Warinner said of he and Beck. "It was very smooth."
Under fire all week from the Ohio State faithful for a questionable offensive game plan that resulted in the program's first loss in 24 games, Meyer pulled the trigger to move one of his staff's best offensive minds to a new in-game location.
It helped the Buckeyes finish their regular season on a high note in a complete, dominant offensive showcase.
"We had some discussions about that earlier in the week and then he reached a final decision on that and we thought that was the best thing moving forward," Warinner said. "It really didn’t change much in terms of just a better vantage point to be more aggressive and make the calls. Most of the calls come out of the press box so now we changed up how they came out."