At His Best: Urban Meyer Staged With Another Opportunity to Hold Serve Atop College Football

By Eric Seger on December 29, 2016 at 9:00 am
Urban Meyer balances work and play with his Ohio State team as it readies for the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Urban Meyer's sterling record in bowl games speaks for itself. A 10-2 mark is put into better perspective when you consider he has more national championships (three) than bowl losses in his career.

“I think this is when Coach Meyer is at his best, in games like this,” center and captain Pat Elflein said on Tuesday at one of Ohio State's multiple media appearances before it takes on Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

Before the Buckeyes left Ohio, Meyer spoke on the balancing act between having fun and fine tuning the issues on his squad while more than 2,000 miles away from home. Ohio State doesn't have classes while it readies to face the Tigers. Study tables aren't a thing like they are for college basketball teams during the NCAA Tournament.

There is only so much practice time you can put your players through after a season that lasts for more than three months. Meyer's team did an outreach activity at a local school on Wednesday. Clemson did it too. Players have the option of going out to dinner at local steakhouses or playing video games in their down time. This is the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, after all.

“Here's what I've learned about bowl games: get them great gifts, as much money as you can legally give them, and that includes all the food and snacks and all that stuff,” Meyer said on Dec. 15. “Make sure you have fantastic food for them. And put as much money in their pocket as possible. It's worked out pretty well, that's fun for 19-year-olds.”

The last team to beat Meyer in a bowl game is Dabo Swinney's Tigers, a 40-35 outcome at the Orange Bowl to cap the 2013 season. Clemson was thrilled to have an opportunity at making a national statement. Ohio State was disappointed it lost a month earlier in the Big Ten Championship Game to Michigan State and thus missed a shot at a national title.

“We have some fun times, we have some laughs, but when it's time to lock in we lock in. But he just helps us understand the moment, really, just understand where we're at, how we got here.”– Curtis Samuel

Something similar happened last year and Ohio State was rewarded with a trip to Phoenix and the Fiesta Bowl. Meyer learned and rallied his troops better that time around as the Buckeyes dropped Notre Dame 44-28. The return trip carries more weight and more expectations with it this year. But a group of youthful players—more than 40 with freshman eligibility—Meyer's soldiers are also enjoying being in a beautiful climate at the end of December.

“You have to be able to relax a little bit and enjoy your teammates,” Elflein added. “So we do a little bit of both of that. When it comes time to lock in and go hard, that's what we do too.”

Curtis Samuel is Ohio State's playmaking home run threat, someone who will need to be involved heavily should the Buckeyes want to keep pace with Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson and the Tigers. Meyer and his staff have had more than a month to dissect tape and think of new wrinkles to get No. 4 involved. The head coach's history of doing things like that in addition to having his team ready to play falls in line with some of the best in the sport's history.

That is because each day has a purpose. Each practice has an agenda. Each drill has a meaning. Each team outing has levels to its position on the totem pole of importance, shifting up and down when its time to enjoy time away from football and not run players ragged.

“Then how we keep it fresh. He's really good at keeping fresh,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner. “Really good at having a clear objective for that particular day and that particular time. I think that whole plan is well thought out. And also keeping your players in shape through the conditioning part of it, strength training.”

Meyer's 15 years as a head coach offer plenty of experiences to hone such skills. He has won a ton of games all across all the country, including 61 against only five losses at Ohio State.

One of those five came to Clemson, who stands in Meyer's way as a hurdle before the final hurdle next week that if scaled results in his fourth national championship. Getting rewarded with a game against either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Washington doesn't happen if the task at hand—Clemson—is taken care of, however. The plan to win involves prior plans of easiness and time away from football.

Tensions are high and pressure to succeed in the Playoff will only continue to mount as game time nears. But Meyer has been here before and is at his best once again instilling in each one of his players just how important of a chance this game is while also helping them recognize when and where to be college kids.

“When it comes into game weeks and playing for the national championship, you try to focus on the moment and understand it's already a responsibility for playing for Ohio State but also, too, just make sure that you go out there and play your best,” J.T. Barrett said.

Added Samuel: “We have some fun times, we have some laughs, but when it's time to lock in we lock in. But he just helps us understand the moment, really, just understand where we're at, how we got here.”

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