It felt like déjà vu.
Urban Meyer, exhausted, despondent, discouraged and disappointed, made a declaration about the current state of his Ohio State football program. It followed with a promise.
“Ohio State is not used to this. I'm not used to this, and we will not get used to this,” Meyer said minutes after suffering the most brutal loss of his 15-year coaching career, a 31-0 embarrassment at the hands of Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday. “That's not going to happen again. So we'll get things worked out.”
Ohio State is 0-3 all-time against Clemson. Meyer is now 0-2 in his life against Dabo Swinney. The first time the two faced off came at the Orange Bowl at the tail end of the 2013 season. The Tigers topped the Buckeyes 40-35 behind huge nights from Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd.
The 40 points scored by the Tigers were the third-most the Buckeyes allowed in Meyer's tenure to that point, trumped only by the 49 Indiana put up in Bloomington during the 2012 season and 41 by Michigan in the 2013 regular season finale. The difference between those and the Orange Bowl is the Buckeyes still beat the Hoosiers and Wolverines. They missed against the Tigers.
Upset and trying to grasp the fact he had just lost back-to-back games, Meyer gave a similar statement in Miami as the one he delivered on New Year's Eve.
“We're not a championship-caliber defense right now, although we think about the last two games, we were in position to go win that game,” Meyer said then. “The one thing you're going to find out, the more that you're around me, I'm not a big blamer. We've got to get better.”
Not even three weeks later, the Buckeyes had two new names on their defensive coaching staff — Larry Johnson and Chris Ash in place of Mike Vrabel (who left for the Houston Texans) and Everett Withers (who left for James Madison). Three years later, Meyer is working even faster after a horrible display against the Tigers, this time with his offense.
Ohio State announced the hire of Ryan Day as its new quarterbacks coach on Tuesday. He replaces Tim Beck, who left for Texas. Beck, like offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, received a ton of heat this season and especially in the immediate hours after the Fiesta Bowl, when the Buckeyes managed only nine first downs, 215 total yards, went 3-of-14 on third down and finished with as many points as they started with against Clemson.
Warinner could be on his way out too — there are reports that former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is next in line to be Ohio State's offensive coordinator. Warinner's role with the program remains up in the air but as of Wednesday morning, all indications are that he remains a Buckeye.
Either way, if Wilson is the guy to team up with Day and assist the offense, that is a massive name for Meyer to add to his staff. Just like Johnson was three years ago. Just like Ash was three years ago. Just like after the Buckeyes last lost to Clemson.
“Anytime you struggle a little bit, you always take a hard look,” Meyer said.
Watkins caught 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns against the Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl, a microcosm of the entire season when they allowed 268 passing yards per game — 112th in the country.
“I think we have a bunch of good players, a bunch of good guys, and our anticipation is to get back here next year and take a good swing at it and realize we've got a lot of work to do, obviously.”– Urban Meyer
In the Fiesta Bowl, the Tigers tallied 11 tackles for loss and three sacks in addition to two interceptions against a predictable Ohio State offense, one that couldn't complete anything down the field in the passing game. The display was representative of the entire year. Ohio State finished 82nd in the country with 213.9 passing yards per contest.
“We will become a good passing team, we will. Next year,” Meyer said.
The old adage is desperate times call for desperate measures. Apparently, Clemson is the catalyst for Meyer to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
“Chris Ash is charged with, he's got a serious responsibility. That's to improve our pass defense,” Meyer said on Feb. 5, 2014, or national signing day, the first time he met the media following the staff changes. “He'll be in charge of the entire back end of our defense. He's going to coach safety. He's going to continue to coach corners. However we're going to have one voice back there, it's his responsibility to improve our pass defense.”
Ohio State's head coach probably won't next get in front of a microphone until Feb. 1 to discuss his latest recruiting class. That one is setting up to be one of the best in not only his career but college football history. The 2014 group was ranked third nationally and boasted names like Raekwon McMillan, Marshon Lattimore, Curtis Samuel and Jamarco Jones.
Talent will never be the problem at Ohio State. Who Meyer hires to coach it and lead on game day is a different story, however. Frustrations in the form of a loss in the final game on the schedule leads to a long and tense offseason both from those on the outside of the program to those running the show.
It caused Meyer to end his press conference at the Fiesta Bowl like this: “I think we have a bunch of good players, a bunch of good guys, and our anticipation is to get back here next year and take a good swing at it and realize we've got a lot of work to do, obviously.”
He finished his press conference in Miami that night at the Orange Bowl with this statement: “Our defense certainly made some plays to help us go win a game. Is it what we expect? No, we expect top 10 defense at Ohio State, top 10 offense, and top 10 special teams, and I don't believe we accomplished any of those. So we've just got to — you know, we go out and recruit our tails off, got to develop players and work real hard with scheme.”
Sounds similar enough.
Ohio State won the national championship in 2014. If 2017 is to hold a similar story, Meyer knew he had to make drastic changes just like the last time he lost to Swinney and the Tigers. He is doing it again, only on the other side of the ball.