When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has two or more weeks to prepare for a football game, he usually wins.
Over the course of his 16-year career as a head coach at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, Meyer has compiled a 46-4 record in games in which he had more than one week to prepare and a 21-1 record in games directly following an in-season off week.
Not many of those games, however, have been as tough as the one he will face this Saturday, when No. 2-ranked Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) comes to Columbus to face No. 6 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) in Ohio Stadium.
While Penn State rolled to a victory over Michigan on Saturday, Ohio State had no game this past week, giving the Buckeyes an extra week to prepare to play the Nittany Lions.
As evidenced by his record when he has multiple weeks to prepare for a game, Meyer knows how to take advantage of that extra time. He says the Buckeyes need another good week this week, however, for that extra time to actually be an advantage this time around.
"The minute you say it's a great advantage, you don't play well," Meyer said in his Monday press conference. "So it’s what we do with it, our time. I loved what we did last week. This week remains to be determined. We have to do a good job practicing the heck out of them."
Meyer has been complimentary of the way his team has practiced in recent weeks, and feels confident that the Buckeyes’ play in games will match their practice habits.
"I'd like to think we have a very good feel (of how the Buckeyes will play)," Meyer said. "We're so practice-oriented here, I love when I hear our players talk about, J.T. Barrett, the reason we played well is we've been practicing the best we have in several years. So I have an indication of how they're going to play on how they practice."
“I loved what we did last week. This week remains to be determined. We have to do a good job practicing the heck out of them.”– Urban Meyer
Meyer knows, though, that there’s still a lot of work to be done for the Buckeyes to be where they need to be to beat Penn State, which beat Ohio State 24-21 in State College last year.
There’s no template on how to prepare for the next game during an open week, Meyer says, because it’s important to strike a balance between getting the team better and ready for the next opponent but also keeping them fresh for the stretch run of the season.
Meyer did say, though, that he had some concerns about the off week costing the Buckeyes some of their momentum that they had built up over their last five games, which they won by at least 31 points each. In hopes of offsetting that, the Buckeyes played a simulated game in practice last Thursday.
"When you're playing very well, you'd like to keep rolling," Meyer said. "So actually on Thursday we played a game. It was in shells, but we played 55, 60 plays out here, because I want to make sure we keep going in this game mode."
Meyer didn’t specify how the Buckeyes approached the rest of last week from a practice standpoint, but he said how his team approaches its open week each year depends on how well his team is performing.
"I remember one year, we had a really bad team and we went out full pads for five straight days in practice and got better," Meyer said. "I've had very good teams where we're very mature and we backed off them a little bit. So there's no template. It depends on the team."
Meyer acknowledged Monday that revenge could be a motivating factor for his team as the Buckeyes look to turn the tables from another one of their recent subpar performances against Penn State last year. He says that’s not the focus, however, as his team begins the week leading up to the game.
"Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday isn't about that," Meyer said. "It’s about execution of a game plan."
Meyer also acknowledged that his team hasn’t always performed at its best – last year’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson and this year’s loss to Oklahoma come to mind – in recent games against top competition. But he says it’s up to his team’s leadership, toughness and preparation, as well as his coaching, to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
"I call it a culture within a program," Meyer said. "And culture is driven by leaders. If you have very strong leaders on the field and very strong leaders in the coaching rooms, you tend to have very great performances against great teams."