Leading up to Saturday’s 11th game of the season at Maryland, most of the outside noise surrounding the Ohio State football team has had nothing to do with the Buckeyes’ upcoming contest against the Terrapins.
The biggest headlines of the week came on Tuesday, when Stadium’s Brett McMurphy published a report alleging that former Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith used a racial slur toward former Ohio State wide receiver Trevon Grimes. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, athletic director Gene Smith and several players – including wide receivers Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Austin Mack – all spoke out against the report, vehemently denying that Smith ever used a racial slur and that Ohio State wouldn't have allowed that to happen without consequence.
Specific to football, most of the conversation surrounding the Buckeyes has been whether they can make the College Football Playoff and before that, whether they can beat Michigan in the much-anticipated rivalry game between the two schools next week.
Ohio State’s coaches and players, however, know they can’t allow themselves to be distracted by the outside noise. Because when Saturday’s game kicks off at noon in College Park, Maryland, everyone’s focus will be on whether the Buckeyes take care of business against the Terrapins.
“You can’t let it,” said Ohio State defensive coordinator and associate head coach Greg Schiano. “You don’t have a choice. Because one thing I learned a long time ago in coaching is Saturday’s going to come. Whatever time kickoff is, this week it’s noon, noon’s coming. Whether you’re ready or not, nobody cares. So you have to be ready. Otherwise, you let a lot of people down.”
On paper, Maryland doesn’t look to be one of the tougher opponents Ohio State will face this year. The Terrapins are just 5-5 this season, and the Buckeyes have won each of their first four matchups against Maryland (who joined the Big Ten in 2014) by 21 points or more.
That could change this week, though, if the Buckeyes don’t keep their focus on preparing for their next opponent at its usual level.
“It has to be something really extreme to break – and I know some people think that’s crazy – but it has to be something extreme to break you out of your routine,” Schiano said. “Because it takes every, the formula that we set up, it takes all that time to get ready for a game. And if you cheat it in any one area, it’s going to come back and bite you. So you can’t.”
“Whether you’re ready or not, nobody cares. So you have to be ready. Otherwise, you let a lot of people down.”– Greg Schiano on staying focused despite distractions
How does a football coach or player prevent off-field drama, like that which was created by McMurphy’s report on Tuesday, from becoming a distraction to the routine of preparation? Schiano says he just doesn’t pay attention to what’s being said about the Buckeyes on social media and elsewhere.
“I don’t get into that world,” Schiano said. “And I’m sure if I picked up the phone and started looking at it, I’d want to read and see what the next craziness is, but we don’t. The best defense is just don’t get involved. Stay out of it. Because 12:00’s coming. I have a responsibility and our staff has a responsibility to get these kids ready. And they put so much work into it. We talk to them every week; everything you do, all offseason long, you’re only guaranteed 12 opportunities, and that’s if you stay healthy. That’s a lot of work for 12 three-and-a-half hour games.”
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on not allowing todays report by Brett McMurphy to be a distraction. pic.twitter.com/znGt6csTTp
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) November 14, 2018
Not everyone felt like they could take that approach with the nature of the allegations that were made on Tuesday. When Campbell saw McMurphy’s report on Tuesday morning, he felt like he had to set the record straight on Twitter.
Theres no way that anyone would believe this. NO WAY. This lie is just out of hand. I was present during the entire altercation and whats said in this article NEVER HAPPENED. I can guarantee it. Crazy how social media gives people platforms just to spread nonsense. https://t.co/FRBLucb9WY
— Parris Campbell (@PCampbell21) November 13, 2018
By Wednesday night, though, Campbell said he felt that he and his teammates had put that behind them, and had turned their focus back squarely upon getting ready for this week’s game.
“I don’t think it was ever a distraction, honestly,” Campbell said. “I think when guys seen it, everyone just kind of took a deep breath and then reacted the way we did, and I think 100 percent we reacted the way we should have. I think it just came down to getting the truth out there, and it was just all about the truth. To see something about this program, about the players here, that wasn’t true, and I think something that needed to be said.”
Campbell said Meyer did address the report with the team, because he felt that was something he needed to do, but that the Buckeyes then put it behind them.
“Everyone had obviously seen what was going on, but he addressed it with the team, said what it was and commended the players on how we responded and how we reacted,” Campbell said. “But it’s in the past. Everyone’s just over it.”
Parris Campbell on how he and other Ohio State players responded to Brett McMurphys report yesterday and how Urban Meyer addressed it with the team. pic.twitter.com/xC9X68BSm8
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) November 15, 2018
Now, the other concern is that the Buckeyes could be thinking ahead to next week’s game against the Wolverines, which could leave them vulnerable to slipping up in their final road game of the regular season this week. But Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day is among those who don’t see that being a problem.
“I just think that there’s too much at stake for all that, and to fall into something like that, I think would be crazy,” Day said. “At a place like Ohio State, you can’t afford to take a deep breath anywhere on the schedule.”
In a season that has been full of distractions, from Zach Smith’s firing before the season and Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension to start the season, to lingering questions about Meyer’s health and criticism of the team’s play in several areas, Ohio State has still managed to go 9-1, still holds all the cards to win a Big Ten title and still has a shot at making the College Football Playoff.
Meyer believes his team will need to be as well-prepared as ever to beat a Maryland team that he says is “as talented a team as we’ve faced this year.” But he’s confident that the Buckeyes will be able to set those distractions aside, once again, and be ready to play at their best when the ball comes off the tee on Saturday.
“Our guys are very intelligent players here,” Meyer said. “I do worry about staring at phones all day long. But they know what's in store. And I can assure you this is focus on going to win that game at noon.”