COLUMBUS — Whether it’s typical coach-speak or genuine concern, Urban Meyer is extremely wary of Ohio State’s next opponent, Central Florida.
“A whole different animal coming in here this week,” said Meyer, whose Buckeyes pounded Miami (Ohio) 56-10 in their opener Saturday. “I know this (UCF) team, I know this coach, I know this coaching staff, and we have great respect for everything they’ve done.”
Just like the Buckeyes, coach George O’Leary’s team also spanked a Mid-American Conference school from Ohio. The Knights beat up on Akron, 56-14.
They were impressive on both sides of the ball, showing size, speed and power. But don’t be misled: Meyer’s primary worries still revolve around his own team.
He was extremely disappointed with the Buckeyes’ slow start. Yet he was curiously almost giddy about it.
“I’m pleased we got thrown around a little bit and were actually losing in our home stadium in the first quarter,” he said. “I didn’t like it at the time, but I think everybody got kind of hit in the face a little bit and responded well.”
Rest assured that Meyer is making sure the Buckeyes are well aware of what they did wrong — and of what Central Florida is capable of.
The Buckeyes trailed 3-0 late in the first quarter and had done nothing offensively before one play lit a fuse under them.
Quarterback Braxton Miller zipped a rocket of a pass into the end zone that could easily have sailed out of bounds. Instead, sophomore receiver Devin Smith leaped high in front of a defender, reached up with his right arm, snagged the ball and then tucked it in while contorting his body as he fell to the field.
From that point on, everything seemed to go Ohio State’s way.
“What creates momentum sometimes is a big hit or a big run or a great effort — or, jeez, Devin Smith’s one-handed grab,” said Ohio State tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton. “You could write books on how that things change. Obviously, the first touchdown with an electrifying play, as good as you could see.”
After punting the ball away on their first four possessions, the spark was lit. The Buckeyes scored on eight of the last 12 times they touched the ball.
All spring and summer, to almost anyone who broached the subject of his receivers, Meyer would insult them. He said none of them looked like playmakers, no one appeared to be able to run away from a defender or even make a good catch.
Then, perhaps by design, Smith silenced his coach. Almost.
“He has a big smile on his face and he just keeps walking by me, waiting for me to say, ‘Great catch!’” Meyer said with a laugh. “And I just won’t do it. I’m not going to do that.”
Up until Smith’s catch, even Meyer was concerned. He had come to Columbus heralded as an offensive guru, preaching the gospel of no-huddle and quick snaps and throwing the ball to multiple receivers.
Yet after a quarter, the Buckeyes had just 48 yards of offense and were fortunate to only be down by a field goal.
“They dropped two passes. They well could have been ahead 14-0,” Meyer said. “I was real worried. Then once I started getting things figured out a little bit on offense, I wasn’t as worried, because I thought it was just a matter of taking care of the ball and finding our receivers.”
Miller finished 12-of-21 passing for 189 yards and two touchdowns after going 1-for-7 for 5 yards in the opening quarter.
“We were trying to figure out we they were going to do (on defense),” Miller said after the game. “We changed a few things and got rolling in the second quarter.”
In a game of fits and starts for both teams, the Buckeyes failed to score on an abbreviated one-play, 1-yard plunge just before the half. But 17 seconds into the third quarter, Miller, who set an Ohio State quarterback record with 161 yards rushing, deked a defensive back near the left sideline and then sprinted past him to complete a 65-yard touchdown run that helped turn the game into a landslide.
“I love the fact that we came out in the third quarter and created that momentum right back from the end of the first half that we didn’t have (with that) big, long run at the beginning of the third quarter,” Hinton said.
Now the focus shifts to UCF. Meyer was in his second year at Florida in 2006 when his team beat O’Leary and the Knights 42-0. The Gators went on to win the first of their two national championships that season under Meyer, closing with a stunning 41-14 victory over Ohio State in the BCS title game at the Fiesta Bowl.
The Knights amassed 386 yards of total offense against Akron. Ohio State has watched films from that game and from last season, when O’Leary’s team went 5-7. But that doesn’t mean things will be the same.
“I’m sure they’ve got more than what they showed at Akron,” said Buckeyes defensive line coach Mike Vrabel. “It was a completely different offense last year. You watch last year’s film and you’re like, where’d this come from? I’m sure they’re going to have things like everybody does every week that we’ll have to be prepared for.”