Urban Meyer dominates after regular season losses, especially at Ohio State
It became known as “The Promise.”
Tim Tebow faced the media after his 2008 Florida squad fell to unranked Ole Miss. Holding back tears, Tebow delivered one of the more impassioned post-game speeches you’ll ever hear.
“But I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season, and you’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless.”
Tebow of course delivered on his promise. He led Florida to 10 straight wins — including an SEC title and a BCS National Championship — by an average of 33.8 points. All of those wins were by double figures.
While that became known as the launching point for Tebow’s all-time great career, it also established something else. Urban Meyer knows how to make adjustments after regular season losses.
Meyer had several cases of that with or without Tebow as his starting quarterback. Since 2006, Meyer’s teams suffered their first loss during the regular season six times. In four of those seasons, they ran the table and ended with at least a New Year’s Six Bowl victory. Three of those seasons produced national titles.
By now, everyone knows that Meyer responds well to defeat. That’s why even after Saturday’s loss to Penn State, Vegas still has OSU with more-favorable odds to win the national title than Michigan.
How good has Meyer been after a regular-season loss since he arrived in Columbus? The numbers are overwhelming:
Most of that came after OSU’s dominant 2014 run to the first College Football Playoff. Often forgotten was the turnaround his team had last year after the Michigan State loss. Though that defeat ultimately spoiled OSU’s playoff hopes, the Buckeyes ended the season by beating two top-10 teams (Michigan and Notre Dame) away from Columbus by a combined score of 86-41.
So why does it take a loss for OSU to snap into shape some years? Perhaps Meyer needs to see something completely fail before making tweaks.
In 2014 and 2015, Meyer left it up to J.T. Barrett too much. He put more emphasis on the power ground game to get the offensive line rolling. In those 15 games after a regular season loss, Meyer’s Buckeyes ran the ball 46.3 times for 276.2 yards per contest.
In the two regular season losses at OSU, Ezekiel Elliott got an average of 10 carries. In the 15 games after those losses, Elliott’s average workload more than doubled. As a result, OSU didn’t lose.
Meyer doesn’t have an Elliott to turn to this time. And though Meyer compares them to each other, Barrett isn’t quite the force that Tebow was.
But Meyer’s adjustments are more than just getting a superstar player to perform at an elite level. After it collapsed against Virginia Tech, OSU’s 2014 offensive line was about as dominant as any position group in the country the rest of the way. In 2015, the Buckeyes’ so-so run defense put the clamps on after the MSU loss.
Meyer’s teams have a knack for correcting their obvious flaw and turning their seasons around after unexpected regular season losses. Since 2006, the numbers reflect that:
- Record: 41-7
- Record vs. ranked teams: 16-6
- Record vs. top-10 teams: 11-2
- First game after loss: 4-2, outscored teams 220-95
- Bowl games: 5-1
- Conference titles: 3
- National titles: 3
The 11-2 mark vs. top 10 teams is really what stands out. In 2008 (Ole Miss), 2014 (Virginia Tech) and now 2016 (Penn State), Meyer’s teams lost to unranked foes. After looking very mediocre, Meyer got his team back to playing at an elite level.
The Buckeyes looked very mediocre on Saturday. There’s no guarantee that they respond in typical, post-regular season loss fashion. If OSU is dominated at the line of scrimmage and makes that many special teams mistakes, it won’t get to the Michigan game undefeated like everyone assumes.
Maybe OSU assumed after coming back at Wisconsin that closing the door against Penn State would be an easier task. That obviously didn’t prove to be true.
Now is when we really see what OSU is made of. Meyer will adjust against Northwestern. Maybe Curtis Samuel gets the ball sooner than the 24th offensive snap. Perhaps Meyer elects to take a few more shots downfield. We probably won’t see him ever rush a field goal team like that.
OSU’s season hinges on adjustments after Saturday night. Meyer knows that. Without any more losses to give, the Buckeyes are up against the ropes.
Fortunately for them, they have the right guy in their corner.