Dec. 6, 2013

An interview with: Coach Meyer

THE MODERATOR: We’ll ask Coach Meyer to make an opening statement and then go to questions.

COACH MEYER: A very uneventful trip from Columbus to Indianapolis, which is a positive with the weather.

We’re honored to be here and represent Ohio State University. Got an eager team that’s ready to go, so I’ll just answer your questions.

Q. This game happened months ago, but do you take anything from the last Michigan State/Ohio State game?
COACH MEYER: No, we certainly do. We watched quite a bit. Obviously, very good defense. Offensively, I think things are a lot different. Much more explosive than they were. But defensively very similar.

Great players, great scheme. We did not play great. We had two good drives. Other than that, it was not a very good performance by the Ohio State offense.

Q. Is there anything about a conference title game that’s any different from anything in your SEC experience that helped you at all this week?
COACH MEYER: I think so. I think this is the fourth one. My director of operations and my strength coach have been with us. I do think just the logistics of how we do, for example, the meetings once we get here, those types of things.

I wouldn’t say a big deal, but just the logistics of it.

Q. Health update?
COACH MEYER: Curtis Grant hasn’t played in about five weeks because of a high ankle sprain. That hurt us. Obviously, Christian Bryant is out. (Corey) Philly Brown has a small stress fracture in his leg. That’s why he hasn’t played as much in the last few weeks. It’s healing. Probably not full speed, but pretty close. I think that’s about it.

Q. Marcus Hall, will he start the game Saturday? What’s your take on the penalty?
COACH MEYER: He won’t start the game. Other than that, we’ll see what happens.

But that’s where it’s at.

Q. You have talked going back to spring about the chase, about realizing that dream. Now you’re right there. There’s obviously big stakes here outside of this game. How have you made sure your guys’ focus was on Michigan State, not let that noise infiltrate your team?
COACH MEYER: I made this comment many times. You wish you could get your guys, like raising your children, put them away on a desert island until they’re ready to make the right decisions and focus.

On top of, that it’s been finals week at Ohio State. A lot of things going on. A busy week.

I like the maturity of our team. You lean on the coaches and the leaders on your team to stay focused. We’ll see how we play.

As of Friday afternoon, I’m very pleased with our focus this week.

Q. Can you elaborate on the rationale for not starting Marcus tomorrow.
COACH MEYER: Probably the last question I’ll answer on this one.

Very, very disappointed in his actions. He paid the penalty for the fight, which is he missed three quarters in a rivalry game. It’s not Marcus. But just really disappointed in his actions after the fight.

Q. Does your game plan offensively change? Is it more aggressive being indoors?
COACH MEYER: Haven’t really thought about that. I know there will be element issues. More aggressively as far as like throwing the ball or something like that? I think we’re going to try to do what we’ve got to do to move the ball. Obviously being indoors it will have no other bearing other than Michigan State’ defense.

Q. This game has been higher scoring in the last couple years. Is it a different style of Big Ten football first what you and Michigan State have been accustomed to with weather, wind, snow the last few weeks? COACH MEYER: That’s a great question. We’ll see how it plays out. We practiced indoors the entire time.

I think it’s going to be more about they’re a very aggressive defense. We’ll see how the game plays out a little bit. Just because we’re playing indoors, we’re not going to be more aggressive, if that’s the question.

Q. It was said today Michigan State’s defense, comparing them to the Ravens and Steelers, they’re a group that finds you, hunts you down, step on you, bully you. Do you see this as another classic street fight?
COACH MEYER: I think the strength of the Ohio State offensive line and run game, you really can’t say the strength of their defense because they’re good in pass defense too. I think it’s going to be a great challenge for both teams.

Q. Obviously their defense gets a lot of the headlines for them. When you look at their offense, what have you seen, especially from the start of the season to now? How have they improved?
COACH MEYER: Very rugged offensive line. They throw the ball more than you think. I watched the last three games. I mean, I can’t give you the exact percentage, our defensive coaches could. They’re much more balanced than you think, especially the last half of the year, especially rushing. They have a 1,200 yard rusher, quarterback with a strong arm, very comfortable in the pocket.

Much improved, like you said, from early in the season till now.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH MEYER: I like them when we win them. I think it’s great for college football. Like I said, I was a part of three of them at the University of Florida. Incredible atmosphere. I think it’s great for the game. I think it’s great for our players.

It’s another game you got to go win.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH MEYER: I’m anticipating one of the best environments in college football. Once again, this is the first exposure I’ve had to the Big Ten Conference championship.

Q. Could you talk about the arc of Braxton’s season this year.
COACH MEYER: I think Kenny Guiton had a real impact on Braxton. The greatest form of teaching, teaching a young player how to prepare, I relate it to Taylor Decker starting at right tackle has become an excellent practice player because of what he watches our left tackle do, Jack Mewhort, and the rest of the offensive line.

Braxton was recruited, came to Ohio State. Right before he got here, there were a bunch of things that occurred and he became a starting quarterback as a true freshman. Never truly learned how to properly prepare for a game. Certainly not last year.

His sophomore year, Big Ten Player of the Year. Never prepared the way we’d like a quarterback to prepare. His last month and a half, both him and Kenny, Tom Herman has done an excellent job with that. I mean, he is preparing like a big time quarterback should. So I think it’s all about his preparation.

Q. Did the suspension on Carlos Hyde have the effect you wanted it to in terms of his attitude?
COACH MEYER: We’ll see. For the past three months it certainly has. I’m hoping it will for the rest of his life. A very humble young man that realized something was almost taken away from him. I’ve loved his approach to everything right now.

Q. I think a couple weeks ago you mentioned this team reminded you of the 2006 Florida team. Can you talk a little bit about the similarities and differences you’ve seen with this team.
COACH MEYER: Yeah, I just remember there were a bunch of close games that the team won. It seemed like every time you heard about that team it was what they couldn’t do, not what they could do.

They played with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. So I’m hoping we continue to see that. I think this team does that a little bit.

Q. How did your defense respond after a tough performance last week? What did you see in practice?
COACH MEYER: Great. I saw a team that went to work. I’ve seen a team and coaching staff that have went to work.

Bottom line is we won that game somehow. A lot of times the defense has carried the offense, and the offense has carried the defense. It’s a team that works together, a staff that works together. I didn’t see much hanging the head.

Sunday was not the easiest day because we had to get through the film, make corrections. But everything was focused on Michigan State from that point forward. So I’m very pleased with how our defense responded.

Q. Turning back the clock a little bit. When Christian did go down, did you feel that galvanized the team a little bit?
COACH MEYER: Got to be careful not to spend too much time on it. I don’t think people realized. He was the heart and soul of not just the defense but football for the team. He’s here with us. We brought him with us. He’s good for our staff. He’s great for our players.

I believe that some guys picked up the slack when he left. A guy like Ryan Shazier has done a really nice job. Galvanized or at least strengthened our team because it had to. When you lose a great player like that, if you don’t replace him, you’re going to really struggle.

Q. A moment ago you compared this Ohio State team to Florida ’06. Any SEC teams that you’d compare this Michigan State team to?
COACH MEYER: We faced some incredible defensive teams over the years. This is one or two or three that I have ever coached against. I’m trying to think off the top of my head. There’s some great defenses in the SEC, so…

Q. In a championship game like this, do you prefer playing indoors?
COACH MEYER: Yeah, I think for the fans and for everybody, to celebrate the Big Ten, celebrate our conference championship, I think so. I think most of them are, if I recollect. I know the Georgia Dome for the SEC. I’m not sure about the other conferences. But I think so.

Q. Michigan State has a reputation for fakes on special teams. Wondering how much additional time maybe this week you spent preparing your team for the possibility of those in the game.
COACH MEYER: We have. We’ve done a lot of research when they’re called, what time they’re called. They do a nice job with it. They do it in big games, too. That’s something we certainly spend time on.

Q. Talking about teams you have faith in in the past. You’ve coached against a Jim Tressel team. Does preparing for a Mark Dantonio team remind you at all of a Jim Tressel football team?
COACH MEYER: Never really thought about that. I’m not sure. Probably now that I’m thinking about it, excellent defense, like the ’06 team. Run heavy offense that’s actually got more and more balanced. Yeah, I think so.

Q. For so long you took care of your business, hoped that things would play out around you to put yourself in this position. It has. Can you give us a sense of what the feeling is on the team about this moment and how prepared it is to take advantage of this moment?
COACH MEYER: I’m hoping it’s just trying to get us preparation for this game. That’s been the message all week. Anything beyond this game, we’ll worry about that after the game.

I like the focus. There’s not been one peep about anything. There’s so much to prepare for. We didn’t play well on defense in our last game. You’re facing one of the best defenses if not the best defense in America. There’s not a lot of time to have conversation about something beyond.

Everybody gets it. We have a very smart team. Our focus is squarely on this one.

Q. Carlos Hyde, was there a moment this year where you said, Okay, he’s back, maybe a specific run that caught your attention?
COACH MEYER: When you say ‘he’s back,’ he’s so far surpassed what he did a year ago ever in his career. He was back early. Last year he was a good back. This year he’s an exceptional back.

The thing that you noticed last year, his longest run, we charted it, he had a handful of carries over 12 yards. He lost 12 pounds. He’s in much greater shape. He’s stronger. Our strength staff, we like lean teams. Same with our offensive line. Our linemen are down 20, 25, 30 pounds compared to what they were.

Carlos Hyde is much leaner. You can see he’s much more explosive when he hits the second level. He’s a much different player than he was a year ago.

Q. At some point you’re going to lose a football game at Ohio State.
COACH MEYER: Appreciate that (laughter). Get his name for me.

Q. What kind of an edge does this give your team, I don’t mean advantage, but how protective are they of 12 0?
COACH MEYER: I think there’s some great storylines out there that I’m not privy to them. I haven’t heard them. Our meetings are all about preparation and focus, playing our best game against a great team Saturday night, representing the Big Ten and a fight for the Rose Bowl.

There are some really cool storylines out there. None of them are in our locker room or any meetings. I wish I could take everyone’s cell phones, no TV.

Once again I’m going to say how proud I am of our guys and their focus. We’re going to play well. I don’t know if we’ll win, but we’ll be prepared.

Q. With Marcus Hall not starting, does it mean Pat Elflein starts? Talk about the faith you have in him.
COACH MEYER: Pat Elflein went in and played fairly well. We expected that. He had some opportunity this year to play. He’s our sixth guy. He was a redshirt freshman that was injured for a portion of last year. Just a tough nut. I love Pat Elflein. He’s going to have a great career here. A lot of confidence in him.

Q. The linebacker position is one you’ve been juggling with all season. Can you talk about the arc of that through the year, where you are with it now?
COACH MEYER: That’s our position. That’s the one. That’s the concern.

I think Ryan Shazier has played at a high level. I think Josh Perry has solidified himself as a Big Ten linebacker. The Mike is the one we’ve had the issue with. At times Curtis Grant has played fairly good. Cam Williams is a guy that’s been fighting injuries really his whole career here. There was a time, Joe Burger, a young walk on from Cincinnati, played a little bit for us. That’s the one position we’ve had some issues with.

They’re getting better. Young players are getting better. We have to keep trying to stockpile that position.

Q. Is there a good answer when a defense tries to decide to take away Braxton or Carlos Hyde?
COACH MEYER: That’s where you have to throw a Philly Brown or Devin Smith in there. You can put nine up there. They do a lot of times.

I thought last year a big part of our problem was our inability to attack defenses throwing the ball. Last week the play Devin Smith made. I want to say we’re 4 1 on big hits in the past game than we were a year ago because we didn’t have confidence in it. This year we do.

I think if you can sink enough players down there, you can make a real attempt to stop Carlos and Braxton. But that’s where you need to have balance in your offense and throw the ball.

Q. I know Braxton has improved a lot in terms of intangibles, leadership. How about just as a football player?
COACH MEYER: Night and day. Fundamentally if you watch his performance. The negative of watching last year’s game is you have to watch last year’s game. We have to watch ourselves. Not very pleasant when you shut that film off. Usually you do it on a Monday night.

The last two weeks against a team up north and against Michigan State last year, watching our offense a year ago was painful.

Much, much improved this year. Number one thing is fundamentally he’s much better. His grasp of the offense is much better.

Q. 24 0 run. Seems some of the pundits, many of whom have played the game, still shoot holes in your schedule, in your competition. Are you tired of hearing that? Are you anxious to win this game, beat a top 10 team and quiet that?
COACH MEYER: I haven’t heard it. Go back and practice, go to sleep, coach a game tomorrow.

I know one thing: we’re facing an excellent team tomorrow night.

Q. When you were a rising coach at Bowling Green, I don’t remember the circumstances, but Michigan State had a coaching opening. I know your name came up. I don’t know if you interviewed. When you were in the MAC, did you ever aspire to coach at Michigan State?
COACH MEYER: That’s a great question. When I was at Notre Dame we played Michigan State. I always thought it was an excellent school, had some recruiting battles with them. I remember TJ Duckett. We were in that with Michigan State. I always admired Michigan State over the years as a school, the stadium, the whole package.

Q. Speaking of going to sleep, how well do you sleep before a conference championship game?
COACH MEYER: ‘Speaking of going to sleep’? I’m sorry, what was that? How will I sleep?

Q. How well do you sleep?
COACH MEYER: Not good.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH MEYER: Up and down. Thanks for your concern, though (laughter).

Q. Obviously this is a neutral site game. What is your expectation for Buckeye fans in the crowd tomorrow night?
COACH MEYER: I asked about crowd noise. We’re anticipating 50/50. But I’m hoping it will be a stronger Buckeye crowd show up, like I’m sure they do, too. Can’t control that.

But I think it’s going to be a great environment. Really, really excited for it.

Q. You mentioned Curtis Grant. Is he definitely not going to play tomorrow?
COACH MEYER: Oh, no, I think he is going to play. He’s been practicing all week.

Q. How does he look?
COACH MEYER: Still a little bit of a wobble, but he’s getting better.

Q. What do you think you’re going to learn about your team tomorrow night in this game?
COACH MEYER: It’s a toughness game. I think at times each side of the ball has shown, like against Wisconsin, I found out I saw some toughness in our defense that I was concerned about.

The offensive line, last year I was concerned about our toughness as an offense. This year pretty much week in, week out. It’s going to be a physical, hard, tough game. We’ll find out if Buckeyes are a tough team tomorrow night.