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COLUMBUS, Ohio - After narrowly escaping his third game as Ohio State's head coach with a 35-28 win over California on Saturday, Urban Meyer met with the media to discuss the fallout from the Buckeyes' battle with the Bears. Throughout his weekly luncheon press conference on Monday, Meyer touched on a number of topics, including what his team must improve on moving forward and what he expects to see when it takes on UAB on Saturday.
Bearly escaping Saturday
Considering it entered last Saturday's matchup as a 17-point favorite over the Bears, many were surprised that it took a fourth quarter comeback for OSU to improve to 3-0 on the season. Meyer, however, was not among those caught off-guard by Saturday's closer-than-expected margin of victory, and took offense to the notion that the Buckeyes played down to their competition.
"They've got some very good players. Probably as good of players as we've got," Meyer said of California. "Be careful. Everybody has opinions, but that's not an educated opinion because some bookie said we should beat a team because they lost some game. That's not what college football is."
After throwing a fourth quarter interception that led to the Bears missing a potential go-ahead field goal, Braxton Miller threw a 72-yard game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Devin Smith. Meyer said that he was impressed with how the sophomore quarterback bounced back from the interception that could've cost the Buckeyes the game.
"We came right out and threw two in a row on the last drive. But I never saw where he didn't want to be a part of it," Meyer said. "Sometimes young players when it goes bad, it's something else to do. But he wanted the ball in his hands and that's a sign of maturing."
Tackling the issue
Putting up 35 points against a team that led the Pac-12 in defense a season ago was enough to leave Meyer impressed with his offense after Saturday's game, but the same can't be said about the OSU defense. After letting up 512 yards of total offense to the Bears on Saturday, Meyer repeatedly stressed the importance of his defense improving on one fundamental skill.
"We've got to make tackles, tackle better in practice, make sure our schemes are more sound into the boundary area, which we're working on that now," Meyer said. "That is absolutely not acceptable. Let's get it fixed. There is no magic wand. We've got our personnel. Personnel I don't believe is an issue."
In an effort to improve his team's tackling efforts, Meyer said that the Buckeyes will likely experienced an improved level of physicality throughout practice this week.
"We've got something that I learned from my mentor, Coach (Earle) Bruce. I know we tackled more than anybody, but obviously it's not getting the job done, so we have to tackle more," Meyer said. "Instead of one day a week, we'll probably have to go two now. It's all about fundamentals technique."
Despite the team's flawed effort on Saturday, individuals who graded out with winning performances still made Meyer's champions club. On the offensive side of the ball, those players were running back Jordan Hall, fullback Zach Boren, tight end Jeff Heuerman, and Smith, who was the team's offensive player of the game and is the only player to grade out with a champion performance in each of OSU's three games.
"The best thing that's happened so far in the first few weeks is we've identified a go get it guy on the outside that we did not have a year ago," Meyer said. "I was worried about it. I didn't see that develop until this first three games, and that's Devin Smith."
On defense, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was named the Buckeyes' defensive player of the game for his 10-tackle, one sack effort, joining linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby as the only Buckeyes on that side of the ball to be named champions by Meyer.
"Right now John is the guy that really has played well, and I thought played great in this game. I finally got a chance to really watch him in detail last night," Meyer said. "Playing at a very high level."
With one game left on their schedule before Big Ten play starts next week, the Buckeyes will welcome Conference USA's UAB into The Horseshoe on Saturday. The Blazers will come to Columbus with an 0-2 record to their credit, and fresh off of a 49-6 loss to South Carolina on Saturday.
"We have to find a way to get to win number four. We're an average team right now. At times we're playing fairly well. I like our guys. I like our team. I like the fact that we faced adversity," Meyer said. "I'm ready to have some non-adversity games. Doesn't seem like that's going to happen very often at this point in our development and our journey."
At least one person on the Blazers' sidelines will have familiarity with the Buckeyes' personnel on Saturday. After spending eight seasons as OSU's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, John Peterson is now in his first season as the offensive line coach at UAB.
"I was here when John was playing, so I know John. He's a great coach, great guy," Meyer said. "I wanted to hire guys that had spread offense because I got stuck before where I hired guys that don't have the same alignment, same philosophy. You're in there beating your face against the wall instead of all for one, and one for all."
After missing suffering an MCL sprain against Central Florida on Sept. 8, Carlos Hyde is expected to miss his second consecutive game of the season this week. Meyer, however, said that the health of the junior running back is steadily improving.
"Carlos will not be available. I would say no chance," Meyer said. "He's getting much better though."
On the defensive side of the ball, the OSU coach was unsure of the status of John Simon, who played on Saturday despite being hampered with a shoulder injury. The senior defensive end told Meyer that his shoulder's a long way from his heart, which led Meyer to wonder when Michael Bennett would be returning from a groin injury that his prevented him from making his season debut.
"I don't know. He's got to play some time," Meyer said. "I don't know how far that groin is away from the heart. We'll find out here."
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