By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: Urban Meyer wants his Ohio State Buckeyes to have a constructive week of practice and then enjoy a Saturday without the physical and mental stresses of a game.
He does not want to get any phone calls in the middle of the night.
“Some people see a bye week, they go act like a jerk over the weekend,” he said after Wednesday night’s practice. “Football is a tough, violent, contact sport. So your joints and your shoulders and everything need a break. That’s what it’s for. But to come back [out of shape] and not at least watch some football, that’d be a disgrace.”
So the fourth-ranked Buckeyes were given Sunday and Monday off, will practice through this week and then will be released to go home, relax, maybe go see their high school team play and then watch some games on TV. They report back at 6 a.m. on Monday morning — and they’d better not have partied too hard.
Ohio State is using this week to heal bumps and bruises, assess players and plays, underscore the things done right and improve those which have not been so good.
“We’re six games in. We have a week to kind of take a deep breath,” quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “What are we good at? What aren’t we good at? Where do we need to get better? What do we need to enhance and keep doing?”
The Buckeyes have been very good defensively against the run, ranking seventh in the nation and giving up just 86.2 yards on the ground per game.
But they’ve also been less than stout against the pass. A week after stopping No. 23 Wisconsin’s brawny running game but giving up a lot through the air in a 31-24 victory, they shut down No. 16 Northwestern on the ground but surrendered almost 300 yards passing in a 40-30 win that was far closer than the score indicates.
On the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference, Meyer called the pass defense “alarming.”
The Buckeyes are giving up 240 yards a game through the air, which is 76th in the nation.
Cornerback Doran Grant (St. Vincent-St. Mary), however, says the most important thing is to look at the big picture.
“We’ve been doing pretty good,” he said. “We’ve just got to sharpen up a few things. We just can’t have missed tackles as a team. Everybody has to keep running to the ball.”
Meyer is also upset with missed tackles that lead to big plays, although it’s clear that Ohio State does miss safety Christian Bryant. Bryant was lost for the season with a broken ankle at the end of the Wisconsin game.
On offense, the Buckeyes are concentrating on continuing to run the ball the way they have been. They are built around the solid play of an offensive line that has four senior starters. Bruising tailback Carlos Hyde has done the rest.
Hyde had a career-high 168 yards and scored three touchdowns at Northwestern.
“We’re playing pretty well,” offensive lineman Andrew Norwell said. “We were all on the same page against Northwestern. We kept running the ball and it really makes a difference when Carlos Hyde’s back there, just mauling people.”
When Ohio State does return to action, it’ll be greeted by a two-game homestand: Iowa on Oct. 19 and Penn State on Oct. 26. After that, the Buckeyes play three of their last four on the road, including the annual regular-season curtain-closer at Michigan.