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The old saying goes that it’s always windiest at the top of the mountain, but there’s other stuff going on up there too. Specifically, regardless of the wind, a lot of times you feel you can leave the Gortex at home and go up there in your long underwear only, because you’re bullet- (or wind-) proof.
The first half of the first game into the season for Ohio State, Urban Meyer seemed to have the ideal job on his hands: coaching a team that was coming back from a title but still on some sort of vengeance tour.
Virginia Tech made it a game before OSU slammed the door shut with the force of, “Who the hell invited you to the party?,” but the writing was somewhat on the wall: the Buckeyes’ most difficult opponent, no matter who is on the schedule, is Complacency U.
Complacency is arguably the hardest internal team virus to vaccinate out of the system. It usually comes in two forms of severity:
1. Championship complacency
2. In-Game complacency
The second we see all the time. Team A gets up by a bunch, and Team A sort of throws it on cruise control until sometimes it can’t get it back and loses, or it does just enough to win. As a coach, it sucks. You’re sitting in there during a timeout telling your players to view it like it’s a 1-point game against your conference rival, knowing that the other coach is preaching that his team is going to get back in it … because it will.
The first is a lucky but bad problem to have. There is no cream for it, nor any medication to fix it other than surgery (which in this example, is a loss).
OSU is fighting against a championship pedigree and having everyone pat the team on the back without having done anything this year. It’s not easy hearing everyone tell you how great you are and still believing you suck. There’s a self-deprication to that which most teams lack.
Last year, OSU could channel its inner “us against the world” all season.
1. You play in a crappy conference. You don’t deserve to be in a playoff no matter what you do.
2. Haha, you lost to Virginia Tech at home, just showing you crappy you AND your conference is, because, you know, the Hokies played that game, too.
3. The only reason you’re rising in the poll is your crappy conference, and now your starting quarterback is hurt. No way you deserve to be in.
4. Oh, crap, we let you in and now you and your third-string quarterback are really good.
OSU will need to get back to the place where it feels doubted, slighted, and kicked around by everyone else. The whole “no one believes in us but us” schtick is a time-honored tool in the coach’s work belt.
It probably starts at that quarterback position, where unfortunately, Meyer will probably need to make a decision. Don’t give me the “if you have two quarterbacks you really have none”crap. OSU has two elite quarterbacks.
The issue is that you never know what motivates guys or makes them a little apprehensive, unable to reach their full potential. Some guys love the chase of looking over their shoulder and seeing someone coming for their job. It’s motivating.
To others, it’s an annoyance that can turn into a loss of self-confidence and cause the player to not think about the task at hand. Most people, athletic or not, prefer defined roles where there’s not a ton of ambiguity as to what will be asked of them on a daily basis, and the rope they have to complete the task.
Meyer can’t know that until he throws them both out there. He should know. The other 10 players in the offensive unit need to know whose hand will be in the dirt with them on a potential game-winning drive. Different quarterbacks have different cultures within the huddle. Teammates should want to know what to expect.
That is only part of the problem, and really, a smaller one.
The larger one will be getting a team up every day for games in which — frankly — the Buckeyes’ talent badly outclasses their opponents. On top of that, OSU isn’t used to losing, at all. Short of the VT game, Meyer can’t point to any team and say, “they beat us last year. It’s payback time,” as any sort of added motivation.
Often, the only way out is to actually lose, because like in a relationship, you don’t know what you have ’til she takes your dog and your 12-pack and darts off in the truck with all her things packed in the back. In college football, sometimes, that means you’re too late.
What could be Meyer’s most arduous task is coaching OSU against itself.
Somebody better start saying the Big Ten sucks again.