Urban Meyer is Ohio State's master of motivation
Since the start of preseason camp, the Ohio State football team planned on playing in Arizona in January.
The problem is, the Buckeyes (11-1) are playing against Notre Dame (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, instead of the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 11.
A last-second field goal by Michigan State gave Ohio State its only loss of the season and changed the trajectory of its season.
Tim May, who covers the Buckeyes for the Columbus Dispatch, gives some insight into what the Irish might expect on New Year's Day.
ND Insider: How does the defending national champion, that came within a last-second field goal of being undefeated, stay motivated for a bowl game without a title on the line?
Tim May: Good question. Pride? Bragging rights? For the last-year players, a last chance to strengthen the legacy and enhance the resume? Urban Meyer is the man in charge of having them ready to play, and he has proven to be a master at that many more times than not in his four seasons at Ohio State. Of course, Brian Kelly is dealing with the same question in regards to his team. What did he say?
NDI: What is the dynamic that allows this team to stay together despite all the negatives that happened after the Michigan State loss?
May: See above, especially the pride and bragging rights part. The Buckeyes rebounded and stomped their arch-rival in a year when a revitalized Michigan was supposed to be geared to do the same in the first season under Jim Harbaugh. The bottom line was the Buckeyes knew they were much better offensively than what they showed against MSU — it just didn't happen that day. And as even Urban Meyer said, he didn't disagree with running back Ezekiel Elliott saying he was disappointed in his number of carries in particular and the team's play-calling in general. He just disagreed with the forum he used. The move of offensive coordinator Ed Warinner (a former Notre Dame assistant) from the sideline to the press box for The Game at Michigan helped breathe new life into the uptempo attack.
NDI: What has been coach Urban Meyer's biggest impact on the program?
May: It might seem cliche, but it's true. He has established a culture within the program in which growth and improvement from day to day is required, not simply expected. And that goes not only for the players, but also for his assistant coaches and support personnel, whom he challenges in some form or fashion every day. Watch any survivor-themed show on television. The only way to build a raging fire is by starting it with friction.
NDI: What is the most difficult matchup Ohio State will have with Notre Dame?
May: Dealing with its balance offensively, which of course begins with throttling the run game. I don't think Notre Dame is as straightforward physical as, say, Michigan State, but the way the Fighting Irish rolled with the gut-punch injuries at quarterback and running back this season and still managed to be there in the fourth quarter with a chance to win EVERY game it played this season is traced back to a stout launching pad. That said, the dual-threat of DeShone Kizer, is the X factor. The video does not lie. He is a playmaker, especially in the clutch.
NDI: Who is the unheralded Buckeye who could step up and make an impact against the Irish?
May: Hybrid back Curtis Samuel. He has been almost the forgotten man in the offensive rotation, but has delivered several key plays through the season. He also might see some time at running back spelling Ezekiel Elliott. Samuel otherwise shares the slot hybrid back position with Braxton Miller, and Samuel catches passes like a receiver but when he turns it up, it is with a running back's plant-the-foot-and-go mentality.