Urban Meyer’s demeanor was as gray as the Columbus sky Wednesday evening.
Meeting with members of the Ohio State beat for the last time before his Buckeyes take on UCF on Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium, Meyer said he has an average football team that will face a foe this week that is as good or better than it at several positions despite not coming from a BCS conference.
Talking up an opponent while doubting his own team is a tried and true formula for football coaches at every level of the game, but Meyer gave a convincing account, even referring to a second opinion from one of his Ohio State predecessors.
“John Cooper works in the NFL. He consults for people, and every week I ask him who are the NFL players, and they have five or six NFL players on their roster,” Meyer said, referring to defensive tackles Jose Jose and E.J. Dunston, free safety Kemal Ishmael, quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Latavius Murray. “That tells you what we’re ready to face.”
The mood of the current head coach of the Buckeyes was no doubt hindered by the revelation that his team likely will be without at least one starter on the defensive line.
“Michael Bennett is doubtful for this weekend,” Meyer said of the sophomore defensive end who missed the 56-10 season-opening victory over Miami (Ohio) last weekend. “He re-tweaked his groin injury. It’s frustrating for all of us. He should be back, and he re-injured it. We’ll know more later in the week, but he hasn’t practiced as much.”
The loss of Bennett last week was mitigated by the ability of Nathan Williams to play more snaps than expected as he recovers from major knee surgery that was performed almost a year ago. Williams is expected to be available this week, but the staff is being cautious with him.
“He’s OK,” Meyer said. “He was a little sore. That’s a frustrating injury, so we’re not going to be at full strength.”
Ohio State will be without Jordan Hall again, but Meyer said the senior running back is getting closer to returning to the field after foot surgery in June.
As for those who are available, Meyer said he wants to see more in several areas – the offensive line, linebackers and pass rush.
His frustration with the offensive line stems from a failure to score from inside the 5-yard line against the RedHawks last Saturday, something that was addressed during practice yesterday.
“We actually devoted five minutes to all fourth down for that reason – we need to establish who we are,” Meyer said. “I went over and chewed them out pretty good. It was right at the end of practice and they were exhausted, but they knew why we were doing it. The good thing about it is these are smart guys. They get it. They know why. There’s no pushback. They went as far as they could.”
The linebackers face a tough test this week from a UCF running game Meyer expects to be formidable even without Murray, the starting running back who has been declared out with a shoulder injury.
“They have three backs that are very talented players,” Meyer said.
With all of that on his mind, Meyer had not been able to think yet about how he will handle the news earlier in the day that the Buckeyes can earn the right to be considered Big Ten Leaders division champions if they finish atop the standings.
They remain ineligible to play in the league’s championship game or a bowl because of NCAA sanctions, but they would be awarded a trophy for finishing with the division’s best record.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of something like that, but we’re 1-0,” Meyer said. “We’re a very average team right now. We’re playing a team that is equal to us at several positions. There is zero conversation about that in our locker room.
“It’s not going to make us play harder this Saturday, but I think at some point in November or something it will be interesting.”
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