COLUMBUS, Ohio – There’s an old adage about trying to achieve what seems impossible. It’s one that is now applicable to the Ohio State football team.
“How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time.”
That is now, the metaphorical challenge ahead of Ohio State and Urban Meyer as the Buckeyes attempt to regain their footing following last Saturday’s shocking – and disappointing – 24-21 loss at Penn State. To get to the Big Ten championship game, to make the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes will have to eat the proverbial pachyderm.
To come back from a loss, which Meyer’s teams have usually done very well, means putting the past behind you and looking ahead to what comes next. It means focusing on what is still in front of you but being able to grasp the realities of your current situation.
That’s where Urban Meyer excels: the psychology of winning and losing. He wasted no time setting the tone, turning the talk to what is still possible for his “hurting” players, using the press conference immediately after Saturday night’s loss to address it.
“Every goal is still alive,” Meyer said from a small press room inside of Beaver Stadium. “We’ve got to regroup and get guys healthy. Come back and keep swinging.”
After using Sunday to regroup, Monday’s message at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was the same — move forward. Meyer even joked about it with the media, providing an unexpected dose of brevity during a news conference that lacked the good mood Ohio State’s fifth-year head coach is usually in on Mondays.
The message? If it weren’t for the questions from those in the seats in front of him, he’d already be past the Penn State debacle.
“This is the most time I’ll spend on this today because we’ve got to put this one to bed. You’ve got to move forward,” Meyer said when asked how he and his team will move on. Then he joked. “(It will be) easier to flush when I walk out of this room.”
That message has trickled down. At least it did on Monday. There was concern for what happened in Beaver Stadium, but there was no panic. There will be no overhauls to personnel or tactics. It’s about adjustments and if you ask the players in the Ohio State locker room, the adjustments are minor, not major. It’s not time to blow things up because, after all, it’s just one loss and every goal for the Buckeyes is alive.
“The crazy thing,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Billy Price said Monday, “is that we’ve only lost five games in five years. We sit here, and the world is ending, but the sun came up. We’re worried that the world is over, the sky is falling; we’ve been here before. This isn’t an occurrence that happens often, but we grow from this and we get tighter together and we focus in on us. We don’t worry about everybody else, the fans, this, that and the other. Everybody is a couch coach and everybody thinks they have a whistle. We need to focus in on who we are, the guys in that room, that’s what matters to us.”
Price, like his head coach, pulled no punches. The focus is what is next, and what is next is Ohio State’s most important game. That’s the case every single week from here on out.
“The next week, you’ve got to get hungry, you’ve got to get after it,” Price said. “Northwestern is going to come in here, and they’re a very, very good opponent, they’re very athletic. It’s something you can’t take lightly.”
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis spoke similarly. The loss to Penn State hurts, but next week is a new week.
“Right now, we’re focused on beating Northwestern,” Lewis said. “Just beating Northwestern, that’s the main objective right now. I feel more anxious to get back out there, to get our fundamentals back on film, to get back to who we are. That’s the main thing. I’m always anxious to go back to work and improve things. It’s not that big of a thing to me to go work, it’s more getting over the feeling.
“You don’t ever want to feel that again.”
If there’s one player that is most interested in getting beyond Penn State, it may be quarterback J.T. Barrett. Yes, he completed 28 passes on Saturday night, but Barrett was sacked six times and under constant pressure all night. His inexperienced offensive line struggled, as did his inexperienced wide receivers.
Now it’s time to find out who you are by moving forward. Always forward.
“We’re going to find out what we’re made of,” Barrett said. “I think that’s how you really see people. Everybody can be doing fine when we’re winning games and everybody’s happy, cheering, but when our backs are against the wall, things are against us? We lost, so I think it really shows your true character, your true colors.”
Ohio State’s remaining schedule allows them the chance to not only move past Saturday’s loss, but most talking heads concede that if they win out, the Buckeyes can still make the college football playoff. In their way is at least two teams currently sitting in the Top 10 nationally (Nebraska, Michigan) but first up is Northwestern.
This week, next week and the week after, the next game on the schedule is the most important game on the schedule.
One piece at a time.