COLUMBUS, Ohio — There wasn’t a two-drink minimum at Urban Meyer’s news conference on Monday morning.
But perhaps there should have been.
If the Ohio State head coach was stressed from a month’s worth of lackluster performances from his team, it didn’t show. Rather, Meyer seemed to be in a rather jovial mood during his weekly addressing of the press.
So much so, it even left some reporters wondering if the coach-turned-comedian may have been enjoying a sugar high courtesy of Halloween.
Take, for example, his teasing of Cleveland.com columnist Doug Lesmerises, whose coverage of the Buckeyes’ 24-20 win over Northwestern on Saturday bordered on critical.
“You asked me the other day if you’re being fair, remember that?” Meyer asked with a grin, interrupting Lesmerises question with a flashback to Saturday’s press conference. “Are you (being fair)? We’ll switch spots.”
The columnist offered to take Meyer up on his offer.
“No,” Meyer deadpanned, nearly ducking under his podium while doubling over with laughter.
Like a best man whose wedding toast got off to a strong start, Meyer was just getting warmed up. Take for instance his reaction when asked about offensive tackle-turned-blocking tight end Branden Bowen, who aided a struggling Ohio State offensive line against the Wildcats on Saturday.
“Yeah, we’re looking at him at post routes and corner routes,” Meyer said sarcastically of the 6-foot-7, 315-pound player.
Laughter — as it so rarely does in these settings — ensued.
If you’re confused by Meyer’s good mood on Monday, two days after the Buckeyes barely beat a team it was favored by more than three touchdowns against, you’re not alone. What happened to the head coach who demanded perfection and nothing less? Where’s the Meyer who embraces the unrealistic expectations at Ohio State, both from the media and the fans alike? Shouldn’t he be concerned about an offense that even he admits has regressed eight games into the 2016 season?
Rest assured, Buckeyes fans, that guy is still there. He’s just approaching the challenges of this season with a different attitude than he has in the past.
“I guess I’m not normally like this,” Meyer admitted. “But I see a lot of positives from our teams because I know (the competition) we’re playing. And I know these young guys and they are getting better because I see it from maybe a different angle, viewpoint than a lot of other people.”
Those “other people” include the media, which has spent the past month questioning the three-time national champion head coach about ability of his offense and use of its best players. For the fourth consecutive week, Curtis Samuel served as a topic of conversation. The junior H-back is averaging 12.75 carries in the Buckeyes’ past four games.
Only this time, Meyer was prepared when it came time for what’s become a weekly Samuel inquiry. In fact, he even had a joke waiting.
“Let me make it clear, I’ve been places and there’s been times where there’s no one to get the ball to,” Meyer quipped. “So we’re good. Ask all you want.”
That’s not to say Meyer is unaware or ignoring his team’s issues. And while the No. 6 Buckeyes’ competition has been strong, it’s only going to get stronger, starting with this weekend’s showdown with No. 9 Nebraska.
Meyer insists he sees signs of improvement, both individually and in Ohio State’s collective passing game. “I do see some very good positives,” he said. “I like the fact that you get in a street fight and you win it. And that’s a good sign of the future’s very bright here.”
Time, however, is of the essence. If the Buckeyes can get through their next three games, a season-defining matchup with No. 2 Michigan awaits. Currently, this Ohio State offense doesn’t appear nearly prepared enough to face the Wolverines’ top-ranked defense.
The Buckeyes claim they aren’t looking that far ahead, trading in their previous mantra of “competing for championships in November” for a one-game-at-a-time approach. But on Tuesday, Ohio State will learn where it stands when the first College Football Playoff rankings of the year are announced.
Meyer is aware. He also insists that, at this point, he doesn’t care.
For a suddenly carefree coach, it might as well be a laughing matter.
“I won’t look at it,” Meyer said of the playoff rankings reveal. “I’m sure people will tell me about it — including my person of 27 years of marriage, who will tell me about it when I get home.”