PHOENIX, Ariz. — Third-ranked Ohio State has attempted to strike the right balance in its preparation for Saturday night’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl against No. 2 Clemson.
The Buckeyes have tried to walk a fine line as they get ready for the game, wanting to ensure their players are prepared, but not so prepared that they’re over-thinking instead of simply cutting it loose on the field.
“There’s a fine line between over-preparation where you have them so worried about clusters, about different schematic things that players quit playing as hard as they can,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said during Friday’s Fiesta Bowl coaches press conference. “That’s the fine line we’ve been juggling right now.”
A prepared football team is usually a confident team, too. But in a case like this, when the talent on both sides is equivalent, Meyer said it’s not as much about confidence as it is just making sure the players are prepared to compete as hard as they can.
“Usually pretty confident when we have better players than the opponent,” Meyer said. “When you don’t, then it’s more the — it’s all about the preparation and making sure they’re playing as hard as they can.”
“I think you feel confident when you have better players than your opponent,” he added. “It’s not rocket science to figure that out.”
It all comes back to recruiting. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program, and for Clemson and Ohio State, elite recruiting has translated into elite success on the field.
Both Meyer and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney have built cultures that give rise to success, and both coaches have recruited great players that fit their cultures.
“I think that’s ultimately why we both have been successful,” Swinney said. “We’ve got good staffs, but we’ve had good young people, good players. He’s done a great job of identifying guys and building a culture at Ohio State, and we’ve tried to do the same.”
The similarities of Clemson and Ohio State in that regard are why the two schools have had their fair share of run-ins on the recruiting trail in recent history.
“Believe it or not, I’ve never really recruited against Ohio State until coach Meyer went there,” Swinney said. “And once he went up there — and I think he brought some of his ties and recruiting experience from being at Florida — it seems like now there’s a lot of guys we end up recruiting. Ohio State is kind of always in the mix.”
Both Swinney and Meyer target not only first-class players, but first-class people as well.
“That’s why we’ve got on some of the same type of people,” Swinney said. “And it’s great to have those guys because you can win and win the right way with them.”
Setting the example. Ohio State’s run to the national championship title in 2014 has served as an example for the 2016 team.
Meyer said he has talked a lot to his young squad about that team from two years ago and what made it the nation’s best.
“It was a great template to use as far as a young team getting as much game experience as possible, getting ready for the playoff run,” Meyer said. “So, we did use it quite often.”
To Meyer, his 2014 team is also a prime example of reloading and replacing star players with young talent capable of filling the void.
“The other thing that happened during that run, in which Dabo has a saying, every team that wins a championship, there’s going to be a handful of players that are maybe not well known that are going to become very well known,” Meyer said. “We happen to have a tailback that’s doing OK, too, that during that three-game run, Zeke Elliott, you had Stevie Miller and Curtis Grant, they’re kind of legends at Ohio State because of their performance in these games.
“So, I use it more in that because that’s real.”
Meyer’s values. When asked about the core values he instills in his team, Meyer’s answer was threefold.
The first is that he always wants to have a team that is less worried about making mistakes and more concerned about playing with maximum effort.
“I always want to have a team that’s not worried about making mistakes,” Meyer said. “I’ve never been a part of a game that the team that played the hardest didn’t win.”
Secondly, Meyer said winning against the best competition is about all nine position groups performing at a high level.
“We have nine units. If we can perform when talent is equated or sometimes better than yours, you have to perform with every unit playing at a high, high level.”
Last but not least, Meyer used the phrase “competitive excellence.”
“That’s just the reason we practice so hard is because when your number’s called you’ve got to make that play,” Meyer said, “and it’s not because of the lucky T-shirt or good fortune. It’s because of practice.
“So that’s it in a nutshell.”
Lucky underwear. After listening to Meyer’s aforementioned statements, Swinney looked over at the opposing coach, smiled and cracked a joke.
“You mean the game-day underwear, that’s not the key ingredient?” Swinney asked, laughing.
“I’m not saying I don’t wear them,” Meyer replied.
“I thought it was the lucky underwear,” Swinney retorted. “No, yeah, and I read that in your book, by the way. Awesome.
“I’m getting it.”