Bob Hunter commentary: Challenge facing Ohio State this week is preparation

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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It’s seems safe to say that most coaches don’t get in the business for a chance to win a titanic struggle with Florida A&M.

This isn’t that Gipper speech they always have dreamed of delivering to their frenzied players before a nationally televised game against Southern California or Alabama, or a march up and down the sideline during a tense, no-holds-barred game against Michigan or Notre Dame.

A noon game against the Rattlers in September? These are the weeks they are not told about in their job interviews.

But what might not be obvious to them in the beginning probably becomes so later: Getting their team up to play a hopelessly overmatched opponent might require some of their best coaching, or at least demand the most psychological work.

This is where Urban Meyer and his coaching staff find themselves this week, coming off a nice road victory against California and facing a 1-2 Florida A&M team that is a member of the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision.

The Rattlers were just defeated by Samford, which is not to be confused with Stanford, or even Buffalo or San Diego State.

“I know a little bit about them because I have a few guys that I played against in high school that went to them,” OSU junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “I know they have a bunch of athletes, and I know some of them guys are from Florida, and when you’re from Florida, you’ve got some athletes.”

This is an interesting theory, a variation of what many OSU players thought they were supposed to say, that in their minds it doesn’t matter who is next on the schedule. To his credit, Meyer didn’t play along with the big lie.

“It does make a difference,” Meyer said. “I could give you some coach-speak up here; it does make a difference. So we are going to have to really coach them hard this week.”

Although most fans would prefer that the Buckeyes play nonconference games against major opponents, it seems safe to say that these paycheck games also aren’t the favorites of Ohio State’s players or coaches.

“No,” Meyer said. “I’ve coached in a few games where I was a 21-point underdog and those are not real fun to go coaching, either. I’m anxious right now. I think there’s a good culture in this program of, to earn playing time, to earn touches, to earn catches, to earn throws, to earn anything, you have to perform very well in practice, and that’s all I care about.

“This time last year, we had a real problem, and the real problem was there was a culture offensively that I couldn’t stomach. This time around, I’m seeing guys fighting for the football, and the way to do it is go out and practice really, really hard. So all I’ve got my mind on now is I can’t wait to go out and practice again.”

The mantra is to practice hard and meet your own potential, regardless of who the opponent is. Practicing hard is no problem, not when the staff is “coaching hard,” but the focus and concentration level might waiver some when the opponent doesn’t demand much respect.

Although this isn’t the kind of game a player dreams of playing in, it might be one that shows the difference between a great player and a good one.

“This week is about us, where is our improvement level at our position, and that’s what I told my position guys,” said Tim Hinton, who coaches OSU’s tight ends and fullbacks. “This is a challenge of us, how do we get better, the things that we can still do better.”

This seems like a better approach than trying to convince players that all games are the same when they clearly aren’t. Safety and senior co-captain Christian Bryant was one guy who wouldn’t go there.

“I would like to showcase our talent,” Bryant said. “I would like to play bigger games. But it’s really out of our control. I’m not really sure who makes the schedule, but we’ve still got to go out there and face whatever team is put in front of us. I know the team has their priorities straight. We’re not going to bypass or look past Florida A&M.”

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

@dailyhunter

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