|'The alma mater, the fight song ... that was a special moment,' Meyer says about the postgame celebration. (AP)|
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It was worth it. That's how Ohio State fans will come to view the Jim Tressel fiasco, a scandal that cost this football school its coach, its quarterback and its reputation. One day it will be worth it, maybe sooner than later, because that scandal got rid of Jim Tressel.
And replaced him with Urban Meyer.
And Meyer is better than Tressel. Better at coaching, better at entertaining, better at winning. The first victory came Saturday, when Ohio State overwhelmed Miami (Ohio) 56-10.
By itself, that win doesn't mean a lot. Miami isn't very good, although it has a prolific college quarterback in Zac Dysert, whom Meyer repeatedly said would play in the NFL. Dysert completed 31 of 53 passes for 303 yards, but his receivers dropped about 10 balls and his running backs can't run and on the other side, the defense couldn't stop Ohio State after the Buckeyes tweaked their spread offense in the second quarter.
Miami isn't very good, so this win doesn't mean Ohio State is great. But below the surface you can see what's happening at Ohio State -- and you can see what's coming. There's a scary team in there, and it might not be scary this season, but this season isn't the payoff season. The payoff comes next year, when the Buckeyes will be eligible to return to the postseason, which means a possible spot in the Big Ten title game and then a shot at a BCS bowl, maybe even the BCS title game.
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That's at least a year away, but don't kid yourself: It's not much farther away than that. Ohio State as a program is that good, and Urban Meyer as a coach is that good, and the pieces he has right now -- pieces left behind by Tressel and interim coach Luke Fickell, who stayed as defensive coordinator -- are pretty good too. Meyer will enhance those pieces by surrounding them with players recruited for his specific system, but right now he has enough talent to win a lot of games.
For example, quarterback Braxton Miller. And receiver Devin Smith. And H-back Jake Stoneburner and tailback Carlos Hyde and a loaded defensive line and a deep secondary.
But the best piece here is Urban Meyer, who will win big because he won't accept anything less. On the day he made his coaching debut at one of his two alma maters (he also has a degree from Cincinnati) and didn't just win the game but broke his opponent, Meyer couldn't stop talking about the things he wanted to fix. The first quarter, he said, "was an embarrassment." Miami led 3-0 and could have been up 14-0 had it not blown two easy touchdown passes, and Meyer said the whole quarter was "very disappointing." He kept coming back to that quarter, even when he was asked how good it felt to finally coach a game at his alma mater.
He also talked about the play at the end of the first half, when he made a decidedly un-Tressel-like call and turned down three points to go all-or-nothing for a touchdown. There were three seconds left and the ball was at the Miami 1, and as Meyer said later, "The Ohio State University, with a 220-, 230-pound tailback, can smash it in from the 1-yard line."
It didn't. Miami held, and Meyer was mortified. Afterward, he said the inability to gain 1 yard would be addressed.
"We'll hit that with a sledgehammer on Sunday," he said. "That's bad. That's absolutely non-negotiable."
Meyer refused to throw bouquets at his quarterback, Miller, who put up Tebow-like numbers -- 207 yards passing, 161 yards rushing, three touchdowns and no turnovers -- but completed only 14 of 24 passes and, to be honest, didn't look good doing it. Miller set an Ohio State QB record with the 161 rushing yards, but Meyer noticed that "he didn't throw as well as he has been throwing in practice; 14 of 24 isn't good enough."
Under Tressel, it would have been. Winning was always good enough under Tressel, who believed in shortening the game, squeezing the fun out of it until all that was left was a scoreboard that showed Ohio State with a few more points than its opponent. Those days are gone, and recruits will notice, especially when they read quotes like the following out of Ohio State's skill players.
"This is a different type of offense," Miller said. "You expect big yards in this offense."
Said Hyde, the tailback: "Our offense is built to keep scoring."
It scored eight times, and Meyer seemed especially pleased by the touchdowns of receiver Devin Smith and fullback Zach Boren. Smith's touchdown was a highlight special, a leaping, one-handed grab of a poorly thrown pass by Miller that was so astonishing, the Ohio Stadium crowd of 105,039 was stunned to silence before erupting.
"That was a 'wow' moment," Meyer said.
Boren's touchdown was a more workmanlike 2-yard scoring plunge, and afterward Meyer couldn't believe that it was Boren's first career TD. Over and over Meyer wanted clarification on that fact, and he smiled as he listened, because he likes Zach Boren.
"He's a Buckeye," Meyer said, and that doesn't mean Boren plays football for Ohio State. That means he represents the ideal that lured Meyer out of retirement -- a fall Saturday in Columbus, the third quarter ending, the stadium rising and singing Hang on Sloopy, and later the game ending and the Buckeyes standing in front of the band, singing the school fight song. And they sang it, almost all of them to a man, even forming the O-hi-o with their arms. During all of this, Meyer turned to his left and said something softly to senior defensive lineman Garrett Goebel.
"I love that guy," Meyer said of Goebel. "And the alma mater, the fight song -- I'm a graduate. That was a special moment."
Meyer is here for the right reasons, you can tell that. How long he stays, who knows? Meyer hasn't stayed anywhere for long, and Ohio State might not be the place it happens, either. But he'll stay here long enough to win, and to win big. You can see it coming, a storm in the distance that will wash away the muck of Jim Tressel.