The way the Ohio State football team won its Saturday game against Central Florida, the tone of Urban Meyer’s postgame remarks, as well as those of his players – it all seems very familiar, doesn’t it?
It should feel similar, anyway. After all, the similarities between Meyer’s 2012 Buckeyes and former head coach Luke Fickell’s dysfunctional 2011 team are increasingly noticeable. No doubt, Meyer has improved the team – they are stronger than last year’s squad, which finished with a 6-7 record.
How far OSU has come from the forgettable 2011 campaign remains to be seen.
In the current and 2011 seasons, OSU thrashed a vastly inferior opponent to open its schedule. On Sept. 1, OSU victimized Miami (Ohio) to the tune of a 56-10 beating, while Akron was served a 42-0 loss last season. Both were comfortable victories against teams that posed very little threat to OSU.
The 2012 and 2011 seasons offered tougher but still relatively weak competition in the second week in the UCF Knights and Toledo Rockets, respectively. Through its own ineptitude, OSU allowed the Knights to hang around in Saturday’s game before finishing out a 31-16 game in “blah” fashion. Last year, the Rockets pushed OSU to the wall, and nearly upset the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium. Fickell’s team hung on for a 27-22 win.
The similarities between the 2012 and 2011 team are also consistent in the postgame activities of Meyer and Fickell after the second games of their respective seasons. Both coaches had won, and yet negativity still pervaded the coaches’ comments as well as the questions being asked.
At one point on Saturday, Meyer even had to stop himself from leaking negativity into his analysis of the game.
“I don’t want to be a downer around here. We won a frickin’ game,” Meyer said. “Won by two touchdowns against a quality opponent. Time to move on, get ready to go play.”
Still, Meyer couldn’t help but admit the 2012 team isn’t progressing as he had hoped.
“I thought we’d be a little more explosive on offense and thought we’d get some pressure on the quarterback,” Meyer said.
Players, such as redshirt senior cornerback Travis Howard, even asked if they were happy after the game. Howard said he and his teammates were happy but also qualified the happiness.
“Definitely,” said Howard, who winced from the after-effects of a stinger he suffered during the UCF game. “Any time you get a victory, you’re definitely excited. I mean, we still have things to work on.”
Similar to the 2011 season, the first two games of the 2012 season have offered a receiving corps that, aside from sophomore receiver Devin Smith’s highlight-reel grab against Miami, has failed to break a game open. OSU hasn’t been able to stretch the field against either of its first two opponents in 2012 – the longest passing play of the win against UCF was a 15-yard catch by Smith.
As was the case later in the 2011 season, the early signature of 2012 appears to be that of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller running for his life. On Saturday, Miller carried the ball a career-high 27 times.
The most eerie consistency that is creeping from 2011 into 2012 is that Miller has, for all intents and purposes, been the sole source of OSU’s offense.
Of the 949 total yards of offense OSU has accumulated, Miller has rushed for 302 of those yards all on his own.
OSU has scored 12 touchdowns in 2012, and Miller has rushed for four of those. A couple others came during garbage time at the tail end of the blowout against Miami.
If a team figures out a way to stop Miller, well, fans should hope and pray opponents don’t crack that code.
The 2012 Buckeyes aren’t necessarily a carbon copy of the 2011 team. For instance, I don’t expect OSU to lose its third game of the current season, a fate that befell the team when it traveled to face the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes during the third game last season. The defense, which grabbed 13 interceptions during 2011, already has five picks two games into 2012.
Certainly, the 2012 team is an improvement from last year. Make no mistake about that. This is the true value of Meyer as Buckeyes coach – he has taken a cast of mostly the same players from 2011 and used those same student-athletes to upgrade the program’s on-field product.
That doesn’t mean the kind of performances that sunk the team in 2011 are out of sight in Buckeye Nation’s collective rearview mirror.
From the day Meyer arrived in Columbus, the prevailing hope among fans was likely that there would never be a season like 2011 under his watch, but so far, I’m struck by the similarities between the two teams.
Meyer might be closer to a 2011-esque OSU football team than he and any fans would like to admit.