Although it especially isn't the BCS national championship game or even the Rose Bowl Ohio State will be playing in come Jan. 3, head Buckeye football coach Urban Meyer is thankful for bowl practices this season, a luxury he wasn't afforded following his first year at the OSU helm last fall due to an NCAA bowl ban.
"That was a big panic of mine last year; guys had to do it on their own," said Meyer during an Orange Bowl media day Wednesday in Columbus. "But I really like where we are at now. I like our attitude. I think the moment the Orange Bowl rang, everybody's attitude wasn't perfect, but it was getting back to the same attitude we had before the last game."
Meyer and three of his team leaders - quarterback Braxton Miller, linebacker Ryan Shazier and center Corey Linsley - talked after practice about their upcoming Orange Bowl game at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3 in Miami versus Clemson (10-2).
And the Buckeyes' recent defensive breakdowns were the topic of the day for Meyer after OSU, although 12-1, barely escaped with a 42-41 victory at Michigan, then faltered against Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, falling 34-24.
Meyer conceded that "obviously we didn't play very well (on defense) the last two games. But it's not just been one thing ... it's not man coverage; it's not zone coverage. It's all of the above. And then the pass rush ... and the time to call the blitzes ... making sure the blitzes match the coverages. We just have to play better."
Asked if he and his defensive staff were working on tweaks to improve things, Meyer said, "Tweaks might be an appropriate word; we're still working through that though."
In line with that, one new face you will see more of in the secondary Jan. 3 is true freshman Vonn Bell, a highly-recruited defensive back. "Vonn will play more this game," said Meyer. "He's doing a really good job, and he's earned the opportunity."
Shazier assessed the pass-defense situation as well, "thinking we lost some of the fundamentals during the season. Some games we'd show good pass defense and then some games we would show bad defense. So we just need to get back to those fundamentals and doing the key things we know how to do - and we've been working on that."
And the Buckeyes will need all the help they can muster on defense to slow down Clemson's potent offense, directed by QB Tajh Boyd. "They have a great offense," said Meyer. "And their defense ... we're going to have to play our tails off to move the ball against them. They have some very good personnel. A couple of those games, they haven't given up much yardage at all. It's going to be a war."
Miller chimed in on what stands out for him after watching Boyd perform this season. "He can definitely run and pass at the same time," said Miller. "That's a little different from some of the quarterbacks in the Big Ten. But going against myself and Kenny (Guiton) in practice though, I feel our defense will be ready for that."
Meyer too said the dropoff in productivity in the passing game late in the season when OSU was more successful with the run was "not just about Braxton. He has to play better, but the guys around him have to as well."
Miller knows the passing game "was down" late in the season. "We have to get better on the outside. That's what we're working on right now, fixing the mistakes we have made in the games."
For Linsley, the Orange Bowl in a chance for the Buckeyes to redeem themselves. "In my mind," he said, "I'd be extremely disappointed in myself and some of the leaders of this team if we don't come out and do well, just because we haven't faced real adversity like this basically since coach Meyer got here."
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