Two days after the stunning loss at Iowa, the sting was still apparent on Urban Meyer’s face on Monday.
There was no listing of individual champions, as is customary after a win. The Ohio State coach didn’t dodge questions and was even-tempered, but he never cracked a smile during his news conference.
That’s not surprising. Ohio State’s national title hopes were almost certainly extinguished by Saturday’s 55-24 rout. This was a total team loss. J.T. Barrett, who entered the game having thrown one interception this season, threw four. An Iowa offense that ranked 103rd nationally in total yardage shredded Ohio State’s defense.
The Buckeyes have lost two regular-season games for the first time in Meyer’s six years as their coach. This week, Michigan State awaits, and the Spartans have played Ohio State as tough as any other conference team in recent years.
Both teams are 7-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play. The winner will be the clear favorite to win the Big Ten East.
“Everybody knows this game is usually a prize fight,” Meyer said. “The tougher team usually wins. We have to understand what we’re going to play against and have great respect for them and they’re playing well.”
A matchup against the Spartans should get the Buckeyes’ full attention, and Meyer is counting on the team’s culture to help it turn the page.
“That’s something we work on not (just) today,” Meyer said. “That’s something we’ve been working on all year. We try to get a very close team that cares about each other that plays really hard. It’s not going to be some speech I give to the team. It’s a process and a journey we’re on, and there are still plenty of great things ahead.”
But there many areas to fix. Meyer was frustrated by the lack of discipline that resulted in penalties that kept the Buckeyes’ off the field. The biggest was the targeting call on defensive end Nick Bosa that proved to be the game’s turning point.
“I talked to him,” Meyer said. “He came up and apologized. He was just lunging at the ball. (That’s) what he told me. There was no intent, he told me.”
On offense, J.K. Dobbins had only six carries, which Meyer said was not enough, though the Buckeyes were forced to throw in the second half.
“J.K. deserves the ball,” Meyer said.
As for Barrett, Meyer was mystified by the quarterback’s performance a week after perhaps his best game against Penn State.
“He’s been on a nice roll with efficiency, taking care of the football,” Meyer said. “That was not normal by him.
“I felt he forced it, especially (throwing an interception) right before the half. That was a devastating one. We’re not a sling-it team. We’re a highly efficient throwing team, and he’s been great up until this point.”
Iowa scored after that interception to make it a 31-17 at halftime, and it went downhill from there.
“I think they executed their offense very well,” Meyer said of the Hawkeyes. “It was 17-17 with the ball at midfield, and you feel your offense is somewhat controlling the line of scrimmage. (We had) high-end execution in the pass game, and then had a bunch of three-and-outs and we couldn’t get off the field (defensively). Then they start panicking on the offense, and that’s not good for anybody.”